The Power of Almost Perfect Practice

by Jennifer Miller on May 1, 2016

in Personal Effectiveness, Weekend Reflections

Edison quote failureAs the school year wraps up, I reflect on the intersection of learning a new skill and encouragement. My daughter is nearing the end of her first year of playing the trumpet for her middle school band. From my perspective, she’s done remarkably well. To hear her tell it though, you’d form a different conclusion. When she practices her trumpet, she’s prone to moaning and proclaiming, “that was terrible!” whenever she makes the slightest mistake. Then she starts over again. This creates a series of very truncated songs, because she doesn’t ignore the small mistakes and continue playing. Yes, there is a rampant case of perfectionism brewing here.

A few months ago, after about six months of listening to her practice, I realized that my daughter’s perspective of practice isn’t fully formed. Her desire to play a musical piece–start to finish–without a mistake is a laudable goal. It is the ultimate aim of playing music. However, she hadn’t yet learned to see the mastery of a musical instrument as that of a journey, one with many stops along the way to the ultimate destination.

After I made this realization, I decided to shift the way I offered encouragement. I began to praise her when she was “close enough.” It was akin to management author Ken Blanchard’s saying of trying to “catch people doing something right.” Only, I modified it to “almost right.” I tried to help her see that when she gets a note “almost right” she should continue with the song, rather than breaking the flow. Over time, I told her, the notes would smooth out and she would achieve the melodic sound she desired.
Years ago, our family watched the Disney movie “Meet the Robinsons.” The theme of the movie was learning to embrace failure and mistakes as a natural part of the creative process. At the end of the movie, as the credits rolled, this quote appeared from Walt Disney: “Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” I often think of this movie when my kids are feeling discouraged and likely to give up on an endeavor.

Drawing on both Disney and Edison, I decided to help my daughter shift her perspective: she wasn’t “failing” so much as she was figuring out how not to do something. This approach has paid off: her band teacher recently shared with me that my daughter is doing very well in class. Even more importantly, my daughter enjoys her practice sessions these days. That’s not to say that she doesn’t still get frustrated from time to time, but she’s more likely to “keep moving forward.”

And that is a recipe for successfully mastery of any skill.

Where in your life can you help someone see the value of “almost right?”

 

 

Copyright : Jaromír Chalabala

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

James Michael Taylor May 1, 2016 at 12:26 pm

Great post Jennifer!

This is such a universal challenge for people who want to do good work. I mentor startup photographers, and one of the biggest challenges they face is overcoming the dissonance between the art they’re creating and the art they study and admire. As our vision develops, that gap widens more as we can better see the path from where we are to where we want to be – and how long that path is.

Just like we teach our kids, we’re not trying to be the best, we’re trying to be better than we were yesterday.

One of my favorite audiobooks on this topic is The Practicing Mind. Changed the way I exercise patience, in life and with myself.

Thank you for the good work you do, Jennifer!

Mike Henry Sr. May 2, 2016 at 5:35 am

Jennifer, thanks for a great post. I appreciate how you blend Disney and Edison in a creative, unique way to encourage. Your post reminds me and challenges me to look forward, learn from mistakes and keep moving. Thank you. Mike…

Jane Anderson May 3, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Awesome post as is characteristic of you.
I remember teaching myself to play the piano and taking a few measures at a tune, perfecting them, then adding on. Yes, there were many “I’ll never get this. That is just horrid. I give up” self-assessments.

Leaders would be wise to be one minded when saying they don’t expect perfection, but then showing visible disappointment at the lack of it. A better way would be to assess honestly what happened, what mistakes were made, and d ed video together what can be learned from this and how to prevent a similar experience.

Nobody is perfect and nothing is ever flawless in every minute aspect. Think prevention not punishment.

Jane Anderson May 3, 2016 at 5:07 pm

Speaking of mistakes. Using my phone with auto correct that changes words I can no longer see on screen was a mistake. I don’t see a way to edit. I hope it can be decipheredited.

Jennifer Miller May 4, 2016 at 12:40 pm

All is well, Jane – I was able to wave my blogger’s “magic wand” and voila! Spelling mistakes due to phone typing are gone. Thanks for your contribution!

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