People that boast how many days they’ve gone without sleep in hopes of proving their dedication to their craft are missing the point.
Practice is an art–it is not a simple “plug and chug” of hours in and skill level out. And in order to actually make the time you spend practicing meaningful, you have to bring a heightened level of awareness. You have to know what to look for, what to fix, and ultimately, how to enter your “zone.”
1. It’s not about just “practicing.” Going through the motions isn’t enough. You have to be present and aware while you practice, and actively looking for all the things you still need to improve upon.
2. Your schedule and your practice times go together. If you are practicing in the morning some days, evening other days, and afternoons at random, you are not as effective as the person who practices at the same time, every day. Your schedule needs to be based around your practice hours–not the other way around.
3. Consistency is the most important part. Rome doesn’t get built in a day. You can’t go 5 days without practicing and then try to pull a 12-hour marathon to make up for lost time. Practicing a little bit each day is far more effective than day-long sprints.
4. The “sweet spot” for practice is 3-4 hours. Reason being, that first hour you are still warming up, and that last hour you are entering “burn out.” So in reality, a 4 hour practice session is really only 2 hours of truly quality practice–which means it is exceedingly important that you are “mentally present” during those middle 2 hours.
5. Don’t practice what you’re already good at. Competition inherently looks for weaknesses. If you are a master of one thing but a total newbie at another, then all someone has to do is target your weaknesses. Make it a point to practice what you’re not good at, so that you are more well-rounded.
6. Reflect after each practice session. Ask yourself, “What did I improve upon today? Did I learn something new? Did I challenge myself? What can I work on next?” You want to constantly be asking yourself questions so that you know what to improve upon next.
7. It’s not about “getting it done.” It’s about getting it done “right.” If you are the type of person who times how long you’ve been practicing, you’re already starting off on the wrong foot. It’s not about practicing for the sake of “just practicing.” You have to have a vision, something you are working toward. Then, it no longer becomes about time. It’s about skill.
8. Study yourself. The ability to watch and learn from yourself is also extremely undervalued. If you are an athlete, record yourself playing your game. If you are a gamer, record your screen as you play. If you are a writer, go back through your work with a pen and look for improvement areas. If you are a musician, record yourself and listen to yourself play. You will never be able to see your mistakes while you’re in the moment of practicing. So separate the two.
9. Watch other people. If you can learn how to record and learn from your own practice sessions, you will have a better eye for watching how your competition operates as well. You will be able to pick apart what it is they are doing, and then steal their strategies. This learning then becomes an inherent part of you–your process.
10. Always be growing. Always be looking for how you can improve. Always be focusing on your weaknesses, not your strengths. Always be searching for new competition. It’s a journey and on you to stay moving forward at a consistent pace.
Originally published on Inc.
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