How to Stop Being Allergic to Practice

The main problem with practice is that we all have a powerful instinct to avoid it.

There’s a perfectly good reason for this: your unconscious brain. Practice involves spending lots of energy struggling for an uncertain payoff, and your unconscious brain really, really dislikes spending energy for uncertain payoffs.

After all, evolution built your brain to behave like an ultra-conservative banker — investing energy only when there’s a clear, tangible benefit. As a result, we’re all natural-born geniuses at coming up with excuses not to practice, or to cut corners, or to skip it and hope things work out.

All of which is why you might want to check out these three videos by Torin Bakke, a teenage clarinetist from Illinois. Back in 2009, when he was 11, Torin had an idea: he started tracking his hours of practice, and videotaping himself at each new benchmark. (For more, here’s Torin’s blog.)

So here’s Torin at 200 hours (okay, he sounds decent for a beginner)


And at 1,000 hours (wow, he’s made a massive leap)


And at 3,000 hours (holy sh*t!)

I like Torin’s method because it’s 1) simple to do, and 2) it provides a nice way to highlight the payoff of progress. Seen day to day, progress feels like frustratingly slow baby steps. Seen with this method, the cumulative power of those baby steps is crystal clear.

Here are a few other ideas I’ve seen people use to defeat their practice aversion:

  • Be like Torin: Make a habit of tracking progress, using journals or video.
  • Be early: Build a habit of practicing early in the morning, so nothing can get in the way.
  • Build “on-ramps”: Surround yourself with behavioral cues that nudge you toward practice. If you’re a runner, keep your running shoes next to your bed, so you put them on each morning. Same with violin, or soccer ball, or math book — the point is to design your space so that practice can happen with a minimum of willpower.

Finally, does anybody else know of other people who are tracking their practice and recording their progress in this way? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

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