Human beings love games. This is as big a mystery as the fact that we love music. It doesn’t really seem connected directly to survival, but it is still a very ingrained part of the human psyche. Making practicing a game has the potential to change your results completely. It will fire up your passion, bring out the genius in you and speed up the learning process many times.
Practicing already is a game
No matter how far back you go in history, from ancient Greece to the modern-day eighty billion sports industry, games has been an integral part of the human experience. Not because games are inherently exciting but because humans find them exciting. It’s inside us. It’s inside you. You are made to take on challenges and you love watching other people take on challenges, for no apparent reason.
RECREATIONAL OR SERIOUSLY FUN?
The cool thing is that practicing already IS a game: You have a target or a goal to reach. You have rules for what you can and cannot do: If you do the ineffective hurtful thing like practice too fast while making mistakes all the time, you will be penalized with a poor technique in the end.
If you follow the rules of your brain and body and practice in the most effective way, you will eventually win through, score the goals and get the price. Some of us keep score when we practice whether it is in our head or on a piece of paper, we do keep some track of what we do and where we are. So all the elements of a good game is already there.
The sad thing is that most of us doesn’t recognize how much of a game practicing already is so we neglect making it a fun exciting one. We enter the playing field unprepared haphazardly throwing the ball around. We play around with the ball trying to bring it through the hoop but with no real engagement. When we succeed it feels nice. When we don’t it doesn’t really matter. This is what we usually refer to as a recreational activity.
That’s how most of us practice, most of the time.
Imagine if you were trying to win the world championship in this way: Both teams wandering around the court, throwing the ball around and losing it to the other team constantly. It would be the most boring match you had ever seen and none of the teams would ever live up to what they can really do. In order for the game to pull out the best in us, we must take it seriously. Not serious as in survival, but serious as in important.
When we enter the game like it was a very important matter, all of who and what we are is engaged and brought to the surface. This is where genius and “talent” is born. This is where you are using all of your capacity to win the game and get the price. You fight like it meant the world to you.
You even hurt yourself in the process and keep on going like nothing happened. The pain is meaningful. You had to tackle that guy so you paid the price and you did it willingly. The game remains just a game, but now it is turned into an engaging and exciting activity that you can’t seem to get enough of. Gone are all your worries. There is just the game. Just the results you want and the battle to get them.
This is how most of us rarely practice.
Most of us use practicing as a recreational activity, most of the time. And that’s when we engage very little to none of our capacity to learn and learn fast. If you want real results you must make it the game it already is. That’s when the magic happens.
So how do we do this? I don’t even have to answer this because it is so obvious already. We already said that a game has a goal or a target that let’s you know when you have won. It has rules that you must follow and you must keep and know the score at all times.
- A goal or target
- Rules of the game
- Keeping score
KEY NUMBER ONE: CREATE A SPECIFIC GOAL
Do you know when you have “won the game og practicing?” Or are you never really winning because you’re always behind? Is winning defined as reaching your ultimate skill level and so you are in a game that lasts years? What would that do to a football match? A game that lasts five years… how many people would find that exciting?
In order to know when you have won, you must have a specific short-term goal. No goal right in front of you means no game. If you don’t know what scoring really means because you don’t know what you are aiming at in the short-term, the game goes from serious to recreational in a heartbeat. There is no game left.
You must know what scoring means in order to win
So get clear on a realistic but exciting goal for the next four weeks, decide what you have to do to get there and launch. Did you win the four-week match? Did you reach the level you wanted? Or did you lose? (More on creating a good short-term goal here)
If you won, great! Figure out why so you can do it again and again. If you lose, great! Use it to get better: Was your goal too big? Did you really set yourself up to fail because it was too much too soon? Or did you not practice enough or in the most effective way? Be your own coach.
KEY NUMBER TWO: DISCOVER THE RULES
It is not up to us to create the rules of the game. They are there already. All we need to do is to look for them. The rules of the practicing game are the rules of how your body and mind learns in the most effective way. This has been my obsession for a couple of decades now.
You constantly try to improve the way you practice. When you practice. How many practice sessions you have during the day. How many small and large breaks you take. Learning some things requires you to be very focused and aware of what you do. Learning other things allows you to watch TV as you do simple picking exercises.
Some things you can practice without your guitar on the road. Some things you can practice in your head or by doing almost invisible rhythmic exercise with your hand all day. Some things you can learn just by reading a book and taking notes.
You test and try out each way of getting better, constantly noticing what works and what doesn’t. Every time you find something that works you know that you have found a new rule to the game for you. Something you have to do in order to win the game and not get penalized with poor results or physical injury which will send you out of the game completely.
KEY NUMBER THREE: KEEP SCORE
The third thing you must do in order for practicing to be an exciting game is to keep score. If you fail to keep score you have no way of knowing whether you have won or not. When it comes to guitar practicing, keeping score is measuring two things:
- How much you do and
- What you get out of it.
Keeping score makes the game exciting. If you’re at a football match and you don’t know the score, it’s hard to get excited about it.
You measure what you are doing and to what extend that brings you to your goal. You measure activities and results. A pad of paper and a pencil is all you need and for some reason it tends to be much more effective than an electronic device. Write down the date, how much time you practiced or how many repetitions you did or both. And then measure the results you get from that activity once every week or month.
Measuring your results too often will lead to frustration. It’s like asking “are we there yet?” every other second which will just frustrate you. But find some measurable entity that you can write down like speed for instance. I very often use this as a measure even when I am not practicing fast sequences. I might not ever want to play the sequence, the chords, the scale, the arpeggio very fast, but the faster I can play it the more control I tend to have over it at lower levels of speed.
“If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?”
You could measure the activities you engage in to get to your goal every day – and then measure how close you move to your goal once a week or month. Measuring activities gives you a feeling of having won the game every day. Seeing the actual results on paper will make it real in a more tangible way than having them in your head.
As the days go by your notes accumulate and each time you sit down to practice you see that growing list of things you did, exact minutes and hours you spend, the exact number of repetitions you made. The simple act of deciding how much, how many or for how long you want to practice and then measuring to what extend you do it is already game enough for most of us to get excited about it.
NO GAME LASTS FOREVER
Creating a serious and fun game inspires passion like nothing else. It turns a mundane practice regimen into an exciting project you can’t let go of. But don’t expect yourself to always be playing a practicing game as you wouldn’t like to be in a constant never-ending sports game.
Create a game of mastery and play it. Pick a tiny thing that you want to take all the way to mastery. That’s your goal. Then decide what you are going to do to get there and launch. Measure the time you put in, the repetitions you do and write it down. And at some point you will want to leave the game. Go back to recreational practicing for a while. Until you feel the urge to get serious about another game of yours.