The English origin of the proverb is traced back to about 1550, but the idea goes back to the Latin phrase, “Uses promptos facit” (“Use makes perfect”).
Psychologist Anders Ericsson added an important word to the cliché is his landmark paper published in 1993: “Deliberate practice makes perfect.” The idea is that unless you are practicing with purpose and a goal in mind, it is of far less, maybe of no, value.
My piano teacher when I was in grade school, long before Ericsson’s paper (we’re talkin’ waaaay before!), even had a better idea when she taught me that “Perfect practice makes perfect.” That one word changes everything and makes all the difference. Her point was that if you practice a mistake, it is worse that not practicing at all. Why? Because if you practice a mistake, you must unlearn the error first and then learn the correct way. Way hard!
Sport coaches, at least the good ones, know this also because they always stress “the fundamentals.” What are the fundamental? Simple steps that an athlete practices which are building blocks of the correct way to do something.
This fundamental truth is part of the explanation of why it is so hard to change. Because once we practice something over and over again, it is very hard to do it a different way. We have to unlearn a behavior and then relearn it.
How do we put this knowledge to good use?
- Analyze your current practices to see if they are a result of “perfect practice,” of just the way you you’ve done it for a long time.
How do you speak to your spouse or your kids when you are tired? Perfect practice makes perfect.
How do you start the day? With meditation and prayer, or in a blitz to get out the door of the house and to the office? Perfect practice makes perfect.
How are you doing on your healthy exercise and eating habits? Perfect practice makes perfect.
- Be deliberate (perfect) when starting a new task and make sure that you are doing it perfectly.
Do you want to spend more time every day reading good books that will help you learn and grow? Perfect practice makes perfect.
Do you want to pick up a new hobby like making pottery or playing the guitar? Perfect practice makes perfect.
So, don’t blame your mom, she probably didn’t know any better. She learned it from her mother who learned it from your grandmother. I guess perfect practice makes a difference even between generations.