Practicing for Peak Performance

In How to Face Your Fear and Perform! we talked about getting in touch with the reasons why you perform, the importance of preparing well and learning to trust your preparation, and the importance of learning the other mental skills it takes to perform without fear.

I don’t know about you, but I find that when the word “practice” is brought up many people have adverse reactions.  These reactions are based on past experience with practice sessions that have probably consisted of mindless drilling and boring exercises that not only prevent you from focusing on skill acquisition or refinement, but can waste your time, and actually cause you to lose focus.

Let’s look at some practice models that will lead to more effective preparation and increased confidence for performing at peak levels.

4 Principles of Effective, Mindful Practice

  1. Goal-driven—Set specific goals so that your practice is guided by these objectives.
  2. Focused—Strive to have the same intensity and focus in practice that you need in performance.
  3. Varied—Mix up how you practice each technique or skill in several short practice sessions per day.
  4. Based on performance—Play or sing as you will perform to help you trust your preparation and transfer your practice to performance.

We often fall into simple, rote practice patterns because we were never taught any other way to practice.   So it’s time we learn a better way.   Memory is enhanced when we engage in practice that is more challenging than mindlessly drilling.   Varying practice in several short increments per day requires us to ‘figure out’ the skill over and over.  With variable practice, you are basically solving the motor problem anew each time.  Just repeating the same thing over and over again (blocked or constant practice) doesn’t allow you to process very deeply.

Performance psychologist Dr. Noa Kageyama gives us several unique ideas for “mixing up” your practice:

Practice Sprints

  1. Set a timer for 10 minutes (knowing you have 10 minutes keeps you motivated and focused)
  2. Define a specific goal you’d like to accomplish (write it down so it will be easier to assess whether you’ve accomplish it)
  3. Do what it takes to accomplish your goal (at the end of your 10-minute session, write down what you’ve learned)
  4. Repeat as desired.


Iterative Practice (working through a piece in multiple passes)

  1. Determine the current state of a piece or section of a piece you are working on.
  2. Create your practice goals at several different levels.
  • Big picture basics
  • Finer, but still obvious, details
  • Nitty-gritty details


Problem Solving Practice

  1. Define the problem.  How do I want this section/phrase/note to sound?
  2. Analyze the problem.  How far off is it and why is it different than I want?
  3. Identify potential solutions.  How or what can I change to achieve the desired result?
  4. Test potential solutions.  Which solutions work best?
  5. Implement the best solution.  Make the changes permanent.
  6. Monitor implementation.  Are the changes continuing to produce the results I want?

Practicing to achieve peak performances includes determining what you want to accomplish, devising a plan, working your plan, knowing how to monitor your progress and being able to demonstrate your abilities on command.  Above are several plans for you to choose from.  Don’t worry about choosing the perfect plan.  The important thing is to have a plan and to work it!

Be sure to leave me a comment to let me know your experience with practice and what works best for you.


Dr. Allan | |

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