I’d like to share an idea I read about on another blog this morning that I find very useful. How many good vs. bad repetitions do you need to practice in order for whatever you’re doing to stick correctly?
When you’re learning something new you’re not going to do it exactly right the first time around. Let’s say it takes you 20 attempts to do it more or less correctly. You got it “wrong” 19 times but right on 20. According to what Noa (a sports/performance psychologist) wrote on the post Adequate Learning vs. Overlearning, the optimal number is around 20 more correct reps, or 100% more correct reps. This makes a great deal of sense to me.
Whatever we learn is stored in pathways in our brains. Incorrect repetitions create incorrect pathways. So if you’ve practiced something wrong 19 times and right only once, you’ve trained your brain to do whatever it is you’re doing wrong.
Of course it’s not quite so simple. It may be that each repetition was better and better, so instead of ingraining a bad pathway 19 times you were actually modifying/changing one from wrong to right. Nevertheless, what you really want to ingrain in your brain is the best pathway. So it makes sense that you’d want to do at least as many correct/perfect/ideal repetitions as incorrect or sub-optimal reps.
In my own practice and teaching I probably don’t do enough correct reps after learning a new technique or skill. This leads to coming back the next day and doing worse than I did at the end of the previous day. Then I wonder why I “got it” the day before, but lost it the next day. Based on Noa’s post and the corresponding research, the reason makes sense. I did it wrong more than I did it right, so the right path wasn’t optimally ingrained.
I’m definitely going to try to integrate this concept into my practice, and I think you should too. I also highly recommend subscribing to Noa’s blog. Although it’s related to music, most of his posts are about learning or performance, have excellent insights, and apply equally to any performance art.