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Insights / January 19, 2016

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

By Kevin Bullock

You may know that this isn’t my line. It’s attributed to the late, great Vince Lombardi. I’m not much of a follower of American football, but I know that accomplished musicians will say the same thing. Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect; perfect practice does.

The thing is, what you practice is what you learn. Muscle memory forms at a lower level in your brain than evaluation of how you did. So this week, follow that urge that says you can do it just a little bit better next time. But go one step further: strive to identify, in specific terms, how to improve your skills, and then try again. Don’t be discouraged by repetition; every time you repeat a skill, you’re making it more solid and more automatic. But ensure that when you can do it without thinking, you’re also doing it right.

Now, we can’t be perfect all the time; mistakes and imperfections are key to our learning. Learn as much as you can from them. We also don’t always have the time to practice when an iteration needs to just get done. But you can always leave yourself a note to make something better as a follow-up, or to practice a few times on a stripped-down example.

By the way, this principle applies beyond your chosen craft. Another famous quote goes, “You must be the change you want to see in the world” (Gandhi). Enacting empathy and justice in small everyday interactions makes it easier to respond to larger issues with compassion. Practice also makes a more perfect world.