One of the more fascinating aspects of high performers is the relationship they develop with practice. Mindset research has shown a significant influence between viewing our abilities as unchangeable compared to viewing the same abilities as changeable. It should come as no surprise that those that hold the lens that characteristics and abilities are changeable succeed more often. A fact that is owed largely to the emphasis placed on practice.
One great example of this relationship comes from an article written by concert pianist Stephen Hough for International Piano Magazine and republished in The Telegraph. Hough describes his practice of practicing in vivid detail providing some very good examples performance psychology. He begins to explain the necessity of efficient practice for concert pianists require. Hough believes that we should view ourselves as engineers during practice and pilots during our performance. In particular taking care of the nuts and bolts of the plane prior to take off will allow us to be free to fly during our performance. He notes that " without the nuts and bolts in place we will never be airborne. The greatest interpretative vision of the final pages of the final sonata of Beethoven will nosedive to oblivion if we can't play an even trill."
One of my favorite tidbits was his view of slow practice. He argues that we should not practice slow just to go through the motions. He compared this type of practice to a tortoise. Rather we should practice as an "observant hare peering pausing to survey the scene – sharp in analysis, watching through the blades of grass, calculating the next sprint....Its a hare with observant eyes"
Hough warns of two dangers of practice. The first being that we practice as if we are not on stage and the second is that we get stuck in practicing mode. He provides a great example of the expense of mindless repetition has on the latter. He argues that pianist should not stop when they make a mistake in practice but instead complete the meter or two despite what he referred to as the sparks and screeches. He then provides a specific example: "A common student scenario: music flying along; train wreck; a second of silence; start at point of accident; continue. The point where things broke down is the fragile spot, the dodgy seam. It needs sufficient overlap of material to be strong. Go back before the mistake and practise beyond the mistake – then the mistake itself will be more safely repaired. Otherwise the very stopping and starting becomes a reflex – an ingrained repetition of breakdown."
Hough's thoughts on practice align with many of the basic principles of sport and performance psychology. Many high level performers, like Hough, use these concepts everyday to help them succeed. His ideas blend common sense with experience, but what we find in performance and in life is that common sense is not always common practice.