Practice makes perfect – so be careful what you practice.
Practice is defined as “the act of rehearsing a behavior over and over, or engaging in an activity again and again, for the purpose of improving or mastering it”. This gives rise to the much quoted phrase “practice makes perfect”. Anyone who desires to master a skill and become ‘better’ at something must practice. Practice allows us to learn new skills and techniques and to gain valuable experience trialing these. It applies to beginners and those who are already proficient at their chosen activity. People who are already ‘experts’ in their chosen field of endeavor, be it sport, business, investing or any other activity, continue to practice on a regular basis to stay focused, to trial new techniques, and to further refine and develop existing skills.
Practice on its own however, may not be that beneficial if we are practicing incorrectly or failing to receive any feedback on what it is that the practice is achieving. To this extent, top level performers in all endeavors receive this feedback from a coach – someone who works with them on a continual basis providing input and comment on their development and growth.
It follows then, that any improvement in performance is not only a result of practice and the frequency of which it occurs, but also the feedback that is available to the person practicing. There is little point repetitively practicing a skill over and over again if you aren’t practicing correctly and aren’t receiving any guidance or comment on what is occurring. This feedback may be from a coach or instructor, or from an appropriate self-reference source. Without a feedback loop, practice can actually be ineffective and even detrimental to our learning and skill development.
A study into the effects of practice on the development of clinical skills by medical students found that the skills were acquired and developed more rapidly by those students who displayed the following characteristics:-
- Had a plan, and organized work in a structured way
- Were dedicated and concentrated on the task at hand
- Had a strong tendency to practice
- Were able to self-reflect and self-regulate their learning through rigorous skills assessment and seeking out informative feedback
This study also found that as experience developed, the students then needed to plan their learning and practice around specific deficiencies, and that in order to progress they needed a strong ability to self-assess as well as seeking feedback from instructors.