3 Reasons Why Practice Doesn’t Make You Perfect

I have two chess apps on my phone. One has daily scenarios where you have to make the correct moves to solve the puzzle. The other includes coaching and a wide range of difficulties to play against.

Every day I complete each puzzle and play several games of chess. My wife has pretty much stopped asking what I’m doing on my phone, since the answer is nearly always “playing chess.”

Yeah, I play chess. A lot.

The great thing about chess is that there is a calculation, called the Elo rating, which you can use to determine your skill level. Both of my apps keep a running tally of my progress.

And, after several hours of training over the past three months, I’ve gone from beginner to… well, still beginner. Now I only lose half the time, though. I think at this rate I should be able to reach Master Class once I’m 160. (I’m banking on modern medicine giving me the time I need.)

In all honesty, I know I’m not going to be a chess master. While I love the game, practice alone will never get me there. But, like most people, I don’t want to be the best; I just want to feel competent.

So, I do as my childhood piano teacher told me to do. I practice. “Practice makes perfect,” she said, berating me when I admitted how little I practiced in any given week.

But, practice does not always make perfect and here are three reasons why.

1. It’s Not Your Amount of Practice, It’s How You Practice

Let’s start with the most important point of this whole misunderstanding: the amount of practice.

Don’t get me wrong, practice is absolutely necessary to learn a new skill. But, how much you practice does not matter as much as the way you practice.

In 2014, a group of researchers wrote an article, reviewing several experiments about musicians and master chess players. The data showed that our ability to become great at a skill isn’t so much about repeated practice, but instead about the method of training.

Learning and skill development is not a one-size-fits-all experience. We master concepts and approach challenges in unique ways.

So, just because many successful musicians practice on a rigid schedule doesn’t mean you need to do the same to become as skilled. In fact, Yo-Yo Ma says that you need to practice intelligently, instead of practicing hard.

When you’re learning how to run your business, don’t waste time forcing the methods of veteran entrepreneurs onto yourself as gospel. Learn what you can and, when it doesn’t work for you, move on.

2. Practice Improves the Kinds of Mistakes, Not the Frequency

Practicing and improving your skills will not result in you making less mistakes. Here’s why.

In an experiment, testing people’s ability to improve their skills by anticipating changes, the researchers found that it wasn’t that when people got better that they made less mistakes; rather they made different ones.

I had a job where this was just the case. At the beginning, there was more information than anyone could comprehend at once. The orientation process was more of a word vomit than an actual lesson. As I was being inundated with information, I felt like Lucy in that iconic episode of I Love Lucy in which she stood at a conveyor belt, quality checking chocolates. After a while, I just gave up trying to understand everything and rather started learning from my mistakes.

After a year, I was completely confident in every aspect of the job, but I knew I would always be improving.

Did I still make mistakes? Absolutely.

Sometimes, I would even do so at the same rate as when I had first started. However, the kinds of mistakes being made were completely different and were only observable by other experienced workers.

So, what does this mean?

It means that there’s always something to improve upon; something that could be done better.

Practice doesn’t make us less apt to make mistakes, it upgrades our mistakes from foolhardy to skill-based.

3. Sometimes It’s Just Genetics

Listen, even if you practice like crazy and personalize the training, achieving a professional level of skill often still needs an extra push: a secret ingredient. This leads us to the final reason why “practice makes perfect” is a fallacy.

Sometimes you’re just born with it and sometimes you’re not.

We’ve all heard someone say “I was born to do this.” Come on, I have said that. There’s a reason why this phrase means something. Whether you like it or not, you were born with certain abilities and deficiencies that will either make you a superstar or just another aspirant.

Practice all you want, but chances are you won’t find yourself in the basketball hall of fame. You can try and you can probably get really good, but to be truly great often requires you having something more than determination.

So, don’t waste your time working for something that you weren’t born to do.

The moral of the story: If you need to improve, then you need to practice. But, be smart about it: Know how you learn and practice in a way that makes sense for you. And, keep your improvement in perspective; you will never be perfect at any task.

We love hearing about your experiences. So, if you have ever strived to achieve something, but kept hitting a wall, or truly found your method of mastery, then share your experience!

As always if you have any questions, then please leave your comments or feedback below.

Steven Reuter is a writer and creator of Inciting Purpose. He holds a Master’s degree in Adlerian Counseling and Psychotherapy, which he uses to empower aspiring entrepreneurs to make their visions a reality through coaching and training. Steven meets with individuals and their teams in order to maintain passion and purpose as the driving forces behind their startups. He teaches, coaches, and provides leadership to those wanting to make an impact through business.


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