Within Practice Is Repetition: The Desert of Improvement

(Whiplash | Sony Pictures Classics)

(Whiplash | Sony Pictures Classics)

The magic is not only in the repetitions but also the pauses in between.

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

Within our bodies are muscles. Within muscles are muscle spindles. Within these spindles are cells. Our cells are constantly moving; they heal us, drive function, and their excitement keeps us alive. With enhanced microscopes, we can see these cells move — like glowworms dancing in the dark.

Practice at Sunrise

When muscles contract, the cells move in a frenzy — uncoordinated and wild. Yet, the more these muscles contract in the same way, the better the cells move. Rather than frantic and wild, the cells begin to move smoother, carry better signals, and create stable patterns. They start to remember. Cells have a memory, muscles have a memory, your body has a memory, and your mind has a memory. It's about sensing and understanding our senses. We call it the "mind-body" connection, which gives it an otherworldly quality, but in practical terms, we know it as our nervous system. This is how the body, including the mind, communicates, through the synapses within our nervous system.

It is something of folk wisdom to stress practice but it is also important to note why. The more you practice, the more your building blocks remember, and if practiced is owned within your very essence, the better you will perform. Scientists have been trying to figure out better ways to make cells move. Their conclusion? Repetition.

If I teach you to punch, will you be knocking someone out in a day? No. But perhaps after years of practice, you'll be knocking people out professionally. If I show you how to bench-press, you won't go from a 130-pound bench-press to a 250-pound bench-press overnight. That will take years. Yes, your muscle fibers will need to get bigger, but your cells will also have to move better. There is a truth to practice.

Whether practice is physical or mental, signals are sent through synapses. The more practice, the stronger the synapse; the stronger the synapse, the faster the signal. A faster signal retains higher quality; there is less time for decay, less chance to be lost in the translation.

Signals can travel from one part of the brain to another, for clearer thoughts and creativity. Signals can also travel from the brain to the body, enabling quickness in action and reaction. This stronger signal also provides familiarity; you can touch a keyboard on a piano or a computer, and stroke without looking. You can wrestle with an opponent with your eyes closed. You have already acquired ninja-like skills to mundane tasks. You can place your house key into the key slot of your front door, in the dark. It is in the habitual devotion to practice.

Practice Is a Place, Rather Than an Act

What often separates elite from regular is this combination of intellectual, muscular, and nervous memory that brings us close to perfection in human performance. Practice takes the slack out, things require less effort, more economy — be it a golf swing or a judo throw. What practice does is it creates an efficient environment for improvement. If you break a bone, the cast provides an environment to heal. Everyone can improve, but those who practice more diligently and consistently spend more time in this environment. Consider it like baseball, those who spend more time at bat, get better at hitting. If you were a plant, consider practice your sunlight. The memory of practice is photosynthesis.

Practice is not only something you do, it is a state; the longer you are in this state, the more natural this state becomes. You are not only doing practice, you are in practice. After a while, you are no longer practicing this thing, you become this thing.

Rest at Sunset

(Whiplash | Sony Pictures Classics)

(Whiplash | Sony Pictures Classics)

But one must ask themselves, "How much of this thing do I want to become?" Should it overtake your identity? Could it become obsessive? Can you burn out? Can things ultimately get worse? If it is like a cast for a broken bone, if one stays in the cast permanently, the bone will eventually grow weaker. We know this feeling, this feeling of anxiety, of our nerves being shot — feeling fried. We call this state, being "nervous" for a reason. When we have thrown a ball too often, there is pain in our rotator. The more we use something, the more broken in it becomes, the better it becomes. Yet, the duality is, it also begins to wear. The anxiety that you must always be doing something can become a natural state; that you must always get better, fearing missing out, that you will never live up to expectations, that your only purpose is to achieve. Yet, as a person, nothing is worth your equanimity. No amount of prestige and status will be worth it. Somewhere between now and the end, life will force you to recognize that. As a person, you should be invaluable. Once you see yourself as an amalgam of achievements, you begin to set a value. You become a good.

Practice is a place, rather than an act, but we can't live there. We must go home every night and become a person. If practice is sunlight, when there is only practice, what is left is a desert. Do not discount rest and leisure. To a swordsman, the setting down of the sword is as relevant as the picking up of the sword. When one finds balance, one finds a fertile garden. Within practice is repetition; within practice is pause. The magic is not only in the repetitions but also the pauses in between. Catch your breath before you lose your breath. This is also important to note. Achievement is a process of trying and not trying. This is also good to remember.