I recently received the following fortune from a cookie: If you understand what you’re doing, you’re not learning anything.
And I realized that’s not entirely true. It assumes that you’re practicing rote routines, the way dancers, musicians, and athletes do in order to commit a performance to muscle memory. But even those groups don’t mindlessly practice. They engage in deliberate practice, which I’ve blogged about before. They pick out a section that’s not going smoothly, that’s tripping them up for whatever reason, and they work on it until it’s no longer an obstacle. They might slow down their practice. They might overpractice. They change something about how they’re practicing the trouble spot so they can get it down and move past it.
Even if you aren’t engaged in deliberate practice, you are opening yourself to learning more than you realize in a general practice session. As you work through your practice, as you reflect on your practice, you can actually engage in deep learning, gaining a more thorough and comprehensive understanding of what you’re working on. Depending on the skill set you’re practicing, you may even gain an awareness or better understanding of the systems related to your craft. When you can see where your work fits within the whole of the craft, it can give you better insight and sharpen your focus in your practice.
If you find yourself practicing to rote, mindlessly repeating work, shake things up. Your work will be better for it.