Practicing a little everyday really goes a long way.
As a lifelong lover of the arts and languages, I have struggled through many different disciplines. I started drawing obsessively before the age of five and began writing my first stories at the age of eight. After entering college, I also discovered my love for learning languages, was involved in martial arts for a couple of years and, a while later, I fell in love with dance.
I have not always been able to master everything I have pursued. The drawing and the martial arts kind of fell by the wayside over the years. However, I stuck with the languages, the writing and the dance, after deciding to put all of my energies and resources towards mastering those.
Trying to hone a new skill or master a new discipline as an adult can be frustrating. Adults have many responsibilities that always seem to take precedence before anything else. Financials can also play a role. If you cannot afford classes, expensive equipment or supplies, this can all get in the way.
Due to the limits in terms of time, money and energy for a working middle class adult, I have had to devise approaches to become proficient in my desired disciplines within my limitations. I have been lucky to study dance with a teacher, Mira Betz, who has spent the past few years figuring out ways to get the most of out whatever limited practice time she and her students have.
The best thing you can do while you are learning that new skill is to find your minimum and do it (almost) everyday. One of the main lessons I have learned in this journey is that doing even a little everyday is absolutely essential in order to acquire proficiency.
When I was younger, I used to think that I needed to have a grueling practice schedule in order to become a master at something. During my first year practicing martial arts, I tried to follow an hour long drilling session before heading out for my job as a cashier at a retail store. Needless to say I didn’t stick with that for very long.
I no longer have this type of mindset. Now I figure out my minimum of value and try to work that into the day. If I can do more, great! Here are some examples from various disciplines:
- Dance: 10 repetitions of a step or dance combination.
- Drawing or painting: one sketch per day.
- 3D modeling: one 3D model; pick simple, non-challenging objects at first, even if it takes you only 5 minutes to complete!
- Photography: three photographs.
- Music: 5 to 10 minutes of practice per day.
- Writing: one 3–5 sentence paragraph per day or 15 minutes.
- Language: learn three phrases and 5 words that you repeat and try to use throughout the day.
Over the years, I have also learned to appreciate the value of a good warm-up. I used to struggle to write because I would give up before my brain was sufficiently warmed up. Now I try to give my brain time to warm-up before I start getting to the more demanding bits of writing. Doing brainstorming, reading material for inspiration or doing a short creativity exercise like word association can usually do the trick. Moving the body can also awaken the mind. Doing a few push ups or squats, or a short dance before hitting the desk is also incredibly beneficial .
The best warm-ups, though, are the ones in which you just play. I especially use this when I am crafting choreography. I give myself 5 to 10 minutes to just move around slowly in the space, feeling my body and the air around me, exploring shapes and interacting with the space around me. Another idea is to come up with a word, a concept or theme and work around that. If you’re an illustrator, for example, you could try to make a quick sketch based on a word prompt. Playful warm-ups relax your body and mind, which will make your practice or creation session more fruitful than when you are stressed.
It’s okay if it takes your brain your entire allotted time to warm up. This is another principle: get your body and brain used to coming back to the routine. This is why it’s so important for your habit to be as low key as possible, especially at the beginning. It’s important to make it easy to the point where it doesn’t bring up any feelings of resistance. If I tell you to do 100 squats everyday at 3pm, are you going to? How about 5?
Eventually, you can start increasing your time, repetitions and difficulty. But once you do, keep your minimum in mind. You’ll need it for those crazy days when everything seems to go wrong. Bring your practice back to your baseline minimum when you need a break.
Based on the principles of neuroplasticity, you can devise a training and practice schedule that leads you into a place of comfort with your new skill or skill level. Good luck!