How to Practice with a Purpose

By James Roland

Whatever the activity--whether it's archery, the piano, photography, cliff diving or any other pursuit--you'll only get better with practice. And to make the most of your practice time, there are some simple steps you can take before and during practice to improve your skills and find more enjoyment in the activity.

Instructions

Difficulty: Moderate
Step 1
Make mental (or even written) notes of the points your instructor makes and try to apply them the next time you're on your own practicing.
Step 2
Follow through on the suggestions you pick up the next time you're flipping through a magazine or watching helpful spots on TV. Give the suggestions a try at your next practice session while the ideas are still fresh in your mind.
Step 3
Talk to your instructors or people who are especially skilled and ask them what practice methods worked best when they were learning. This could help eliminate time-wasting practices and zero in on the most effective use of your time.
Step 1
Give yourself a specific number of times to get something right (free throws in basketball, a mistake-free song on the piano, etc.) and don't end practice until you reach that number. If you're practicing your tennis serve, for example, don't leave until you get 50 serves in the service court (or whatever number works for you and your schedule).
Step 2
Set a number of practice sessions you want to get in at the start of every month. If you're determined to play or practice once a week, work that time into your schedule.
Step 3
Set the bar higher the moment you master a particular aspect of your activity. Once you can juggle three balls at a time, for instance, introduce a fourth ball. You'll fail repeatedly at first, but the minute you go back to just three balls, you'll find that it's even easier than you've imagined.
Step 1
Challenge yourself at each practice. If you're working on your golf game and you haven't hit the 250-yard marker on the driving range, keep shooting for that one until you hit it. These little self-challenges will keep you focused on a clear-cut goal.
Step 2
Practice with a pal. Having a friend who's also practicing will make the experience more fun, and you can push each other to get the most out of the practice session.
Step 3
Reward yourself if you meet a preset goal at practice. If you're trying to master a solo for an upcoming music performance, promise yourself a treat when you consistently get it right at practice.

Tips & Warnings

It is important to have a specific goal or a short list of goals for each practice session, so that whatever time you put in will be time spent toward achieving a reachable short-term goal. Plan your practice time to have at least one clear-cut objective and then allow for time to do what you feel like at the moment. For example, if you're practicing your waltz before dance class, go ahead and leave a little time to dance some salsa.
It is important to have a specific goal or a short list of goals for each practice session, so that whatever time you put in will be time spent toward achieving a reachable short-term goal.
Plan your practice time to have at least one clear-cut objective and then allow for time to do what you feel like at the moment. For example, if you're practicing your waltz before dance class, go ahead and leave a little time to dance some salsa.
Be sure to set specific goals for each practice; otherwise, you can feel like you didn't make any progress and can find yourself resenting the time you spent on the activity.

About The Author

James Roland is the editor of a monthly health publication that has approximately 75,000 subscribers in the United States and Canada. Previously, he worked as a newspaper reporter and editor, covering issues ranging from the environment and government to family matters and education. He earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Oregon.

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