While people say that practice makes perfect, I prefer a different quote: “Don’t practice until you get it right; practice until you can’t get it wrong.”
You know who Michael Jordan is, the winner of six NBA championships. After winning three championships in a row, the vaunted “three-peat,” Jordan retired from basketball. However, he didn’t really retire. He went to play baseball. It was one of the first sports he played as youngster.
After reaching the pinnacle of success in basketball, he decided to return to a sport he loved. As it turns out, that baseball career was not championship caliber. While he was a great athlete, his baseball skills had been dormant for decades. In a sense, he had not practiced them enough to be able to readily access them. After about two years in the minor leagues, he returned to basketball.
The strange thing is that, upon his return to basketball, he was really rusty. Even a two-year absence was too long. Shots he might have easily made two years earlier seemed too hard for him. Some said he was too old to return. He had lost his touch.
But, Jordan did the only thing he could do. He returned to his practice routines. He practiced the simple things, the basics, things that he had stopped thinking about. How to dribble, how to pass, how to pivot, how to handle the ball, how to jump, how to shoot. For all I know, maybe he was even practicing how to hang out his tongue.
After a while, he started getting back to his old form. Returning to his practice routine, Jordan eventually surpassed his previous level of performance, considering the longevity of his career. He went on to earn three more titles.
The problem Jordan fell into was believing that having mastered baseball at one time was enough to gain success in the ballpark. He had let those skills go too long. In effect, he had been so long away from baseball that his body had forgotten those skills. While he had been away from basketball for two years, it was easier to get those skills back.
What are you good at? Public speaking, presentations, planning, writing, forecasting? You need to practice them over and over again, and keep practicing, even after that. There is a reason why the military, police, firefighters and other first-responders keep practicing the same drills over and over again. As the quote at the beginning of this article points out, they practice until they can’t get it wrong.
Mostly, we think of skills as things we need for work. But, we also have skills we need in our personal relationships, with family and friends. From communication to being punctual to exercise to keeping the house clean – those are all skills we need to keep practicing.
Decide which skills are really important to you. Keep practicing them until they just come naturally to you. Put in the hard work every day.