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 in learning a skill 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 base skills that the skilled dancer or the maestro 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 gradual and process 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 your base skills.

Focusing on the process of learning is essential to success in learning learning well, that is, to programming your nervous system such that we have the base that allows us to exhibit the skills that we see in our role model. This may at times seem less exciting but the undeniable fact is that end-gaining and practicing too fast leads to poor technique and 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.

Keypoint Summary

  • We become inspired by seeing skilled dancing and this excited and motivates us to learn
  • Focusing excessively on the role model that represents our dreams and goals in dancing leads to end-gaining
  • When we are end gaining we are trying to perform at a level that is too high given our base skills
  • To achieve a high level of dancing we need to focus on the process of developing the base skills
  • Performance is the result of the gradual process of programming or training that consists of repeated slow focused practice
  • Focused practice may seem boring to some people but it is necessary in order to avoid early blockages to learning

Related posts:

Systems vs goals

Recommended Reading

Thomas Sterner The Practicing Mind [audiobook]

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