“Practice makes perfect.” Despite what you may have heard from a parent, friend or teacher during or following a music lesson, sporting activity or any other learning endeavor, practice, does NOT make perfect! Practice makes permanent. PERFECT practice makes perfect!
“Perfect practice makes perfect” and “practice makes permanent” are two important, true statements that must be strongly considered by anyone supervising an activity requiring mastery and understanding. Otherwise, you might set up the student for difficulties and obstacles in his personal pursuits.
I’ve been instituting and applying such practices for over thirty years as a teacher and educator and have repeated the perfect practice mantra to my students, colleagues and co-learners over the same period. Let me illustrate and explain why it’s so important.
If one follows the practice makes perfect idea, one can fall into the trap of practice making permanent. This means going over something one, two, ten and hundreds of times, embedding neural system pathways in the student’s nervous system. When it’s a movement or thinking pattern, it can become so comfortable that it’s terribly difficult to change the behavior. This affects every part of our being that utilizes a nervous system pathway, including thinking (mental), emotional (psychological), physical, social or even spiritual and any combination therein.
We know how difficult it is to change undesirable behaviors which have become “habit.” It might be yelling at someone, becoming angry or standing in the same pattern repeatedly over years; it might be shooting a basketball with incorrect biomechanics. The list is theoretically unending.
We tend to follow the path of least resistance. It takes much more effort to overcome the comfort level of what’s already in place and establish a new neural pathway. It makes more sense not to practice wrong, not to practice mistakes and establish permanent bad habits. These bad habits that become difficult to change can put one at risk of injury for repeated improper physical alignment and can even ruin relationships.
One example can be summed up as follows. Picture a home with a clean, clear pathway to the front door. When you walk out the front door and walk on the path, it’s clear sailing, easy and smooth. No impediments. But what happens when ten inches of snow fall? How easy is it to walk down the pathway now? You have to work a lot harder. You have to lift your knees higher; you have to put your foot down more carefully. It’s slow going. How many times do you need to walk over the new pathway that’s being developed in order to have that smooth ride? Will it ever be as clear as the no-snow pathway?
After much concentrated, hard work and effort, the pathway can become clear and smooth; however, the memory of the other, previously ingrained pathway still exists. And it still takes extra effort not to slip back into old patterns and thinking, whether consciously or subconsciously.
One on one study is generally the most effective way to achieve perfect practice. One only needs to look at the martial artist who goes off to study with the master for many years, or in the Jewish tradition, a student who lives and sits at the feet of his Rebbe. Similar examples can be found in every culture when preparing students to be the best they can be.
The next level is one on two or very small group study, and it goes from the there. As the group gets bigger, the learning has the potential to get watered down. What takes place for the learning to become perfect practice leading to mastery? At some point, the student leaves the nest and is capable of going out on his own; think a doctor starting a “practice”. What does the superb educator, parent or friend do to give direction to the students to help lead them down the correct path?
The proper implementation of specific feedback and positive reinforcement assists the student in learning properly and internalizing his practice to develop the proper neural system pathway. The information given to the student, “the correction” (specific feedback) is constant, consistent and positively reinforced immediately. In watered down learning, information may get to the student, but it’s a slower and less solid process than when teacher and individual student focus and concentrate on the best effort.
Good and great students can come from many different learning environments and excel. Some have the power to persevere and learn despite distraction, with insufficient corrective feedback and positive reinforcement. In any event, education happens best when perfect practice is employed with proper, timely, specific feedback and positive reinforcement, generally one on one, but not exclusively, to facilitate growth and development leading to mastery.
It’s important to find an educator who has mastery of his subject matter as well as the ability to create, establish and implement development in the proper learning environment.