How to Practice

Two Methods:Practicing EffectivelyDeveloping a Practice Schedule

No matter what your talent, hobby, or dream, you're going to need to practice to become good at something. Even those with natural talents need to practice get better. But practicing successfully is about more than putting in a few hours here and there. To really succeed you need to practice efficiently, and you need to practice often.

Method 1
Practicing Effectively

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    Have a goal in mind. Think about what you want to get out of practicing -- do you want to be the next great trumpet player or do you simply want a better serve for your next tennis match? Knowing your goals helps you home in on what you need to practice the most. Be specific with your goals.
    • Sports: Do you want to make a new team? Set a personal record? Hit more free-throws?
    • Music: Do you want to increase your vocal range? Get a recording contract? Play all of the notes in "Flight of the Bumblebees?"
    • Intellectual: Do you want to get straight A's next semester? Write your first novel? Get into medical school?
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    Focus on weak areas, not skills you already have mastered. While it feels good to practice things you are good at, the point of training is to improve on skills you don't have. Spend your time working on things you are bad at or you will never get any better at your chosen activity.[1]
    • Sports: Work on your opposite foot, learn a new move or technique, or try new position.
    • Music: Develop scales and chords you don't know well, play at a different tempo then usual, or learn a song in a genre you don't normally play.
    • Intellectual: Take a class in a different subject then normal, write essays on topics that require research, and push beyond the minimum for projects and assignments.
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    Practice deliberately. While you can certainly practice guitar scales while watching TV, if you are not paying close attention to yourself you will pick up bad habits and learn slowly. You want to practice deliberately, not mindlessly, to make the most of your time. After you complete a task, think about how it went: Where did you make a mistake? What worked well? How can you improve next time?
    • Sports: Don't focus on the final score in practice, focus on your technique. Are you getting stronger? Did you connect more passes than normal? Were you in the proper position to help your team?
    • Music: Focus on playing everything perfectly, without bum or missed notes. Even if you have to slow down, focus on getting everything right and note where you make mistakes
    • Intellectual: Always check your work, and find out where you made a mistake if you get the wrong answer.
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    Break down complex actions into smaller parts. If you are trying to practice fixing a bicycles, for example, don't practice on the whole thing at once. Practicing changing tires one day, making sure you have the skill down, then work on fixing the brakes. This is the time for "drills:" specific, small actions that you can repeat over and over again like playing scales, shooting free-throws or changing flats.[2]
    • Sports: If you are struggling to make a lay-up in basketball, stop and practice each step separately: dribbling at speed, jumping towards the hoop without stopping, and placing the basketball.
    • Music: Don't try to tackle difficult songs all at once. Stop and practice 2-3 seconds at a time. Once you get those few seconds down, move on to the next few seconds.
    • Intellectual: Don't approach a test trying to learn everything at once. Do easy practice problems first, then add more complex ideas, like starting with binomials before moving on to polynomials.
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    Learn from your mistakes. Do not worry about making mistakes -- this is the time for them. Exploring, experimenting, and noting the things that went wrong will expand you knowledge of your field and leads to new discoveries. When you make a mistake simply take note of it and think about how you can fix it next time. If you make the same mistake repeatedly, slow down and try to diagnose the problem. Work on fixing the mistake until you solve it to avoid learning bad habits.[3]
    • Sports: Watching filmed copies of the game and talking to coaches will help you quickly diagnose problems and find ways to fix them.
    • Music: When possible, record yourself playing. As you play it back, listen in for mistakes that you might have missed before.
    • Intellectual: Whenever you do not understand why got a problem wrong or got a bad grade, ask someone to explain it to you so you don't make the same mistake twice.
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    Practice how you play. To have the best performance when it matters, whether at a show, in the office, or on the field, you need to develop good habits when you practice. This means paying attention to the little things now so that you don't have to focus on them when you need to perform. Think about your posture, surroundings, and equipment when you practice.[4]
    • Sports: Wear the proper equipment (shoes, clothes, pads, etc.) when you practice so you are used to them when you get in a game.
    • Music: Avoid things like slouching or laying down when you practice -- if you wouldn't do it on stage, don't do it at home.
    • Intellectual: Playing music or watching TV while you study, write, or do research distracts you from learning effectively.

Method 2
Developing a Practice Schedule

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    Find time to practice every day. To make the most of your practice you need to be working on your skill every day. Study after study has shown that consistently practicing a skill is far more useful than trying to practice for 4-5 hours once or twice a week.[5] Even 15-20 minutes of practice 7 days a week cab be more effective than 3 hours once a week.
    • Sports: If you can't practice one day, try to get some exercise (run, bike, swim, etc.) in if you can.
    • Music: At the very least, run through your scales and 2-3 practice songs to keep practicing your speed and technique.
    • Intellectual: Make flashcards and review them daily when you do not have time to study.
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    Make a practice schedule. You want to make practicing a habit as natural as brushing your teeth. Choose a time to practice and stick to it every day. After 2-3 weeks, you brain will adapt to this schedule and prepare itself for "practice-time." Think of practicing like working-out: it is much easier to stay in shape if you have a set time to go to the gym .
    • Sports: Schedule practices 3-5 days a week, using extra days for exercise. Set aside one day a week for rest and recovery.
    • Music: Practice your instrument daily, aiming to work at least 1 hour each day.
    • Intellectual: It is much easier to learn something when you study each day as opposed to all at once the night before a test. Make a habit of practicing writing or studying daily, even if it is only for a short while.[6]
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    Plan out your practice sessions in advance. If you're learning an instrument, for example, you might set aside 20 minutes to practice scales, 20 minutes to practice chords and 20 minutes to learn a new song. Having a plan for your practice makes you more likely to stick to your routine and to visualize how you will improve.[7]
    • Sports: Warm up for 15 minutes, work on skill drills (passing, shooting, etc.) for 20-30 minutes, play scrimmages or game-like situations for 20-30 minutes, then cool down with stretching for 10-15 minutes.
    • Music: Warm up for 10 minutes with scales, then practice your songs, chords, or new techniques. End with a review of old songs you need to know or have fun practicing.
    • Intellectual: Start with the most difficult subject first, then easier subjects later on.[8]
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    Practice in short "bursts" with periods of rest. Working for 4-5 hours straight can lead to boredom or burn-out, and if you start losing concentration you will practice ineffectively. Sports psychologists suggest taking a break every hour for 10-15 minutes to relax and catch your breath, but the same principle holds true for any type of practicing (music, academics, etc.).[9]
    • Sports: Exercise for an hour, then take 5-10 minutes off to rehydrate, stretch, and relax before returning to exercise. Limit your workouts to no more than 5 hours a day.
    • Music: For younger kids, try practicing for 20-30 minutes at a time, allowing them to relax in between to avoid burning out.
    • Intellectual: Study for at least an hour, then take a break. Go for a short walk, stretch, or listen to music for a few minutes to refresh your brain and body.
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    Practice interrelated skills when you have downtime. You don't always have to be practicing to "practice." The more you think about your activity the better you will be when you sit down to actually practice.[10]
    • Sports: Watch game tape or professional athletes, stretch, and think or read about strategy.
    • Music: Work on reading music, especially any new songs you need to learn. Listen to other musicians playing your songs if possible.
    • Intellectual: Always have a notepad and pen available to jot down any ideas as they come, and read from a variety of fields for inspiration.


  • The more you practice, the better you will be, no matter what your activity.


  • Always be mindful of your body when practicing. If you are in pain, stop and recover before continuing.

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Categories: Creating Life Balance