The MuchSmarter Blog

When Practice Isn’t Enough By Itself

Steve Schecter
December 1, 2015
There are times when just putting in practice isn’t  enough to get you where you want to be.

One of my students a couple years back, a girl named Ashley, was barely passing her AP Biology course. She explained to me that she was working  hard and still managing no better than a 70 on most tests.

Another student, Elizabeth, was attempting to read Charles Dickens’ classic novel, “A Tale of Two Cities” and was stuck in Chapter One.

John had taken several SAT practice tests and had moved no closer to his goal.

Brooke could not make progress in her history class, getting grades way lower than in her other courses.

And then there's me...I once played golf three to four times a week for a year—and made no improvement!

In all of these cases, the players lacked a clear picture of what the game is about!

In our Much Smarter Method, a key step in learning anything you want is “Get The Whole Story Up Front”.  In this step, you get, or have someone help you get, a clear picture of what the game is about.  You get answers to questions like:

  • What is the object of the game?
  • Why do we play?
  • What do people who love the game love about it?
  • What does expert performance look like?
  • What are the small steps I can take to begin gaining expertise?
  • What are the “moves” of the game – the component parts that add up to successful performance?
  • How do I practice those moves?
  • How do I put the moves together into a successful game? 

When we play the game without knowing what it’s about, we are playing blindly. We are trying to reach a destination without directions. Not fun. Not effective.

When we get the whole story up front, it becomes much easier to learn—and to improve.

Ashley learned how to approach biology, how to get a clear understanding of the systems of information that she needed to master, and then how to commit those systems to memory.  Her grades improved from 70s to 90s in a fairly short time.

Elizabeth learned how to approach the reading of “A Tale of Two Cities”.  She got a synopsis of the whole story, and then patiently worked her way, chapter by chapter, through the book’s 19th century English. Having mastered the game, she found that she loved the book!

John never became a fan of the standardized test game, but he broke out of his rut and was able to get a good enough SAT score to gain admission to Dartmouth.

Brooke learned to appreciate and identify the patterns that historians and students of history work with when they try to piece together an understanding of what happened – and why.  Having a sense of what studying history is about helped Brooke improve quickly and enjoy the game for the first time.

And as for me…well, I never got any better at golf, but I am able to use my golf experience as a very potent example of how NOT to approach learning a game! 

Let’s be clear: true mastery and expertise in any game takes consistent practice over time.  However, if you find yourself in a rut in any game you are playing.  If you seem to be expending a lot of ineffective effort, then spend a little time thinking about the question:  “what is this game about?”  The answer may be the thing to put you on the road to greater enjoyment of the game—and more confident performance! 

And if you need help getting a little perspective on the object of the game you’re playing, you can always ask an experienced guide for help! Drop us a line and let’s see if we can help you get into the mindset to do your best at whatever game you’re playing.

Talk to you soon!

– Steve

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