We’ve all heard a variation of that phrase. That if you work hard enough, and practice countless hours that you will in fact become perfect at the task you are trying to perform.
I think there are two key things to adapt to that idiom. One is a critical part missing from the idiom’s equation, the second is the expected result of that practice. So, I submit that…
Intentional Practice creates Professional results.
Practice with an intention
Imagine going to the gym. You step up to the treadmill and you begin running at a moderate pace. You do that for five or so minutes, then pop around to the bench press, dip bars, etc. Spending maybe five or so minutes at each station. This could be an example of unfocused practice. Yes, you are performing the skills, but you aren’t practicing them long enough or with focus on the right form to get a benefit from it.
There is a concept known as minimum effective dose in medicine. Your body requires X amount of a drug to produce the result you want, like getting over the flu. If you were going to take only half the prescribed amount each day, you wouldn’t get the results you wanted because you aren’t meeting that minimum effective dose for the medicine to be powerful enough to effect change in your body.
Practicing skills is a lot like taking medicine, you must meet the minimum effective dose to see results. And usually that minimum dose is a lot of work and effort.
In any game that you want to improve at you have to treat your brain and body’s reaction to practice in the same sustained intentional way. If for instance you are working on a purely mechanical skill that involves inputs to the game in a specific way (Think timed build orders, or a fighting game combo chain), you need to practice that skill until it is ingrained in your muscle memory. To practice effectively for a novice to intermediate player it will take time, and it will be boring to practice it repeatedly. But the benefits from practicing that skill will be exponential.
Don’t practice till you get it right, practice till you can’t get it wrong.
When I work with someone I’ll view skill acquisition in two ways, the immediate gain in proficiency and the retained proficiency. I personally care much more about retained proficiency as a measure of successful learning.
For folks that learn through math let’s imagine you are practicing and you decided to practice five skills giving ten minutes of practice time to each skill. Let’s say that you gain +25% to executing that skill correctly in each skill immediately afterwards. It’s kinda like you got +125% better at the game in 50 minutes, Good Job!
The kicker is that the long-term retention of those skills might be an issue. If I tested you in a week’s time on each of the skills, and the total amount of practice was ten minutes, you most likely won’t have that +25% bonus to the skill. Skills deteriorate over time without upkeep and maintained focus to improvement. Now, if you were to intentionally practice one skill for 50 minutes, and I tested you a week later (with no additional practice time) the retention rate would be much higher because your brain and body has had time to integrate it into your subconscious.
So, two recommendations to make your practices more effective. Either spend the time to learn one skill as best as you can for a sustained amount of time, or if you prefer variety have rotation of 3-5 skills a week that you want to work on each day for smaller amounts of time. Both methods of practice must be intentional and specific in order to produce results.
Perfection can be a goal, but it can’t be an expectation or prerequisite.
As for the outcomes, I’m looking for professional results. One of my personal criteria for professional results is consistency in performing a skill. With intentional practice the chance to fail in a skill reduces creating consistency. Does this mean a player might flub a difficult skill once and a while? Sure. But, if the player practices intentionally and they perform the skill a hundred times will the majority be successes? Yes, and in the long run that consistency is valuable.
If you have any questions feel free to reach out to me and drop a question either at my twitter @Sacreludus or my e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org