How to get badass at almost anything, part 2: Practice makes perfect

Here’s the thing. I can give you all kinds of tips about learning styles, and tell you what I’ve learned from teaching. But the single best piece of advice I could give anyone wanting to get better at something is this: practice it. Keep practicing it, no matter how well or badly it goes.

But that’s often easier said than done. I know why I’m no good at playing piano- it’s because as a kid, I was more interested in watching TV than practicing. And it can be a deeply frustrating process. Any teacher who’s done the training will tell you that learners often spend time on a ‘plateau’- they’re carrying on at around the same level, not improving. Those stretches of time where you keep trying to get better but haven’t hit another climb can be demoralising, disheartening. But the only way to get past them is to keep going.

Luckily, there are a couple of hacks you can use to make sure you practice. The best way to practice something is every day. EVERY day. Not necessarily for a long time, even 20 minutes will do it.

Practice Hack number 1: The Chain

Jerry Seinfeld’s advice (originally from this Lifehacker post) is brilliant. You get a big wall calendar. Every day you practice, you mark a big X on that day…

After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.  Don’t break the chain.

Simple, no? And seeing that row of crossed-off days feels good. But maybe you need a bit more of a reward…

Practice Hack number 2: The Carrot

To encourage yourself to keep up the chain, you could promise yourself a reward if you keep it going for, say, 7 days. It can be anything, whatever feels like a reasonable, but enticing, reward for you. Maybe it’s a bubble bath. Maybe it’s going to a movie, or getting a takeaway from your favourite place, or a bar of your favourite chocolate (or in my case a tube of Pringles) allllll to yourself. Pick something that will motivate you to keep going.

You could also make a commitment to do something if you DON’T keep it up, like make a donation to charity.

In the (brilliant) Five Minute Journal, you have to do both these things when you start, to get you going- you write down a reward if you keep going, and something you’ll do if you don’t. It’s a way of turning the practice into a habit- the other reason to do something every day. You’ll get used to doing it, it’ll become part of the thought process when you’re planning things out. Having been doing the Five Minute Journal (admittedly more like 10 when I do it) every day, I now automatically factor it into my morning routine.

But maybe you need to go outside yourself to make sure you stick to the practicing. Which brings me on to…

Practice Hack number 3: The Buddy system

Veronica Varlow is doing this with a friend for learning guitar. It could be that you have a friend who also wants to learn what you’re learning. But that doesn’t have to be it.

Pick someone- a flatmate, your partner, or someone you talk to often. Tell them what you want to get better at, and tell them you want to practice every day. Make them remind you, or undertake to let them know when you’ve done the practice that day. And if they don’t hear from you by a certain time, they can prod you, and motivate you.

Ideally you want someone who’s going to be a good cheerleader, who’s going to make you feel inspired and excited to do what you’re doing. Guilt trips help no-one- you want someone who makes you feel good, not someone who makes you beat yourself up because you haven’t done something. You’ll know which of your friends and family would be positive influences, and which wouldn’t (don’t ask the people who fall into the second group!). If it’s not fun, you won’t do it, unless you have HELLA amounts of discipline.

Guilt leads to excuses, excuses lead to prolonging the period when you’re not doing it, and before you know it you’ve fallen out of the habit. So pick someone who’s going to be excited for you trying, excited for you making progress. Just like those people who stand along fun run routes and cheer you on- they did this at the Colour Run. I know some people find it silly, but I just loved being told ‘go on! You’re doing so well! Keep going!’.

Keep going.

It’s that simple.

So tell me, how do you motivate yourself to practice the things you want to get good at? And what are you practicing at the moment?

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