Jul 052012

practice does not make perfect

Practice Does Not Make Perfect; Practice Makes Permanent.

I was at a soccer (“football” for most outside the United States) training session recently and heard this expression, which I hadn’t heard for a while:  Practice Does Not Make Perfect; Practice Makes Permanent.  It never made much of an impression on me in the past, but this time it really resonated, as I was watching players make the same technical errors over and over again.

The corollary expression is, of course:  Perfect Practice Makes Perfect!  But what is “perfect practice”?

In many cases, as I’ve written elsewhere, perfectionism can be very destructive and can impede you from reaching your goals, rather than helping you get there.  When it comes to practicing correctly though, seeking perfection, in my opinion, is a worthwhile goal.  I have always believed that you will compete the way you practice.  I have seen it time and again in my own athletic endeavors and those of the teams and players I have coached.

Does this same concept apply to business and other endeavors beyond sports?  I would argue that it does.  The most effective and successful business people I know are meticulous about how they “practice” and they are very deliberate in taking note of and adjusting to the feedback they receive from their markets and other constituencies.

The concept of the 10,000 hour rule for becoming an expert and the related idea of deliberate practice have been widely embraced in recent years.  They are often credited to Malcolm Gladwell, as he popularized the ideas in his book Outliers, but they were, in fact, originated by Ericsson and others, many years before.

An important element of “deliberate practice” is feedback.  The idea is that it is not sufficient to just practice for 10,000 hours; rather, in order to become an expert, you must practice deliberately, with feedback, always seeking to correct and improve upon errors you are making.  In other words, you are seeking perfect practice!

So, what is “perfect practice”?

First, notice that nowhere in these concepts is it expected that you will be perfect all the time, in practice or in the “game”.  This is where many athletes and other achievers become confused, I think.  They mistakenly believe that they must be perfect all the time, and if they’re not, they become frustrated and many quit.

As you are practicing and seeking to improve your performance in athletics, business or whatever other endeavor you may undertake, be careful to approach perfection correctly.  Understand that you will not be perfect all the time.  That’s OK!  The key is, rather than becoming frustrated and quitting because you are not perfect all the time, learn from your errors and continue to improve.  See every mistake and “failure” as an opportunity to improve.  That’s “perfect practice” in my opinion.  You put in your best effort.  You don’t slack off, but you also realize that you will make mistakes.  Rather than allowing those mistakes to demoralize you though, you use them as motivation to get better, always seeking “perfection,” but willing to acknowledge that it will always be (slightly, hopefully) out of reach.

Achievers are notoriously hard on themselves and those around them.  That’s OK too, as long as you don’t become so obsessed with perfection that your desire to be perfect ruins your attitude and your chances to become your best.  On the other side of the coin, don’t become lax and allow yourself to be too sloppy in your practice.  Remember, as you practice, so will you perform in competition!  If you’re serious about your sport, your business and your other endeavors, you owe it to yourself to take practice seriously and remember, if you continue to make the same mistakes without correcting them, you will never reach your full potential.

I look forward to your thoughts!  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin



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  • Michelle

    Fantastic post Paul, I really enjoyed it and I agree practice can make perfect!

  • Thanks, Michelle. Happy you enjoyed the post!

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  • Yes, practice doesn’t make sense if improvement doesn’t follow, does it? And, if practicing the wrong way or the wrong steps, or whatever, the good results won’t follow. Makes sense to me! Thanks for the clarity!

  • The trick is that sometimes we get results, even with bad form/technique, but when times get tough and/or the competition catches up on other metrics, we can run into difficulties. I’ve seen this in business, tennis, soccer, and many other endeavors. It’s key to practice the right technique/strategies from the get-go. That usually means getting a coach, mentor, experience training partner, etc. Whatever works in your situation…

  • Marie Duplanty

    I believe that constant practice removes imperfections gradually. One must always try to remove imperfection and that is the recipe of success. One can know where one is wrong only by practice. So, it should not demotivate but should be seen as a step towards success.

  • Thanks, Marie. Well-said. Stumbling in practice should not demotivate; rather, it should be seen as necessary steps toward eventual “success”.

  • Emilia

    Love it. As much as we people want to be perfect, we just can’t be. All we need to do is just to strive hard to improve and be better. That’s my take on it. Don’t be too hard on yourself, because at the end of the day, the question is still ‘We’re you happy with what you did?”. Great thoughts to ponder on. Thanks!

  • I think its good to see it from the point of view of “striving to be better” rather than “striving for perfection” because perfection is not really a quantifiable thing and it is subject to change as you get closer.

  • Marco

    I guess that my experience as a sports writer during my university years helped me understand the point of this post. After all, I have witnessed teams as they prepared for a big game. I know how important a perfect practice is.

  • Thanks, Marco. That would be an interesting perspective. I’ve never been a sportswriter, but would love to do it at least once, to understand what you have to focus on to do it well. I guess it depends greatly on the angle you’re looking for.

  • Thanks, Sarah. You make an excellent point. Even thinking about pursuing perfection can, at times, be a bit too much to process and can have a negative effect. For many, “striving to be better” would be a better (perfect? :)) choice.

  • Grace

    I agree with you that there is more to achieving perfection; that practice makes permanent. I guess a got example of this is in the movie Semi-Pro. In times that everyone cannot think clearly in a situation, we need to act like we are a well oiled machine.

  • This is a really good concept. I have seen clients get paralyzed by “perfection”. In their attempt to make sure things are perfect before they put plans into action, they miss the opportunity to do, learn, and grow.

  • Paul, this really reasonated with me today. I am in Ethiopia. They want me to teach them how to get funding but they don’t want to hear feedback and change their approach even though they know it has failed them. Great article. I enjoy your writing.

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  • Thanks, Darleana. I hope you are well.

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