We're told we need to practice if we want to get better.
However, most of the times when we're practicing, we're quite bored. Instead, “play” is far superior in every way.
It's not boring and like that kid next door, we “dribble” all the time. Let's look sideways at dribbling, instead of just practice, practice, practice.
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Let's say you wanted to learn a language, or maybe you wanted to learn how to draw or write.
What would be the most obvious advice that you could get from a stranger, a friend, or even yourself? The most obvious advice we consistently get is to practice, practice, and practice. And yet that's not what you see when you look around you.
Part of the problem is that we're not really paying attention to what we see. Let's take the example of basketball.
If your goal is to get good at basketball, there's much to consider.
You'll need excellent ball-handling skills to maintain ball control. There's shooting, of course: jump shots, layups and free throws, for starters. Rebounding, passing, defence, court awareness, and teamwork are all part of the complexity of a game of basketball.
All of those elements of basketball are obvious, and we expect to see them during the game and practice. However, if you look around, you'll notice another detail right in front of your face. It's easy to miss, and yet this element is around almost all of the time.
If you watch someone who is obsessed with basketball, they will annoy you because they're always dribbling a ball. You hear them dribbling outside their house, on the way to school, the playground or even when they go to the shopping mall.
The constant factor is they almost always have their basketball, and they're dribbling.
An artist does something similar.
You will see an artist practice, and you'll also see them painting a piece of art. However, snuck right in between is doodling. Artists start their scribbling on walls and never seem to stop. They'll find scraps of paper and draw in books, but will also draw on a table mat—if the table mat is not cloth, but paper.
Many people who build sheds, computers, write code or novels, or cook food are average. A good reason they never get past a certain level might be directly linked to their obsession with practice.
Practice is tiring.
Practice is often repetitive, which means it's boring.
Practice, practice, practice: It just sounds like so much work.
However, “dribbling” is not only fun but it's non-judgmental
No one is looking at what you're doing when you dribble, scribble or nibble. You can do as you like and goof up as much as you want, and people don't seem to notice what you're doing. Even as the person doing the dribbling, you barely see it yourself. All you know is that you're getting better at it without the rigour of practice.
How does this idea of “dribbling” play out in the adult world?
Let's say you're keen to learn the guitar. You have the song (which is an event). Then you have practice (which is important but often tedious). The “dribbling” is when you pick up the guitar many times a day, week, or month just to strum away. The two zones where you're having the most fun are usually when you're “dribbling” or when you have the final “event”.
And this is why most people stagnate in their skills
I've seen clients who've done exceedingly well in writing, drawing, and other such activities. However, at some point, they never seem to progress. They know their struggles, but they pick on the worst of the three elements when you ask them why they're not getting ahead.
They say: I haven't practised.
You realise what's happening here, don't you?
They should be saying: I'm going to “dribble” more. I will find a place to dribble outside the house, on the way to work, or even at the shopping mall.
All skills aren't portable—that's for sure.
However, this over-dependence on practice is what dooms most of us. Parents are obsessed with hard work. Teachers, coaches, guides, and even our cool friends will talk about practice as though it's the holy grail. And while practice is crucial for speed, confidence and anticipation, it's also the least interesting of all.
You and I need to learn from that annoying kid next door. To get to a high level of joy, we need to dribble more than ever before.
Play is what's important.
It's always been about the “dribbling, scribbling, nibbling, and doodling”.