The Myth of ‘Just do it’: Thought and Effort in Expert Action preface

The Importance of Aligning practice and performance

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The Importance of Aligning practice and performance

Promoters of just-do-it typically think that during practice, athletes and performing artists need to focus on what they are doing, and that it is only during performance that actions ought to proceed automatically. But might it be important that one’s focus during both practice and performance match up? Might it be that once one has begun training with a certain focus, the best course is to maintain that focus? Of course, some performers like to “save something” for the stage. And of course, rehearsing or practicing full-out every time as if it were a performance might be exhausting. There might be an early morning technical rehearsal one day on tour for a performance that night, and the best course then might be to walk through the steps (what dancers call “marking”), while for the later rehearsal, one might want to dance full-out.

Yet Schaeffer’s example of playing the guitar, which I discussed in Chapter 4, seems to indicate that a consistent approach may be important: since one may not be able to control exogenous factors that lead to mindedness during performance, it would be best to practice mindedness during rehearsal as well. Of course, it very well may be that the best athletes, artists, and experts in a variety of fields can handle such changes. Perhaps Makarova could practice until her movements were automatic, and then all of a sudden start thinking about choreography on stage without missing a step. Yet, the sage advice might be that if all other things are equal, one should proceed in performance with the same type of focus and energy that one has used in rehearsal, giving it, if anything, just a little bit more. Again, though during a performance a musician cannot stop and repeat a section of a piece (though they had better at least sometimes practice each piece without doing this, as well), it might cause problems for a musician to move from a focused, thoughtful engagement in practice to a performance mode where the body just takes over..

And experts do focus on what they are doing during practice. Ericsson has emphasized the importance of avoiding automaticity during one’s training routine. Training, he has argued, should not aim at automaticity, for such automaticity leads to a plateau. Rather, according to Ericsson, the best experts in a wide variety of fields develop strategies for consciously keeping out of the automatic stage; they practice to retain conscious focus on technique and goals, and thereby avoid the type of automaticity that Fitts and others characterize as being part and parcel of expert action.

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