Don’t Practice the Perfect

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As an algebra teacher, I spend much of my day pushing kids beyond what they think they are capable.  To no one’s surprise, I am often met with resistance.  They would rather practice addition rather than polynomials.  They want to practice the perfect.

In the example of algebra students, it is easy to see the absurdity of practicing something one has already mastered to the exclusion of learning something new.  However, it is often not so clear in our own lives how frequently we gravitate towards the known rather than explore the edge and delve into the unknown and unmastered. If always do what you know, you will never know anything else.  This clicked for me one day in the gym (shocker, I know) when I immediately walked towards the free weights.  Again.  That was my comfort zone; that was where I knew what I was I doing.  Free weights are awesome, but I was slighting myself by not trying anything else.  I made a promise to myself to try at least one new exercise machine each visit or try one new move with free weights.  And, you know what, I now have added to my “mastered” repertoire and discovered new favorites.  If it wasn’t for trying new things, my “I can’t, won’t and I’ll never” list wouldn’t exist and my life would be much duller.

Math DancesIt is comfortable to practice the perfected and scary to be vulnerable by trying something new.  We often make excuses, promising to practice something once we improve at it.  Think about that.  That is like saying I meditate because I have a calm mind, rather than I meditate to have a calm mind.  Or, I’m not flexible enough to do yoga, rather than I do yoga to become flexible.  Just rearranging those few words entirely shifts the focus and intent of the practice.  Th only way to improve is to practice the imperfect.

We often need  a push, either internal or external, to delve into the new.  Start by being honest with yourself about how you stay in your comfort zone.  Then, make a committment to grow in one or more areas.  If it helps, try picturing your algebra teacher pushing you along the way:)

Math Class
Math Class (Photo credit: attercop311)

Here are some suggestions to help you break out of practicing the perfect:

-Surround yourself with people that have knowledge and interests that differ from yours.

-Sign up for a class.  The YMCA and park services usually offer some low-cost and low-committment classes.

-Take suggestions from or just spend time with a kid; they’re usually fearless when it comes to trying new experiences.

-If you’re concerned about trying a new class, start with a similar version designed for the elderly.  The welcoming environment and shared wisdom will immediately put you at ease.

-Find someone who can struggle through with you.  My students benefit from seeing others in the same boat.

-Find a way to record your progress along the way.  Seeing improvement is a huge motivator.


It’s time to stop practicing addition and move on to something that will challenge you to grow.  And, no, it doesn’t have to be polynomials.



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