How to practice anything effectively

Originally published at:


Step one: Practice

Step two: Seriously, you need to practice

Step three: Turn off the computer and put down the phone. For real you need to concentrate here.

Step four: Oh shit, the Iron Fist series just hit Netflix


Starting from the back edge of a beach, trace a thin, winding path in the sand out to the sea. Your task is to get all of the water from a big bucket to follow that path out to sea. If you pour too quickly, the water spills over the edges of your path both damaging the path and cutting its own different path. If you pour slowly and carefully at first, the water both follows and deepens your path. The more water flows through your path, the more water the path can handle without spilling.


My notes from Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool (NY: Houghton Mifflin, Harcourt Publishing, 2016 ISBN 978-0-544-45623-5) are available at

The authors discriminate between purposeful practice and deliberate practice. Lots of good advice here based upon what seems to be solid science.


Interesting. The notes themselves lend enough insight to get a general grasp of some concepts, so i appreciate you sharing. What did you think of the book however? How does it read? (aka: is it easy to read or technical and dry)

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You should be able to get a sense of the writing style from my notes. It read well for me and I learned a lot, although my experience with my practice(s) diverges a little from theirs - I practice for fun even when being deliberate.

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This all well and good, but how do I practice something convincingly?

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A few beers helps. At least you’ll be convinced you’re doing it well, which i would say is what matters most.


My experience is that using the given definition for practice is misleading: “Practice is the repetition of an action with the goal of improvement”

The best advice for learning I’ve ever found comes from Regelski: Principles and problems of musical education.

Basically, he plainly states that repetition is practice. No qualifiers, no intention and no goals are required for something to meet the definition of practice.
Coming to grips with the fact that you can basically practice being bad as easily as you can practice getting good is far more useful than understanding what happens in the brain when practicing, and just as fascinating.

I don’t dispute that defining practice as being goal driven can be useful, but it is also misleading in that once you learn that ineffective practice time is not the same as no practice time, it is in fact worse than no practice at all, you are now reducing the amount of effective practice you actually need to get good at something.


To find and go past your edge, again and again, do your practice.
Most practices resemble a distinct pattern
Broken record method: here, you repeat the same thing over and over again. It might look like practice but much of it is simple mindless repetition.
Autopilot method: Run through a piece from beginning to end.
Hybrid method: This is a combined approach. Repeating over and over again until it sounds or seems better.
Beginning to develop a regular practice is the best way to start, build things into our lives. Try committing to regular , perhaps daily, practice sessions. You will find an order in life.
Start your day with yoga or meditation which are a practice of self-care, that allows a self -connection with inner self.Start your day in an organized way. Make your morning routine effective with simple tips suggested in this article
May sound philosophical yet would suggest practicing gratitude and I can assure you the benefits are endless. People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they’re thankful for experience more positive emotions.

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Two beers is better than sober, and three is pushing it but still a little better IME.

When I had a job that required a lot of writing, I would do all my most boring work stone cold sober, all my best work after about two beers or so, and my worst while shit-faced.

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I can totally confirm this. When I was more serious about music, I’d practice something but totally misinterpret it, so the effect would be worse than if I had not practiced at all. The same thing was true for school work. I’d hyperfocus on some little detail and lose sight of the big picture, but when I just phoned it in I did well.

With music, I find it hard to be goal-driven. The goals aren’t easily defined. The music either sounds good or it doesn’t, and there are so many components to “sounds good” that sounding good isn’t even a useful metric. I suppose I could practice scales and articulation and little etudes, or go over the more challenging parts of a piece, but then the piece needs to be run through in full so I know I can play the challenging parts in context, with transition.

Musical practice is more free-form for me. I won’t know the challenging parts of a piece until I get there, and when I do I will have to practice those over and over again, just because that’s how my personality is. Then I will run though the piece just to see if everything I’ve practiced holds up in context. If it does, then great. If not, then it’s because I’ve overrehearsed the hard parts, and we’re back to the drawing board :rage:


My time-eater is Pool. I’m on a league and all of the match locations are bars. Many of my fellow players enjoy a libation while playing. I find that since I don’t practice with beer, I don’t play well with beer. And practicing with beer, well… Not sure I want to be that kind of accomplished.

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