“My secret is practice”
~ David Beckham
This blog is inspired by Jonty Rhodes. Both Jonty and I were invited to an annual leadership convention and we were both to speak to the group of over hundred people. I was to deliver a piece on leadership and Jonty was to share his experience as a coach and a sports person.
Jonty started his speech by saying “practice doesn’t make perfect, it’s the ‘right’ practice that makes you perfect. We both had a great time delivering our speeches, and that is when I had an inspiration for writing this blog.
So what is practice?
In layman’s terms, practice means doing something repeatedly unless it becomes a reflex action. You get so used to doing that thing that when it comes the time to do it at a competitive level or at a professional level, you can do it without thinking.
In the physical sense, practice builds you the needed muscles. For example, a boxer punches the punching bag thousands of times daily. It builds those muscles in his arms, shoulders, and chest so that when he has to punch his opponent, the muscles are already used to punching with great force.
There is an old saying that “practice makes a man perfect”. Now, perfection may have different meanings for different people, what this statement means is, practice continuously improves you. If you repeatedly do the same thing, two things happen: you keep on improving, one, and two, it trains your subconscious.
Training your subconscious is very important. If your subconscious is not trained to perform a particular task, you have to make a conscious effort and when you make a conscious effort, more physical and mental resources are used causing delays and performance lag
But practice only pays dividends if you do the right practice. Athletes can injure themselves if they practice wrongly. Similarly, if you practice a wrong tactic, you are going to get different results. It’s like, there’s a famous saying, “boye ped babool ka to aam kahan se hoye?” – if you sow a thorny bush, how do you expect to reap mangoes? No matter how hard you work on that bush, no matter how dedicated you are, ultimately it is going to give you thorns.
This is why it is said, “All practice takes hard work but not all-hard work is practice.”
Some people confuse hard work with practice. Hard work can be anything. Taking care of the sick can be hard work. Tending your lawn can be hard work. Digging a well can be hard work.
When you combine this hard work with refining the movements of your body and mind, improvising on a single task so that you perform it elegantly, effortlessly and strongly, and you do it better than any other person, it becomes practice.
Hitting a football 1000 times every day towards the goal post is practice. Using newly-learnt vocabulary to write better is practice. Creating software applications using a programming language is practice. All these activities also require hard work.
What about being a cab driver? You are driving around people all the time. Does that make you a better driver?
It depends on what you want to achieve with your skill of driving. If driving is your passion, if you want to make your passengers happy, if you want to make their journeys memorable, then of course, you can practice how to maneuver through traffic jams, you can practice how to avoid potholes and jerks and you can learn new routes to help your passengers save money.
When you use hard work to improve yourself its practice, otherwise it’s simply hard work.
Listed below are a few attributes that differentiate practice from hard work:
1.Recognize a challenge
There is something that you want to improve and then you start improving it through practice. If you want to sing well, you practice the ragas and stretch your vocal chords every day, for months and for years. If you want to be a successful surgeon you practice on animals (or through computer simulation) or you practice on smaller surgeries. If you want to participate in a marathon you run every day and then gradually you increase the distance that you cover. You have a challenge in front of you and then to meet that challenge, you repeatedly start doing an activity that will help you eventually meet the challenge.
2.Define the scope
You cannot work on all the aspects of your skill at one time. You have to decide what you want to improve and then you focus on improving it. If you hop from one practice to another, although you may eventually succeed in doing what you want to do, it will take a lot more effort and a lot more time.
3.Commit your time
Practice is going to take some time. Although it depends on the sort of challenge you are trying to meet, some forms of practices require a daily schedule and some don’t. When famous footballers skip a practice session it becomes news. When you seriously want to practice, time commitment is of paramount importance
4.Use the right tools while practicing
The tools that you use while practicing are as important as the time and effort that you put in. For example, when you are practicing programming, you have to choose your preferred programming language. When you are practicing writing, you need to choose your preferred writing tool, whether you write using a processor, a simple text editor or even the age-old notebook and pen. Make sure that the tools that you use compliment your practice rather than causing you mental and physical harm
5.Seek coaching and guidance whenever needed
In order to do the right practice, sometimes you need guidance. Such guidance can only be obtained from a coach, from a trainer, from a guru, or even from study material. The right guru or the right coach can keep you from harming yourself or spending your precious time on unfruitful activities.
Finally, passion and practice go together. Without passion, although you can start practicing, you can’t go on practicing. Passion keeps you going on no matter how hard the going gets.
Are you practicing? Are you trying to perfect an art or a skill? What techniques do you follow? How do you make sure that you practice every day without getting discouraged? Do share your thoughts with other readers.