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Practice makes Permanence (or "being purposeful with your learning")

"Ok Mum, I've done my clarinet practice!” [thinks: Good. That's done, I can go and do something else”].

This is a memory I have from the earlier years of my clarinet playing at school; the feeling of a chore needing to be done. I am pleased to say that I carried on lessons, shifted my mindset to much more enjoyable practice and derived a lot of joy over the years from playing. During that period, from about 11 years old to 18 years old, I made an unknowing, unconscious shift from “going through the motions” towards specific and, importantly, purposeful practice.

This approach to my practice came back to the fore when I was working to learn the last piece I performed. Now, I am not a professional or even semi-pro level; I was a competent Grade 8 player when I left school, and it tailed off at university as I decided to spend my time on other things.

Some years after I left university a friend of mine asked me to play a piece at his wedding as his wife-to-be walked down the aisle. I hadn’t played much at all for 4-5 years when he asked so I needed to get myself un-rusty pretty quickly.

The piece had several tricky sections, and I employed all the practising techniques my teacher had imparted to me: starting slowly of course; a focussed practice on just the harder bits; messing with the rhythms to focus the mind and really listening to what I sounded like. As an aside: playing into the corner of a room so the sound bounces back at you is a good trick a friend of mine taught me to check your sound. Probably the most important technique for this particular outcome was “practising little and often over an extended period”.

The performance went well, the bride and groom were pleased and I was happy with the achievement.

Ok - so where is this going?

Well, I recently got back in touch with an old colleague, and he mentioned a phrase that stuck in my mind.

The phrase was "practice makes permanence" which he heard from a schoolteacher of his. I really liked it as I feel it leads nicely to a few concepts on sustaining personal growth. Basically, it sparked the idea for this blog: drawing together some practice-related insights I have received over the years.

Continuous small improvements: An acceptance, and realisation, that we can always be learning, getting better and improving our approaches. Moving away from views of achieving 'perfection' and instead embracing growth and learning.

Habit-forming: If you consider that a new habit is essentially practising something new or different, then the "permanence" aspect of the phrase should resonate well with you. There are lots of great articles on habit-forming, covering the theory, simple tricks and techniques [I’ll dig a few of my favourites out, as a separate mini-post]. I feel holding the view that a new habit is to make a “permanent positive impact on your life” is a powerful motivator.

Specific goals: Applying those first two concepts to achieving specific, meaningful outcomes that align with your goals will help ensure focus and motivation. I have found that re-focussing your growth on specific goals is particularly important after, somewhat inevitable, feelings of having been ‘wavering’.

Feedback: Getting feedback, either through self-reflection or from others, is an important part of growth and learning. Take the time to look back over recent activities and experiences; what can you learn from them? What changes might you consider going forwards? What could you actively practice and improve on next time?

Whilst the concept of practice started for me with my clarinet playing, I believe it is an approach that we benefit from actively applying across many facets of our life: family, personal relationships and professional activities.

Here’s the idea to try:

  • The re-framing of practice leading to “permanence” should lend weight to practising correctly begin as important, or more important, than just the practice.

  • Think back to some practice you did as a child, maybe in sport, learning a musical instrument, art techniques or similar

  • Recall successes and achievements achieved through practice, especially anything you had to “un-learn to re-learn”

  • Roll that thinking forwards to your adult life and look for a few new habits that can gain “permanence" through purposeful practice

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