This post is part of my free speed studying online course.
Is There Such Thing as “Perfect” Practice?
Most people approach practice mindlessly. Students jot down everything they hear during a lecture and then stare at the page of notes blankly as they prepare for a test, not considering how to study better. Athletes and hobbyists, too, often just “go the motion” without making much progress.
Maybe you’ve heard the old saying “practice makes perfect.” When I played ice hockey in high school, my coach put a different emphasis on this saying which stuck with me through the years:
Perfect practice makes perfect.
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I didn’t understand what he meant at the time. This was before I had begun researching the process of learning and long before I had heard of things like “deliberate practice.” Yet that simple statement by my coach contained some true wisdom: there are good ways and bad ways to practice.
This post is about the good ways to practice. There are many things that contribute to learning outside of the actual practice sessions, but good practice is a prerequisite for all the rest.
Not knowing how to practice correctly is why an otherwise smart student can study all night and fail a test. Without perfect practice, progress with learning will either be slow or nonexistent.
With that in mind, here’s the key components to any good practice schedule. At the end of this post is a YouTube video, with a recap of everything inside.
Maybe you’ve heard of deliberate practice.
In the learning glossary, I said that deliberate practice is exhausting, and this is true. But it is also a lot of fun. Without deliberate practice, even video games would not be fun (it’s the challenge of games that makes them fun). The key tenant to deliberate practice is designing good tasks for yourself. Read more to design the perfect deliberate practice session…
Depending on how you look at it, your brain is either very lazy or very efficient.
Your brain would rather memorize “2+2=4” than internalize all of the complex nuances of mathematics. It takes shortcuts that actually prevent true understanding of the underlying material. If you’re learning a foreign language, for example, studying the dictionary definition of a word does not impart true understanding. You need to read it, hear it, write it and say it.
During this process, small epiphanies will occur: you’ll suddenly realize that two ideas share something in common, for example. It’s only through having varied tasks that your brain starts to understand the connections. Instead of memorizing the definition, it learns the meaning. Read more about why varying the tasks is so important.
Is it possible to practice or study for too long?
Surprisingly, the answer is “yes.” The decay curves are influenced greatly by recovery, meaning that how much you retain from any given practice session is impacted by the duration. Read more to discover the optimal length for any practice session.
What do you aim to get out of each practice session?
If you don’t know what your goal is each time you sit down to practice, you’re not maximizing the practice time. Creating good goals is not just about motivating yourself; it is an essential part of deliberate practice. Read more to learn about creating goals for learning.
5. Practice Frequently
… but not too frequently.
Extreme athletes, for example, know the importance of recovery. When you push your mind or your body, you’re breaking them down. The goal is to break them down as quickly and efficiently as possible, and then let them recover. If you push yourself so far that your fingers are bleeding from the guitar strings then you’ve gone so far that you’re hurting your learning, not helping.
Sleep is the process of rebuilding yourself to become stronger, both physically and mentally. This is where the real improvement comes. Learning actually occurs during sleep. The practice session is just giving the body the material it needs to learn. In fact, there are many types of recovery that play a role in learning.
This is why I included so much information on sleep in the “optimal learning” ebook which is included in the one month to start learning anything program.
All of this sounds great in theory, but maybe you’re asking yourself how you could possibly stick to frequent, challenging short sessions all the time. Even knowing the science, it’s easy to just say “ah, whatever” and do what you’ve always done.
That’s why I put together the one-month plan to start learning anything new. It’ll help you through that troublesome period at the beginning of learning anything new and help you structure the first weeks and months, leaving you with a learning framework that will carry you all the way to mastery.
Again, a good practice schedule is not the only thing that goes into learning. But it is an excellent start.
Do you have any questions? Anything I missed? Let me know in the comments!