The Art of Practicing for Enjoyment and Growth Part 1
By Ty Morgan
Let's be honest, sometimes practicing a skill or trying to master skills we already have can really suck! Choosing to take on learning a new skill is very courageous on its own, but sticking with it until you actually master that particular skill is where the rubber meets the road.
In this series of articles we'll be discussing a few practice suggestions that, if applied, will multiply how effective your practice sessions are, as well as increase your overall enjoyment of the learning process.
The basic elements for practicing any skill can be broken down into the following general categories:
The perspective we take on what practice is and the expectations we feel practice should deliver.
Developing physical habits and muscle memory through repetition and review
Combination of Mental and Physical
Combining the mental and physical preparation elements of practicing to create a faster assimilation of the skills practiced
In this article we will be focusing on the mental element of practicing and discuss the physical and combination of the mental and physical elements in future articles.
Key Components to Mental Practice
Separate the results from the practicing process. A toddler just learning to walk is a great example of separating the results from the practicing process. They're not thinking about one day running a marathon. They are very intensely focusing on things like picking up one foot and putting it down in front of the other. This intense focus helps the toddler master basic skills in relatively short periods of time. The really great thing is the toddler is enjoying the process of learning. The key becomes harnessing this mindset as we practice. We'll look specific ways to do this in the application section below.
Remove expectation from the practicing process. While we all practice with some sort of goal in mind, it's those very goals that can become a huge stumbling block to the mental aspect of our practice sessions. We lose sight of the basic skills we should be focusing our attention on and very quickly start losing any benefit or progress towards mastery. We practice with the goal perfection in mind and become frustrated as we realize we aren't their yet.
Intentionally focus your whole mind just the one aspect of the skill you are practicing. After removing the expectation of perfection and separating the results from the practicing process it's time to pick one thing to focus on and practice slowly, correctly and as intentionally as possible for short periods of time. This develops the habit of performing the skills correctly and by focusing your attention on that skill you are developing the proper habits must faster.
Just have fun! We should all strive to be like the toddler mentioned earlier. They approach big tasks like learning to walk with a sense of joy and wonder. The hours they spend learning something as simple as picking up their foot and moving it forward even an inch are usually spent with laughs and smiles not grimaces and groans. They aren't wrapped up in what they'll be doing 5 years, 5 months or even 5 minutes from now. They are in the moment and having a blast!
In order to master anything, the basics must first be determined and developed individually. When approaching practice it's important we set our minds up for success so the elements that follow enable us to master the skill. Here are a few things to keep in mind concerning the mental element of practicing:
Perspective removing goals and achievement as the focus and trusting that you are moving closer to mastery. Practice should never be frustrating. If so, your perspective has slipped. Be aware of any self-talk you practice and if you hear it, stop and get focused back in the moment.
Product goals are great and necessary, but can also be crippling. Know what your end result is; pick one aspect or skill needed to reach that goal and throw way the idea of perfection before you even start practicing.
Process intense awareness and focus on the skill you are practicing is the most effective way to remove mental baggage and begin making huge strides toward your overall goal.
Positivity Always have fun! To really love practicing a skill one must remove the end result from thought and really focus on the process of practice. One last word of encouragement to tide you over until next time . . .
Studies have shown athletes who repeat a skill 60 times a day for 21 days develop the permanent habit of performing that skill. These athletes probably didn't start out the 21 days doing the skill perfectly or even at a fast pace. They were absorbed in repeating the skill to the best of their ability at a tempo they could easily handle. Then in just 3 weeks most were able to perform these skills like they were second nature.
As you approach learning and practicing a new skill know you are just 21 days away from doing that skill very, very well. Remind yourself of this fact when you lose your train of thought and get frustrated. Stick with it for 21 days and the limits are endless!
The Practicing Mind Thomas M. Sterner
The inner Game of Music Barry Green and W. Timothy Gallwey
About the Author
Ty Morgan is a musician, songwriter and guitar teacher located just outside of Phoenix in Mesa, AZ. His passion is to pass the torch of creating music on to future generations, as well as enhance the lives of others through music. Visit his artist site www.tymorgan.com and his teaching site at www.eastmesaguitarlessons.com for more information about lessons and musician coaching/mentoring sessions.