Practice Makes Perfect

Winners AND losers practice 10,000 hours.

What does “Practice Makes Perfect” mean? Most people think it means that if you do something over and over and over, your skill (whatever it is) will be perfect. It will not, of course, but one can hope to achieve as close to perfection as possible. Piano players à la Practice Makes PerfectVladimir Horowitz, basketball players like Michael Jordan, authors, painters, gymnasts, race car drivers, surgeons, repairmen, typists, dancers—everyone that wants to excel at something—has to practice. 

Winners Practice 10,000 Hours

To come in first in a competition, to be paid for their work, and to generally reach the pinnacle of their craft or sport or profession, winners practice and continue to practice even after they’re “good.” Why do they call it a medical practice, a dental practice or a legal practice? Because those licensed professionals have to keep practicing to continue to be skilled to their high levels of satisfaction. In his 2011 book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery.

There’s a catch, though.

Losers Practice 10,000 Hours Too!

Continue reading “Practice Makes Perfect”

Taking a Break

“Give me a break.” In the vernacular, ‘give me a break’ means “Oh, come on.” On the other hand, taking a break has no second meaning. Does that mean it’s more serious? Taking a break is so important that it is mandated by law to protect employees from being forced to work without eating or taking restroom stops.

Taking a Break from WritingTaking breaks makes us more productive. Coffee/tea breaks make life livable. Meditation breaks fill the screen of your mind with a pleasant je ne sais quoi. However it is positioned, taking a break helps balance body, mind and spirit.

One way of taking a break is to have someone do your work for you. Wow, wouldn’t that be cool? This strategy is usually a win-win. Why? The person doing your work often does it better because they don’t consider it work. They like it! And they’re often paid for it, which is good for the economy.

When we’re super busy, we like to convince ourselves that breaks are unnecessary. Been there, done that. However in my saner moments, I figure that if we weren’t supposed to take breaks, we wouldn’t have been designed to eat or to sleep.

“I think I can, I think I can,” says the little train filled with good intentions as it chugs up the steep hill. Of course we all think we can. We’re good. We’re professionals. We’re adults. Mostly, though, we’re invincible. But we’re not. Scientists know. The bad guys are certain: Starve people and keep them from sleeping, and they’ll crack.

Trend Alert: Taking breaks must be important: Google returned 729,000,000 results on the keyword string “taking a break.” This post will make at least 729,000,001! If those were seconds, the time to open up (without even reading) each of the separate results would require 12,150,000 minutes. Gee.  That’s 202,500 hours or 8,437 days. That comes out to 23 years. Taking a break is a very significant concept, evidently. We all need breaks, and more than one every twenty-three years.

Taking a break is essential. Standing up, taking a walk, stretching, reading a book for five or ten minutes. Meditating. Seeing a movie. Going out for a meal. Vacationing.

Breaks refresh, renew, revive, reinvigorate, restore, recharge, revitalize. We all know this. We just need to make time for it, schedule it on our calendars, find a break partner, and make taking a break a habit.

Or we’ll break.

Borrow

We borrow our identities when we give in to outside approval. It’s a counter-force to innovation if we listen to the inner voice that says, “What if they don’t like it?” It squelches the courage to ship. We don’t need approval at the creative stage. In fact, we don’t need it at all unless we want to sell what we’ve made. Anyone knows that. And so we borrow the attention of anyone we can to ask for their approval. Over and over we ask “Did I get it right this time?” “Do you like this?” “Am I OKAY?”

My dog is persistent but at some point, he gives up, content to just be. He understands that after a certain point, his borrowing of my time and attention is an unacceptable imposition. Why don’t people get that?

What about the borrow “bank”?   If you borrow money, you use it, and  must pay it back. But when we borrow people’s time, we can never pay it back. Time is gone the minute it’s spent. One cannot be on “borrowed” time.” There’s no future to borrow from. It’s not here. The past has been borrowed out. No reserves fund that bank. It’s been cleaned out as it were by the ravages of time.

Is that what Shakespeare meant Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 75–77  by “Neither photodune-1687970-precious-time-concept-clock-ma borrower nor a lender be.”? The verse continues, “For borrowing or loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.” I think Polonius was really talking about money, but  the application to the idea of time is all the more appropriate. Really… don’t lend your time, and don’t ask to “borrow” it from someone else. You cannot give it back.

