Practice Really Does Make (Almost) Perfect


There’s a cello sitting in my office, sadly neglected and getting dusty. I bought it nearly two years ago because I’ve always wanted to learn how to play, but because my fingers are nimble on a computer keyboard, they fumble the movements needed to make anything but an awful abrasive sound with strings and a bow. 

I soon gave up, but perhaps I shouldn’t have – as practice really does make perfect (or something close to it), according to a recent study.

It isn’t necessarily natural-born talent, luck or any of those seemingly mystical qualities that make certain people wildly successful where others aren’t. It’s “sustained, intense, and deliberate practice in a particular area of expertise, in order to improve performance and cognitive thinking levels,” says study author Dr. Robert A. Baron.

Even experience doesn’t count as much as dogged, dedicated, repetitive practice.

“Across many different activities, most individuals show relatively rapid increments in performance up to levels they and others view as acceptable. This is then followed by a plateau and no further gains,” notes the study, currently published in the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal (PDF).

In other words, if you want to be really good at something, raise the bar. The kind of deliberate practice that gets results is carefully focused; you’ve got to be fully absorbed in it, constantly challenging yourself and demanding accountability. Set specific goals, raise those goals as you go, reflect on what you’ve learned and evaluate the results.

Oh yeah – and don’t worry if it’s not all fun. In fact, scholars in the field of expert performance describe the kind of practice that yields extraordinary results “the opposite of fun”. No pain, no gain? It’s a cliché, but it’s true. I’ll have to remember this myself the next time my back hurts from sitting in the correct position with my instrument and my fingers are blistered from the strings.

So, in sum: don’t let a lack of experience or natural talent get you down, dedicate yourself to your goal every day and never accept “good enough”. This attitude could bring you success in practically any kind of new venture – whether you’re starting a business, learning a craft or getting in shape.

Image by: Firepile

Stephanie Rogers

Stephanie Rogers currently resides in North Carolina where she covers a variety of green topics, from sustainability to food.