Practice the Hard Stuff

West Coast Swing Online Grab Bag

Have you ever danced at an event and seen someone do something that they couldn’t do just a month or two ago? Our community is full of dancers who seem to improve every chance you seen them out on the floor. How do they improve so quickly?

Usually, the key difference between the people who get better at every event and the people who seem to be stuck isn’t how much time each group practices. What matters is what they practice.

To get better quickly, you need to spend your time practicing the things that are hard for you. It really is that simple. There’s very little benefit to practicing easy things because you can already do them easily. There’s also not a lot of benefit to practicing something that’s way beyond your abilities. To effectively practice, you need to find things that are just outside your current abilities. If you can occasionally execute a skill while thinking hard about every part of it, that skill is a great candidate for practice.

Psychologists and researchers on human excellence have named this kind of practice the “zone of proximal development.” When you work in your ZPD, you steadily expand your abilities. It can be frustrating to work in this zone; on the one hand, you are often struggling because you are working on skills beyond what you can currently do, and on the other hand you can feel like you aren’t really growing because you can almost do these skills. But, the research is clear: time spent on little improvements that are just outside of your current capacities quickly results in substantial improvements.

If you want to be one of those dancers who grows every time others see you, pick a couple of skills that stretch you just beyond what you can currently do, and master them. The next time you’re on the floor, there will be a noticeable improvement in your abilities. Do this between a couple of events in a row, and you’ll look like a transformed dancer in a few short months.

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