Different

The eighth grade boy was the only one in the classical dance show last night. It was an arts school, yes, but he was alone on the stage. How would he spend his day at a normal school? How does he make this decision every day —to  be different, so different? Because something in his heart makes it worth the pain, and we can only be reminded of Mikael Baryshnikov… a truly great dancer who despite being Russian, was probably still derided by his vodka-drinking buddies for doing pirouettes instead of playing soccer. There were undoubtedly days of being called gay or being thrust head first into a trashcan, or pelted with tomatoes on the way home from the ballet studio. Yet he persevered.

It is scary to think that people who dared to be different may have succumbed to peer pressure; to the pain of being different — and gave up. What if Mozart had given up? Michael Jordan? Bill Gates? How do you know you’re different enough to be really good, though? What about all the male dancers that never make it to that top, and just go through life being different, feeling the pain but never achieving success with it?

Somehow, one must be able to withstand the separateness by basking in the sheer joy of doing what you do because it’s what you crave. It makes you happy; it provides moments of unbridled peace, calm and beauty. It eschews the idea that success in life is measured by money or fame, but rather is discovered by realizing that there is something that makes you so happy you smile from the deepest core of your being all the way out to a glow on your skin. Many people never find that. It’s a shame!

It’s probably because this happiness comes at the cost of the pain, and the moments of frustration and solitude endured by hours and hours of practice in a room with an instrument, at the ballet barre, at the computer, at the driving range, in a swimming pool, or wherever one does one’s servitude to the god of Perfection; and she rarely yields her blessing. Perfection arrives sporadically if at all; sometimes never. Mostly in the blink of an eye, then it’s gone, and you doubt it was there, because, it really could have been better, couldn’t it? Probably so.

So, you’re left wondering… I did it perfectly, or nearly so, and I practiced until my eyes crossed, my toes bled, my muscles screamed in agony, my head pounded. And finally, I tried out. I auditioned, I competed, I sent it off, I played my best, did my best, sounded my best. But what if I did not win, get the part, make the grade, or achieve that illusive next level? I still I love what I do. So I will keep trying, remain different, and be joyfully alone and true to myself.

Simplicity

We need simplicity to create. We need: offloading, clarity, sparseness, clean lines. Make it a focused, spare, and clutter-free mental environment.  We require an absence of interruptions, those nasty bug bites that send our creative muse to dance at another party.

We’d like to think other people stop the flow. No. In our heart of hearts, we KNOW that interruptions are largely self-inflicted! Most of the interlopers are our own self-doubts that are pushed through our “I’m-A-Fake” filter,  so that the destructive chatter catches our ear, and we actually stop to listen to the nonsense. We are the nosy hens unable to stop ourselves from pecking at the leaky feed bag even though we just ate. Not only is the mumble a disassociation from the subconscious requirements to imbue the Activity with Spirit,  it even lures Conscious Thought that needs to be present in the Creation.

If we’re creating in words, paint, music, charcoal or dance, it matters not. We’d like to think there there are physical or mental limits to the extent of uninterrupted concentration. We say we have to eat, take restroom breaks, pause to think before stepping into the next flow.  But we rarely challenge the structural integrity of the Composition Room. Even stopping to think lets the Editor stomp on the Creation, kicking words, tossing notes, smudging colors so that you’re stuck in the mud of doubt. You’ve lost your groove and don’t know if you really had it. It’s hard to tell, it was so long ago that you started.

Welcome the simplicity of uninterrupted creation. Set your timer and don’t move until you have something to show for the time. Even if it’s a painful stretch without a needed restroom break, stay the course. Reward yourself at the end. A smile will do.

To achieve

To achieve great things, two things are needed: A plan and not quite enough time. ~ Leonard Bernstein

I heard this Bernstein quote yesterday, but it didn’t sink in until the subconscious pulled it up to conscious. It’s plain awesome that this great American composer, conductor, author, music lecturer and pianist knew the value of running out of time. We all need a deadline to create the sense of urgency that fosters achievement. The show must go on, sometimes whether it’s ready or not. Powerful. It forces great things. It causes huge goofs, too.  But we learn from our errors and achieve greatness because and in spite of them.