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Practice makes…

Posted on: June 7, 2021

I watched a video that made me think about a fallacy on practice.

There is a saying that “practice makes perfect”. First, it is not any kind of practice. It has to be mindful, focused, and contextual practice. If learners do not know why they are practising, or if they do not care about the practice, then that exercise does not matter.

Second, practice, even if it is mindful, focused, and contextual, does not guarantee perfection. Perfection is rarely, if ever, attainable. Unless, of course, you dumb down what passes for perfection.

What practice can do is nurture persistence.

Video source 

The video above is funny because the first featured girl goes through her choreographed moves even though she is upset and crying. If it seems cruel to laugh at her plight, then focus on what she teaches us.

Some might call her actions “muscle memory”. But muscles do not have neurones for storing memory, so this is a misnomer. It is a layperson’s inaccurate way of saying that practice has made the actions automatic. 

There is practically no conscious thought to create the movements. These have been seared by reinforcement into the parts of the brain that do not require conscious thought or heavy lifting.

Such reinforcement practice is typically linked to psychomotor tasks, e.g., dance moves, tennis serve, driving to work. But they might also be linked to cognitive tasks like algorithmic thinking, critical media consumption, and deep reflection.

Such cognition is like physical exercise — it takes effort, it is not always pleasant, and you might not want to do it. But practice wears down resistance. We repeat good habits not because they result in perfection. Instead, this practice helps build a character trait called persistence. And we persist because the show must go on.

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