Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect

by on May 30, 2015
Idea Summary

Idea Summary
At a certain point, our brains become accustomed to the task/skill at hand at put it on autopilot. We hit a barrier and stop improving in that skill. To overcome this, we have to engage in 'deliberate practice' - make mistakes, set ourselves up to fail. Try harder. Struggling is a good sign.


When people first learn to use a keyboard, they improve very quickly from sloppy single-finger pecking to careful two-handed typing, until eventually the fingers move so effortlessly across the keys that the whole process becomes unconscious and the fingers seem to take on a mind of their own. At this point, most people’s typing skills stop progressing.

They reach a plateau.

If you think about it, it’s a strange phenomenon. After all, we’ve always been told that practice makes perfect, and many people sit behind a keyboard for at least several hours a day in essence practicing their typing. Why don’t they just keep getting better and better? …You reach…the “autonomous stage,” when you figure that you’ve gotten as good as you need to get at the task and you’re basically running on autopilot.

In fact, the autonomous stage seems to be one of those handy features that evolution worked out for our benefit. The less you have to focus on the repetitive tasks of everyday life, the more you can concentrate on the stuff that really matters, the stuff that you haven’t seen before. As a task becomes automated, the parts of the brain involved in conscious reasoning become less active and other parts of the brain take over. You could call it the “OK plateau,” the point at which you decide you’re OK with how good you are at something, turn on autopilot, and stop improving.

How To Overcome the OK Plateau

What separates experts from the rest of us is that they tend to engage in a very directed, highly focused routine…“deliberate practice.” Regular practice simply isn’t enough. To improve, we must watch ourselves fail, and learn from our mistakes. The best way to get out of the autonomous stage and off the OK plateau…is to actually practice failing. One way to do that is to put yourself in the mind of someone far more competent at the task you’re trying to master, and try to figure out how that person works through problems.

The secret to improving at a skill is to retain some degree of conscious control over it while practicing—to force oneself to stay out of autopilot. With typing, it’s relatively easy to get past the OK plateau. Psychologists have discovered that the most efficient method is to force yourself to type faster than feels comfortable, and to allow yourself to make mistakes. In one noted experiment, typists were repeatedly flashed words 10 to 15 percent faster than their fingers were able to translate them onto the keyboard. At first they weren’t able to keep up, but over a period of days they figured out the obstacles that were slowing them down, and overcame them, and then continued to type at the faster speed. By bringing typing out of the autonomous stage and back under their conscious control, they had conquered the OK plateau.

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer (2011)
Source Link []

The Unlearner is ad-free. If you enjoyed this article, please support the website by sharing it.

Psst! Our free newsletter offers the greatest and the smartest ideas, essays, books and links in one convenient place. The emails you receive will be short, smart, and always interesting. Sign up here >>

Be the first to comment!
Leave a reply »


Leave a Response 

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.