Why do we practice? Why put the hours in? If we can benefit ourselves through training, how do we do it? Many people go through the motions mentally when training and end up with results that they are unsatisfied with. For example, the tennis player who wants to go from a 3.5 to a 4.0 rating practices the same way every Saturday but doesn't dramatically improve. What is missing to achieve their goal and attain a new level of performance?
When you practice with a specific purpose in mind, you will achieve three extremely vital benefits: enjoyment, improvement and confidence. Setting a specific daily goal for your training engages both your body and mind. The benefits of doing this outweigh the costs by a long shot. Let's examine all three components of purposeful practice.
The first benefit of purposeful practice is enjoyment. When you are mentally engaged in a task, you lose track of time and gain fulfillment or satisfaction. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, a professor at Claremont Graduate School, has performed decades of research on the topic of flow. In his research he found that people who were mentally engaged in an activity focused and concentrated at higher levels, were energized by the activity, and had feelings of euphoria. Doesn't this beat counting the minutes or hours until the activity is over?
The second benefit of purposeful practice is improvement. By narrowing your focus to the specific areas of your life or game that you want to improve, the practice has meaning. Instead of mindlessly hitting a bucket of serves, the tennis player harnesses their energy to identify one aspect of their serve that they will practice. For example, they could work on improving their toss on their first serve, so that they are on balance before, during, and after striking the ball. Using another sport analogy, the basketball player who mindlessly practices jump shots will not practice as intensely or effectively as the player who works on a specific aspect of their jump shot such as their balance, extension, or rhythm of the shot. Purposeful practice not only helps people improve, but it also gives them motivation to continue practicing.
The final benefit of purposeful practice that I discuss is confidence. When you are training effectively by being mentally engaged in the activity and trying to improve one specific aspect of your skill i.e. tennis stroke, golf swing, balance on a jump shot, or many other aspects of sport, your confidence will grow as a result. By deliberately pushing yourself mentally and physically on a task, you become mentally and physically stronger. Your mind and body are muscles that benefit from use and atrophy without the effort. We have seen this physical example time and again when we skip working out for a month or two. However, sometimes since it is harder to see, we fail to recognize the impact on the most important part of our body: our brain or mind. The best example that I can use since it is currently summer, is the students' who fail to challenge themselves mentally over the summer break. Instead of coming back mentally stronger from the lengthy school break in the U.S., their skill sets have regressed. You may be able to fool others for a short period of time, but we know that we cannot fool ourselves. When you challenge yourself mentally, you grow and confidence is a byproduct of this.
Try practicing with a purpose on an activity of your choice and see the benefits of enjoyment, improvement, and confidence grow. Let me know your thoughts by contacting me on Twitter.