The importance of slow focused practice

A basic principle of learning a skill such as movement is to practice slowly and with focus on the process of learning itself. A major mistake and pitfall is to practice too fast. Granted that practicing slowly can feel boring and we want our practice to be interesting and motivating. But practicing too fast results in hitting barriers to progress early on. You are, to use Alexander’s term, end-gaining. Your attention is focused on the goal that you want to achieve and are trying to get there now or as soon as possible without taking the necessary incremental steps. You probably focus on some role model, a highly skilled dancer or maestro who is able to do complex movements to fast or challenging music and you try to emulate that.

While setting yourself a goal is useful and important, if you then focus your attention on that goal and try to emulate that without going through the less exciting process of slow focused practice you will inevitably end up frustrated and exhausted. This is because you probably lack the basic microskills that the accomplished dancer has at his disposal. So having set yourself a goal and decided on a role model, you then need to focus your attention on the process of practicing itself. While this may be challenging at first, you will find that you are much calmer and that your motivation improves as you develop the foundational microskills.

Focusing on the process of learning is essential to learning well which is basically programming your nervous system and the so-called “muscle memory” such that you develop what I call “the base” that is, the foundational microskills of integrated and efficient movement that allows you to exhibit the skills that you (hopefully) see exhibited in your role model. This may at times seem less exciting in the short run but the undeniable fact is that end-gaining or goal-focus and practicing too fast leads to poor technique, hitting a lerning ceiling, and the associated loss of motivation. We often get inspiration from seeing high level dancers but constantly focusing on skilled dancing and trying emulate it is actually detrimental to learning. While we need to be challenged and push ourselves, this needs to be appropriate to our current skill level.

Further Reading

Thomas Sterner The Practicing Mind [audiobook]

Moshe Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement: Easy-to-Do Health Exercises to Improve Your Posture, Vision, Imagination, and Personal Awareness [Amazon][Youtube]