Just as it’s important to come to practice with the right mindset and an understanding of what you’re working for, it’s important to set yourself up for success by facilitating the best practice you can. Remember, practice is personal - it’s for you, and can be as messy as needs be. Steel yourself for the necessary failure. Embrace the suck. Struggle, and succeed.
When you set your goals, the incremental success you measure will be dictated by the quality of your practice. To get the best quality practice, you need the best tricks. Try this itty bitty guide on practicing out. Even if it’s just for kicks.
Make the Space
Stephen King, the prolific author, has a little desk in a little room that has a normal sized door. When he writes, he enters this room and closes the door. The room is bare. He works.
King used to have a furnished work room with an unnecessary, monstrous desk.
It’s an obvious thing, but the first step to practice effectively is to make the space. Remove unnecessary distractions. Find somewhere quiet. Turn the TV off, shut off your second monitor, put your phone away. This is your time to better yourself.
It’s a ritual of mindfulness. Focus. Set a timer if you have to. The most important thing about Mr. King’s little practice chamber is that it has a door. Close your door for an hour, and give yourself the time you need and deserve.
Your brain needs time for myelination. If your goal is physical, go through the motions and build up coordination. If it’s mental, build incrementally. When I started taking gaming seriously, I wanted to work on my mouse control. So I’d log into Counter Strike or Team Fortress 2 and I’d practice snapping my mouse to places. I missed everything. So I went slower, until I could kind of figure out how far my mouse needed to go, and then I worked on doing it faster and faster. Incrementally.
Starting slow is how you build the confidence to go faster and faster. Keep it controlled. If you want to start going to the gym, or exercising, try starting light and only going three times a week - or even just the once - instead of jumping right in to going every day that week and burning yourself out.
Take a walk. Do a little in the morning, and then come back for a little more in the afternoon. Split your practice time into smaller, more concentrated sessions. If you’re serious about practicing something, working at it multiple times a day is going to give you more quality practice than one big block that drains all your energy half way through.
Most collegiate sports break their training up to have morning sessions and evening sessions. Professional musicians will often work in the morning on one piece, take a break, and come back to a different piece in the afternoon. Many writers will wake up and freewrite first thing in the morning, have breakfast, and start writing fresh on their paying projects.
This is where practice can become obsessive, and is usually a step reserved for dedicated crafts, but the advice is valid all the same: you will not be able to spend every waking moment physically furthering your goal. Often, however, you can find time in the intermittent rests throughout the day to mentally practice. Imagine going through the motions, reviewing the lessons you’ve learned.
This is different than simply daydreaming or wandering. Analyze. Use as much vivid detail as you can. Imagine the movement - if it’s a game cue, imagine the sound of the enemy’s ability, the feeling of pressing your keys in response; every step of the situation. Mentally practice doing to reinforce those synapses.
Have a Plan
If you’ve been reading any of the other articles this week, you probably saw this coming: have a plan. Know your metrics for a successful practice. Set a micro goal of what you want to accomplish that day or that session in order to aggregate your macro goal.
Think about practice like working out - I mean, working out basically is practice, so it shouldn’t be too hard. When you go to the gym, you have a plan - or should - so when you come to practice, map it out. Know what you’re going to do to warm-up and get your brain moving, know what you want to work on and identify the correct metrics for what will make you feel good. Push your limits. Fail. Succeed. When it’s over, cooldown - revisit some old material, do something that makes you feel competent and demonstrates your growth. When I was drawing almost every day, my little reward after failing for an hour was to just doodle some eyes and some monsters, let my pen wander. When I was gaming, I’d play a casual game after my competitive ones, sometimes on a smurf account.
That’s really as easy as it is. The hardest part is showing up, and being honest about your showing up. When you set the intention to succeed, know what you’re signing up for. Set yourself up for success. Talk to a loved one if you need support in getting the space or quiet you need to focus on what you’re doing. Be diligent about your growth and remove the distractions that might stunt you. Start slow - this is for you, so go at your own pace. If you’re failing too often to learn, slow down. Build your coordination. Let your brain do its magic and, then, incrementally challenge yourself more and more to keep building. But don’t try and do it all at once. Take breaks, clear your head. Give your body the time it needs to marinate in all that you’re learning. When you’re too tired or too busy, go through the motions and visualize what you practice, more for the mental reinforcement than any muscle memory. And make sure you have a plan every time you show up - a plan that accounts for everything you need in order to succeed. It’s that easy, but it will be hard. Keep chasing.
Thanks for tuning in! Tomorrow, I’ll share a little of my own goal setting process and the path I’ve envisioned to have success.