Practice Makes…

FAR 172

Expected Air Date: 07/21/18


On our last show Tony Lukashevich touched on a very important topic. If you’ve watched the video you will notice that when he talks about just making the call and if you don’t do very well, don’t worry. Just keep calling and you’ll get better. At that point I was taking notes. And here’s what I wrote down: “The More you do it, the better you get.” I’ve spent some time reflecting on that in my quiet time over the past couple of days and I have an essay on that topic coming up. Or should that be a monologue? Or blog post? Let’s call it all of the above. I’m going to talk to you about how to acquire any skill and develop it to near perfection. And we are going to complete the sentence, “Practice Makes….”

But I’m not completing it now, except to tell you that it’s not going to be “Practice Makes Perfect.” Because I don’t believe it. I know it’s a pithy saying with a good moral, but if I were to get more precise about the impact of Practice, I would not say it is perfection. It’s something else, and I’ll break it down for you later.

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Topic: Practice Makes…

Perfect? No. I’m not sure we are ever perfect. In our lives and all of our strivings, whether it be our career, our hobby, our relationships, we have certain moments when we believe we have achieved perfection. We hit a perfect golf shot, make a flawless presentation at work,  give a perfect kiss to our spouse, and so on. But those moments of perfection are fleeting at best, lost in a life-mix of efforts ranging from failure to acceptable to pretty good to great – but perfect? Rarely. I’ve heard it said that “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” I understand the sentiment behind that statement, but doubt whether it ever really works out that way. Whether you are practicing your piano or rehearsing the speech you are about to make, you make a mistake, fix it, go back over it until you’re not making that mistake, and repeat the process.

It’s not well known that I once was a pianist. In fact for a time while in high school I had set my sights on being a concert pianist, performing with symphony orchestras. When learning to perform an intricate and difficult piece there were usually a few sections that were exceedingly tricky. I would learn them by just focusing on that one piece, perhaps a measure or two. I would play it slowly — as slowly as I had to to get it right. Then I would repeat it, over and over, gradually increasing the speed until I could play it in tempo. Then I would go back a few measures and come into it until I could do that cleanly. It was far from perfect or even good at the beginning. But after MUCH practice (and driving anyone within hearing range NUTS), I would have that section down. Then onto the next portion.

What I didn’t realize is I was establishing a routine that has allowed me to engage in a lifetime of skill appropriation. Here are the basic steps in acquiring a new skill:

  1. Instruction
  2. Approximation (try it – see how close you can get)
  3. Feedback
  4. Portional perfection
  5. Sectional combination
  6. Repetition
  7. Reaction Speed Memory (performance faster than you can think about it)

This is not just true for piano practice. It’s a process you will use to acquire any skill. And repetition is the key. You will never achieve and maintain mastery without repetition, regardless of the skill.

So I don’t say “Practice Makes Perfect.” Nor do I say “Perfect Practice Makes You Perfect.” Because you can’t start out perfect. In fact being a Pastor or a Little League Umpire are the only two jobs where you are expected to be perfect on day one and show continual improvement throughout your career. All the rest of us are free to experience life normally by gradually shaping our skillset to what is required. We begin — we learn — we improve — we practice — we get feedback — we get better — we occasionally execute perfectly — but mostly we just get better. Skip the instruction and skip the feedback and you may find that you are just becoming more consistently mediocre. While consistency may be a virtue, consistent mediocrity is not. You must have some sort of feedback informing how you are doing in terms of reaching the ideal state.

So Practice doesn’t make Perfect. Perfect Practice isn’t possible. So what’s the point? The point is to live in the real world, doing real business, making real money and making a real difference. Therefore you have a duty, an obligation to yourself and your family to create success. How will you do this? Practice. Not just any practice – the right kind of practice. I call it Constructive Practice. You hone your skills by working on them and from time to time have a trusted friend with known skills tell you how you are doing. You may not feel that your backswing is too quick, you may not notice that your property valuations are too optimistic, you may not sense that your presentations have lost their edge, but the constructive feedback of a trusted and skillful friend can get you back on track. No one is perfect, but in our striving for perfection we may achieve greatness.

I wish I could come up with a more pithy or memorable way of saying it, but rather than “Practice Makes Perfect” I would say “Constructive Practice Makes You Better.”

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Motivational Thoughts for the day

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