My practicing on the airplane yesterday got me thinking about the stages of practicing an exercise. From my experience, working on something follows a path through these four levels of how I relate to what I’m working on…

1. Can’t do it
2. Can kinda do it
3. Competency
4. Mastery

These four stages are the same as the 4 overall stages in the instrumental pursuit. The point of this post is to reiterate that the goal in practicing is to reach stage 4. That might seem obvious, but it needs to be stated (and I constantly need to remind myself of it) because the temptation to stop at stage 3 is so strong.

“Hey! I’m doing it! Look everybody, I can actually do this really difficult thing/exercise/pattern now! This is great! All my hard word is paying off because now I can finally do it!” (self high five)

My heart makes those exclamations long before I’m even in the ballpark of mastery.

“Hey… I think I’m getting this. Wow. I can do it for like 20 seconds without screwing up.” – Me on the plane yesterday

“Who cares. It won’t make a difference in your actual limb control until you can do it for 10 minutes without screwing up. And significantly faster.” – The voice of reason

“Hey shut up and leave me alone.” – Me

“How could it possibly benefit you to tell the VOICE OF REASON to shut up?” – The voice of reason

“You’re right. I’ll keep at it.” – Me, reluctantly acknowledging the voice of reason

That’s how it always goes.

And listen, just a warning here… the distance between each of the stages is roughly the same. Don’t expect to get from stage 3 to stage 4 quicker or faster than you got from 1 to 2 or from 2 to 3. I think that’s where the deception lies in the temptation to not go for stage 4. Reaching stage 3 after a lot of hard work and then realizing you still have a ways to go before stage 4 is demoralizing. But do it anyway. Getting to stage 4 is what makes ALL the practicing worth it.

Summary: Practice past the point of competency to the point of mastery.