the kind of practice that actually makes perfect

practice makes perfect

Or does it?
What if you were to practice something wrong
over and over.

Would that practice make perfect?
Or would that practice simply make you proficient
in doing something wrong?

Have you ever heard
the adjusted maxim,
“perfect practice makes perfect”?

It seems a given -
that your practice must be perfect
in order to develop perfection.
At least, it seems a given at first.

But is it true?

proficiency vs perfection

I once heard a story
of a great number of people
who were given an assignment to make clay pots.

Half were instructed to make as many pots as possible;
they were told that they would be judged not on the beauty or excellence of the pots,
but simply on the sheer number they were able to produce.

The other half were told to aim for perfection;
it didn’t matter how many pots they produced
so long as the pots they did produce were made well.

When the pots were inspected
it was found that the best, most well-made pots
came from the first group.

The perfect pots were produced
by the group that aimed at proficiency,
and was told not to bother with perfection.


Well, as those whose aim was proficiency
produced pots rapidly,
they wanted to find faster, better ways
to produce pots.

As they experimented and iterated,
they discovered better ways to do things;
they found more perfect ways to practice.

Because they had more experience
than those in the “perfect pots” group,
they produced better products.

purposeful practice

So it’s clear that perfect practice isn’t necessary,
but is there still a type of practice that’s better
than blind attempts?

Shooting in the dark
won’t teach you
to hit a target.

Random “practice”
won’t lead to proficiency,
but establish a target,
and you’re on your way
to greatness.

In the story above,
the creators had an objective.
Had they been given a huge lump of clay
and been simply told, "do something with this,"
do you think anyone would have produced perfect pots?
Probably not, and certainly not as many as were produced.

The participants were given a goal.
They had a clear objective.

Perfect practice is not necessary
in order to achieve perfection,
but purposeful practice is.

Establish a clear objective for yourself:
what is the perfection that you are aiming at?
Now, break that down further so you can gain focus.

If your answer to the question is, for example,
“the ability to make beautiful clothes I wear and love”
you might rephrase and break that down further to
“the ability to sew like an artisan.”

Then, make it your aim to sew a lot
and every time you make something,
keep your end goal in mind: artisanal clothing.

Will your first piece be a hand-crafted, artisanal garment?
Probably not.
Start with something small in order to learn the skills
— a bag, perhaps —
and learn those skills by stitching as much as you can.

Remember that each stitch you make
is bringing you closer to the level of excellence you desire,
so value each stitch.

Keep proficiency in mind,
knowing that if you make millions of stitches
you will get better as stitching
the millionth stitch will be far more perfect than the first fifty.

Remember the story of the clay pot makers,
and know that even if your first attempts are awful,
the more quickly you leave them behind and make more,
the faster you will find yourself with something amazing in your hands.
Something even better than those who focused on one project for ten times as long.