Sometimes there is magic in defining a concept that otherwise makes intuitive sense in a more nebulous way. A prime example of this is the distinction Thomas Sterner makes between practicing and learning in his book The Practicing Mind:
To me, the words practice and learning are similar but not the same. The word practice implies the presence of awareness and will. The word learning does not. When we practice something, we are involved in the deliberate repetition of a process with the intention of reaching a specific goal. The words deliberate and intention are key here because they define the difference between actively practicing something and passively learning it. If you grow up in a household where there is constant bickering and inappropriate behavior, you can learn that behavior without your knowledge. If that happens, then in order for you to change similar bickering behavior within yourself, you must first become aware of the personality tendencies you possess, and practice a different behavior repeatedly and deliberately with the intention of changing.1
Practice encompasses learning, but not the other way around. Learning does not take content into consideration. Keeping that in mind, we can also say that good practice mechanics require deliberately and intentionally staying in the process of doing something and being aware of whether or not we are actually accomplishing that. This also requires that we let go of our attachment to the “product.”2
It is our participation in the learning process that makes all the difference. What are we passively learning every day? Worse, what are we teaching? I’m doing what I can to maximize my opportunities for good practice.
Sterner, Thomas M. The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life: Master Any Skill or Challenge by Learning to Love the Process. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2012. Kindle link. ↩︎