The Myth of ‘Practice Makes Perfect’

Practice, practice, … but deliberate practice. If you’re not practicing deliberately — whether it’s a foreign language, a musical instrument or any other new skill — you might as well not practice at all.

The important thing is not just practice but deliberate practice, a constant sense of self-evaluation, of focusing on one’s weaknesses, rather than simply fooling around and playing to one’s strengths.Practice aimed at remedying weaknesses is a better predictor of expertise than raw number of hours. Playing for fun and repeating what you already know is not necessarily the same as efficiently reaching a new level.

So how does deliberate practice work? It’s clear that a dutiful daily commitment to practice is not enough. Long hours of practice are not enough. Deliberate practice requires effort and is not inherently enjoyable. Deliberate practice means relentlessly focusing on our weaknesses and inventing new ways to root them out.

We’ve often achieved a level of competency, but what we don’t do is intentionally look for ways that we’re failing and hammer away at those flaws until they’re gone, then search for more ways we’re messing up. And that’s exactly what distinguishes the merely good from the great.

The best pianists addressed their mistakes immediately. They identified the precise location and source of each error, then rehearsed that part again and again until it was corrected. Only then would the best students proceed to the rest of the piece. It was not the case that the top-ranked pianists made fewer errors at the beginning of their practice sessions than did the other pianists, but, when errors occurred, the top-ranked pianists seemed much better able to correct them in ways that precluded their recurrence.

Without deliberate practice, even the most talented individuals will reach a plateau and stay there. But don’t delude yourself that you’ll see much improvement unless you’re ready to tackle your mistakes as well as your successes.

Summing-up: It’s not how much you practice but whether you’re quick to fix your errors that leads to mastery.

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