Last year, one of my friends had a baby. It was a natural birth. It was also a home birth. It was also her fifth.
A mere hour or so before giving birth, she was apparently chatting on Skype with some other bloggers, saying it was time to put on some mascara (for the post-birth baby photos) before going ahead and pushing out the baby. Shortly thereafter, she did just that, and welcomed her sweet fifth babe into the world.
Although I overwhelmingly tend to think she is a superhuman and no worldly rules apply to her, there is another theory.
It goes something like this: My friend had practiced giving birth so many times (through birthing four children prior) that she had perfected the art of what she was doing (giving birth).
Malcolm Gladwell is known for stating that 10,000 hours of practice in any field can lead to mastery. Although birthing five children may or may not add up to 10,000 hours (ask Mom), I still believe that mastery in this case was achieved through practice (obviously aided by the lack of serious complications).
Birthing five children is, after all, more practice than the average American woman gets, and so there is a reason that my friend is much better at birthing than I will be when I give birth to my first child.
However, I also believe that practice – whether in terms of 10,000 hours or five precious infants – is gained not simply through putting in the time. There are three critical elements to practice that must be present in order to achieve perfection.
1. Do it many times. Whether it’s giving birth, writing a blog post, or delivering a speech, you must do the act many, many times. There are no shortcuts to escaping the most obvious – and most necessary – aspect of practicing to reach perfection. Do the work.
2. Do it in different ways. If I want to master the art of roasting a chicken, I can’t simply slice a garlic clove in half and shove it up every bird. I need to change my approach in order to find the best way to achieve a perfect roast. Lemon, pepper, rosemary, and other seasonings and techniques are important things for me to try.
3. Track what works (and what doesn’t) to get better with each and every try. Without measuring your success (or lack thereof), you don’t know what is working. When I first started blogging in 2006, my strategy for traffic generation mirrored the way many non-cooks make spaghetti and determine if it is cooked. I randomly threw out different strategies and sometimes they stuck. (In pasta terms, this is like putting noodles in water, not timing them, and then randomly start throwing them on the wall to see if they stick when you “think” they are ready.) Over time, I started actually keeping note of what I was doing to determine what was actually working. This is what helped me get better.
Ultimately, practice is about is not just about the time you put in, but the type of hours you dedicate.
Have you perfected (or nearly perfected) anything through intense hours of practice? Did perfection occur randomly, or did you consciously work to achieve it?