Practice Higher Quality Mistakes


Practice Higher Quality Mistakes

Hello Friends,

“How can I tap you every class, but at competitions you’re always taking the gold from fighters I know that I could not beat,” I asked flummoxed by my first coach’s unusual teaching style. He replied, “I’m here to learn and practice, not compete and fight. You should be, too.”

I foolishly retorted, “If that were true, then I would be doing better at competitions like you.” Smiling, he asked, “Have you been learning to win, or losing to learn? Most people get stuck with the latter – trying to not look like they’re losing – so they only ever learn FROM losing. To avoid making the process take so much longer, take risks practicing your new skills. If you want to reach new levels, you have to practice in new ways; don’t keep repeating what’s safe. Then, you really lose. Then, you only ever learn how to lose, because that’s all you’re practicing. Practice to win by allowing yourself to make higher quality mistakes.”

I laughed then, because I had always been in the slow learner category of life… And it took me many more years to realize I needed to consciously practice the necessary failures (improving tools, skills and ideas), rather than unconsciously repeating unnecessary failures (misusing, misunderstanding or misapplying tools, skills and ideas.) I had worked very hard repeating my low quality mistakes.

Henry David Thoreau cautioned, “A man may be very industrious, and yet spend his time poorly. There’s no more fatal a blunder.” I had been stuck in the mindset that if I stopped my coach from beating me, I would absorb his experience, skill and attitude. Instead, I discovered that I needed to invest all of my effort into learning the drills, not defeating them. Effort into the technique, not effort into the activity, as I came to learn in exercise.

So, placing myself in each uncomfortable and unexpected vulnerability my teachers could find, I began to allow myself to fail while attempting to improve. I stopped trying to avoid losing. The longer I am alive, the more I watch the oldest practitioners of any discipline who still seem to be learning. They’ve stopped trying to not lose. They’ve perfected the art of learning.

Practice failure rather than failing at practice; the former involves the necessary mistakes you experience when you improve, but the latter – the unnecessary, fatal blunderings of true failure.

Very Respectfully,

Scott B. Sonnon

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