Practicing Your Craft

I remembering reading in some book– maybe it was Mastery by George Leonard— that experienced doctors generally aren’t better than brand new doctors. The implication, the book explained, was that practice by itself wasn’t enough for improvement. To actually get better, you need a specific type of practice: the kind of practice where you’re actually consciously trying to improve.

That idea stuck with me. When you think about it, practice isn’t really any different than just doing something and deciding it’s practice. Practicing the violin is the same as just standing there and playing the violin. At the same time, this means that everything we doing throughout our normal days could be considered practice. But is it the kind of practice that hones our skills?

When I first had this idea, I decided that everything I did would be practice, and that I would always try to make sure that it was the practice that makes me better at things. When I ride my motorcycle, for example, I consciously try to make smoother shifts every time I ride. When I write a post, I try to write it better than I would have last week. Even when I slice bananas for my sandwiches, I try to make the slices more uniform each time.

Some of these improvements, like writing, are important. Others, like my enviable banana slicing abilities, are useless. That’s not the point, though. If you practice practicing even the little things, when you start some new important thing you’ll be trained to practice it in such a way that you’ll get better at it.

Like so many other important things, it’s a habit. Hard at first, easy and beneficial later. An unexpected side benefit of this habit is that it makes even mundane things interesting. Slicing a banana isn’t very exciting, but challenging yourself to make the slices the same size engages you and makes it a bit more interesting. Riding my motorcycle to pick up my mail isn’t much of an adventure, but it becomes a game when each shift is an opportunity to change gears perfectly smoothly.

Life’s short. There are only so many activities we can fit into each day, but beyond that there’s only so much engagement we can fit into each activity. Why not maximize that?


Heading off to Alaska by motorcycle tomorrow. Should be some cool pictures and posts coming from that when I’m done.

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