Practice doesn’t make perfect... perfect practice makes perfect...
~ Vince Lombardi
I’ve been playing the guitar now for about 32 years... and if you heard me play, you might think that I was fairly good...
However after those 32 years comprising hundreds (if not thousands) of hours of practice, I currently know exactly 22 songs by heart... maybe about 30 or so chords formations... and a few simple scales...
The songs I do know are relatively simple and mostly well-known by people of my generation.
I typically learn a new song about every other year... but recently I haven’t really learned anything new for about the last 5 years...
I took my first guitar lesson at about the age of 10 at a group class at the local YMCA. I enjoyed going to class and learned a few very basic lessons.
After the class ended in about 6 weeks, I asked my parents to allow me to take private lessons at the local music shop.
Once a week, my mother would drive me and my old guitar down to the music shop for a half-hour lesson. I repeated this each and every week for about a year... after which time I could actually play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
I didn’t have a learning disability... I had a practice problem. I never practiced outside of my weekly class...
For some reason, I thought that I would somehow magically learn to play an instrument without making a real effort to practice...
It wasn’t until I was in college, when I asked my roommate to show me a few things on his guitar (he was actually an accomplished player who DID practice regularly).
He agreed to teach me a few things and at night, I would take the time to practice daily on his guitar until I was actually able to play a few songs.
Soon after, I bought an old second-hand guitar at a pawn shop and practiced every day on my own instrument. I not only practiced playing songs... but I took the time to challenge myself with more complex exercises (like closing my eyes while trying to play).
During this time, I decided to take a few additional "formal lessons" from an accomplished teacher who extended my knowledge about musical theory and techniques.
Within a few years, I became somewhat proficient at playing through practice, dedication and hard work.
So what changed in me from the time when I was 10 to the time I was 20?
When I was younger... I wanted the results... but I didn’t want to do the work... by the time I was 20... I truly wanted to learn how to play the guitar and knew that it would take work to learn how to do so.
Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, once said, "The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary."
The only reason I was finally able to play the guitar was because I took the time and made the effort for deliberate practice. I forced myself to get better and better because I learned to repeatedly push the limits of what I could do so I could actually show improvement and get better.
After a few years, I no longer practiced deliberately. I fell into a comfort zone repeating things that I already knew. I played mostly to entertain myself and others but rarely took the time to learn new skills.
My experiences playing the guitar are not isolated. I have a colorful history of quickly and enthusiastically learning a new set of skills only to back off the intensity once I have become fairly proficient at it...
These skills have included cycling, skiing, crossword puzzles, computer programming, golf, chess, cooking, engineering and mathematics and accounting... just to name a few...
My well-worn path of learning consists of the following steps:
- Return to mediocrity
Once I’ve become proficient at something... I grow bored of it... and move on to something else altogether... and end up losing the skills that I had worked so hard to acquire.
I’ve never taken the time to ever truly become an expert at anything!
So what does it take to become an expert?
This topic has been studied and written about quite a bit over the recent years including Malcolm Gladwell’s best seller "Outliers" and Geoff Colvin’s excellent book "Talent is Overrated".
Both authors cite numerous studies and experts, but the predominant authority appears to be Dr. Anders Ericsson, a renown professor of behavioral science at Florida State University.
According to the volumes of data collected by Dr. Ericsson and his staff, a person can become fairly "proficient" at a given skill by performing about 1,000 hours of deliberate practice.
The key words are "deliberate practice"...
Deliberate practice refers to a form of training that consists of focused, grueling, repetitive practice in which a person continuously monitors his or her performance, and subsequently corrects, experiments, and reacts to immediate and constant feedback, with the aim of steady and consistent improvement.
Although one can considered "proficient" after 1,000 hours of deliberate practice; in order to truly be considered an "expert" in his or her field, they must amass a staggering total of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in that particular field.
It’s no wonder I’ve never taken the time to become anything more than proficient at anything...
If I were to have practiced deliberately for 2 hours every day... seven days a week... 365 days per year... it would take me almost 14 years before I would be performing at an expert’s level...
Dr. Ericsson, through his numerous cross-discipline studies, has determined that the 10,000 hour rule is the same whether it’s a particular athletic skill (such as golf, tennis or bowling), playing a musical instrument, writing and/or a professional skill such as programming, accounting, engineering or sales.
Becoming a true expert at anything takes time, focus, and a lot of work.
All of the data seems to suggest that the biggest contributing factor of so many people’s overall success is not necessarily due to their pure intelligence or other God-given talents but rather the sheer amount of time and deliberate effort that they have made over the years at honing their craft... working a bit harder and longer than everyone else...
We all have the ability and talents to become proficient at something (and perhaps one day we can even become an "expert" if we are willing to do the work it takes to become such a person).
Maybe Coach Lombardi was on to something... maybe it does take perfect practice to make perfect...
Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where each day we’re deliberately practicing at becoming the best supplier of overcurrent protection products in the world...
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