The Art of Practice

Do your kids give you a hard time about studying math, practicing music, or any other subject? How do you feel when YOU have to practice? Many students (and adults) seem to dread it, and when asked, often report, “It’s boring.” While this perception can be a factor, it is often only one small piece of the puzzle. So, I’d like to share some simple insights and tips about the art of practice … and with luck, they may completely change your experience forever!

Be there. Thinking about all the other things you’d rather be doing is distracting. One secret is to “be there” in both body AND mind. Tell yourself that for the next XX number of minutes you’ll be fully committed and engaged in your practice, and resist thinking about the past or present. Tell
yourself, “This is the perfect way to spend the next XX minutes.”

Break it down. Most goals we want to achieve are complex—made up of strings of smaller steps. Trying to master all of them at once can be frustrating. Identify all of the mini-steps involved, and restrict your concentration to only one at time. For example: when learning to play a new note on the flute, you might focus on mouth placement, breath control (soft and even), or finger placement. The same process can be done with any subject or activity—from writing a great sentence to improving a golf swing.

Redefine success. Only measure success on how well you do that ONE thing. Don’t worry about anything else—you’ll slowly add and improve additional smaller steps, but at this moment, it’s all about doing ONE thing correctly … not how it looks or sounds compared to the larger end goal.

Stop judging. Mistakes are NOT bad or good, they simply are results. People get frustrated by mistakes because they see them as “bad”—delaying or holding them back from achieving their desired results. Learn to analyze (vs. judge) your results and the concept of “mistakes” may completely disappear.

Embrace mistakes. You might also decide to see mistakes as a natural part of learning. Expect them. Celebrate them. See what they can teach you. Each one allows you a chance to make adjustments or ask questions.

Think “fun”. What’s the difference between work and play? It’s usually the way we think about them—our mindset. Look for ways to add a sense of game or fun to your practice. How might you challenge or compete with yourself?

Remember you are not your results. Many students mistakenly confuse performance with self-worth. Help them to see that a bad performance does not take anything away from them. It does not mean they are stupid or dumb, or that you’ll love them less. Help them to put both positive and negative results into perspective.

So the next time practice seems to be stressing a family member out, be sure to share your new-found knowledge of the art of practice.

Ready for your teen to experience greater happiness? Improved motivation? Self-confidence? Better results at school or home? Check out additional resources at, including our free Teen Success Audit. Let us help stop overwhelm and indifference from sabotaging your teen so they can be happy, motivated, and successful in school AND life!

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