If you were to ask me a year ago about how much I practice, I would have given some kind of estimate, probably about 5 units of practice per day, which would total somewhere in the "35 unit" range for the week. My first hundred days on this journey gave me an opportunity to step back and look at a large sample of data. It also brought to light some truths that I was not fully aware of. Practicing every day for 100 days made the math quite easy. When I counted the units in my practice log, I was SHOCKED to see that I only practiced 393 units over the hundred days, which means I averaged under 4 units per day. Under 4 units?!?! that's less than an hour a day!
The good news is I now had a very accurate measurement of how much work I was doing, and I was then able to set goals based off of the reality, not some imagined ideal that I had created. Since I achieved 393 units, I wanted my next hundred days to be over 400 units in total, so I decided on a goal of 450 units. There was something extremely tangible about setting a goal moderately above my actual numbers, and being able to simplify what that meant on a daily basis has been helpful. If you want to practice 450 units in 100 days, you need to practice 4 or 5 units a day. 5 units slightly helps you toward your goal while 4 units slightly hinders your trajectory. This became blatantly obvious once I was able to evaluate my practice habits based on real data.
On day 127, I have currently practiced 135 units over the past 27 days, which is basically crushing my previous practice output as well as my goal of 4.5 units per day. I am holding onto 5 units per day and I seem to be operating at a steady state with very little standing in my way over the next few months. Why the change? Here are some thoughts I have regarding this shift in momentum.
Lev Vygotsky's "Zone of Proximal Development" is a well-known concept for graduate students (especially in education) and refers to a sort of 'Goldilocks Zone' of stuff learners can do that falls in between two zones of "I can do that easily" and "I can't do that at all". Finding the right amount of challenge can be a huge factor of motivation and self-efficacy, and this concept seems to apply well to more than just tasks. It can be applied to just about anything. Any habit of our lives that we want to change (eating better, exercising, practicing, etc.) can be well-served by setting goals based on an appropriate level of challenge. Usually that zone is just beyond what we would consider stuff we do well. If it is too hard (or too easy), we tend to lose motivation. When I discovered that my actual practice habits were roughly 3.93 units per day, I was then able to set a goal of 4.5 units per day and it felt very doable with minimal disruption in my current life. Get up a little earlier, stay on task a little more at work, etc. No biggie. In fact, feeling the tiny successes every day led to further motivation, and lately I have become somewhat 'addicted' to succeeding at the 5 unit pace I have set out with.
I feel strongly that had I started with the notion that I was going to hit 5 units every day, I would have been less successful. I wonder if the 'have to' motivation would have lead to less productive units or burnout over time. This concept of feeling a stronger attraction to a slightly better version of me reminds me of Kelper's theory of planetary motion as well (basically planets orbit in a slight ellipse, and when they are closer to their orbital focal point, they travel at a faster speed- I can see a connection here with gravitation to goals that are closer to reality). If you can do 10 push-ups, setting a goal of 11 seems easier than 100.
I think most people practice less than they think they do.
Clocking time in a practice room doesn't mean you are practicing that much. The time has to be productive and really no one cares how much time it takes you, you just have to get the results if you want to be a better player. It may seem contradictory to this entire blog, but worrying about big numbers in the practice room more than the quality of the practice time will have a counter-effect. I used to believe professionals all practiced 6 hours a day (sometimes more) but really the older I get and the more I examine practice, I find that smaller units of highly-focused time is more productive in the long run, and I am comfortable using this concept of 'units' to describe my practice time, even if others might scoff at the perceived equivalence with their 'hours every day' theory of practice time. I have more information about my practice methodology on my website here.
My advice to students: First figure out what you are currently practicing. However you want to count it is fine, but keep track over the course of a week or a month. Use that data to set goals for the next week or month. Be honest with yourself. You may find that you don't really practice that much. Set goals that are closely related to the numbers you are seeing in reality, and find ways to motivate yourself to hit those numbers. If you are being productive with your time, the increased practice should yield increased results, thus more motivation to achieve those numbers. Momentum is only one breakthrough away!