Maintaining forward momentum

Most of us grow up being told that practice makes perfect. In my experience, that statement is only partially correct. A truer statement is that practice is vital to maintaining forward momentum, or improvement.

For many, unless you’re practicing consistently each day, our practice sessions are more about maintenance than enhancement.

A far more factual statement than practice makes perfect, is use it or lose it! For example, most of us are taught a second language at school and while there’s a wide choice available now, back in the day it used to be French. Or German if you were lucky!

If you applied yourself in class, did your homework and ran the gauntlet of speaking out loud in your best French accent (was it only me who found that excruciating?), you would undoubtedly see rapid improvement, from being a total non-speaker on day one, to being able to string together basic sentences in no time at all.

Two things are true for most of us in this type of scenario. The first is that one inevitably hits a plateau, where learning slows as complexity increases (this is also where many give up). The second is that if one does not keep working at it, our new-found language skills soon revert to that of a beginner.

If we don’t use our vocabulary, it beats a hasty retreat and we find ourselves grasping for basic words that once tripped off the tongue.

And so it is with Maths. I was working with a student recently who is rather good at trigonometry. He had found that through a lack of practice, particularly over the Easter holidays, he’d become rather rusty.

As we discussed this lack of practice, I asked what happened if he did the same with his music practice. As a member of an orchestra, music is a big part of his life. He said that the impact of a lack of practice was even more pronounced in music that in trigonometry!

At this point the penny dropped. What ever skills we’ve developed, to keep them, we need to practice. To build meaningful forward momentum and improvement it takes a little more than that.

Meaningful practice isn’t about going through the motions. Regardless of whether it’s a musical instrument, Science or Maths, to be effective it needs to be structured and involve and element of ‘stretch’ if one’s goal is advancement.

Otherwise, one is left treading water rather than reaching one’s full potential.