Hack Your Practice: The Key Principles for Creating a Consistent Practice Routine

Nov 28, 2020

“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”

-Yogi Berra

Think about the last time you went to practice. Put yourself in the moment when you thought, “I need to go practice.” How did you feel? If you’re like most people, you felt a bit overwhelmed by all of the possible things to practice and by how little time you actually have to do it all. Maybe you decided you’re just too busy and don’t have time to practice today (like yesterday and the day before that...). Or maybe you went to practice and pushed through, knowing you didn’t really put in the focus and energy to make solid improvements. What happened to those early days of learning when practice was fun and exciting? What’s changed? How can you hope to make lasting improvement if your practice is inconsistent, and what’s the point if the day-to-day practice is a drag?

I want to show you the three key principles that helped me go from skipping practice for weeks to systematizing the process so that showing up to practice happened automatically.

Principle #1: Motivation matters.

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”

-Jim Ryun

There is a lot to be said about motivation, but the main idea is this: Motivation is what gets you to actually go sit down and practice, so without a reliable way to motivate yourself you’re leaving all of your improvement to chance. 

Personally, I don’t want to spend a ton of time and energy learning a new skill only to hope I’ll be better a few months or years down the line, and if you’re reading this, chances are neither do you. So, what we need is a way of ensuring that we stay motivated over the long-term, through the inevitable difficulties of learning a new skill, but especially a way to gain some daily motivation to practice. 

Now, I’m not going to suggest you start reciting mantras and telling yourself, “You can do it!” in the mirror. This isn’t that kind of blog. Instead, I’m going to tell you a quick story about a method that I call the “Motivation Bank” which I now use to guarantee I stay motivated, and the specific steps to implement it in your practice.

I was waking up late one morning, as jazz musicians do, and struggling to get out of bed. My guitar and music stand were sitting directly in front of my bed, staring at me the second I woke up, while I did my best to try to avoid eye contact. I was vaguely aware that someone was blasting music, and eventually realized that it was my brother listening to the jazz organist Jimmy Smith. All of a sudden, I heard this ripping guitar solo from George Benson, and man was it grooving! Now I was awake. I got up and asked my brother what track he’s listening to and immediately went back to my room because I NEEDED to learn how to play those bluesy Benson licks I was hearing. At that point, nothing else was on my mind except the desire to go play some guitar, in the hopes of getting the smallest bit closer to my guitar hero.

Later, I thought about how easy it was for me to practice that day and wondered if there was a way I could somehow bottle up the motivation I got from listening to George Benson for the days I didn’t feel like practicing (hint: most of them). As I worked on this idea, I remembered other seemingly unrelated times when I felt an intense desire to go practice: watching Lebron James own the court in a Heat playoff game and seeing one of my favorite bands perform live. What I realized was that, to me, those moments were all examples of an outstanding performance, and that the act of witnessing a great performance instantly and powerfully motivated me to want to improve my own performance, a.k.a. go practice. Most importantly, it doesn’t matter how many times I hear that same Benson track or watch Lebron throw down the same slam dunk. Because I really connected to their performance, it continues to motivate me time and time again. 

Here’s how you can apply these ideas to create your own “Motivation Bank” to draw upon when you need to get yourself to practice.

  1. Think of 2-3 great performers that truly inspire you. To make it a more powerful connection, ideally you saw these performers live at one point. Remember, these performers don’t have to be in your field, as long as their performance resonates with you.
  2. With those people in mind, create a bookmark folder called “My Motivation Bank” and add a couple of short video links from YouTube of their top performances in your mind. You want to pick something that you know will motivate you, not cause you to procrastinate.
  3. Now, when you need to practice, but just aren’t feeling like it, play one of the videos from your “Motivation Bank” and use that quick boost to get yourself started.

Principle #2: Prepare your practice.

“Everyone has a plan ‘til they get punched in the mouth.”

-Mike Tyson

In order to make use of that motivation, you need to go prepare your practice by knowing EXACTLY what you’ll be working on and why. Otherwise, you may show up to practice, only to noodle around the whole time unfocused. That won’t improve your playing.

Diving into the details of how to choose your goals and how to structure your practice to fit them is beyond the scope of this article. But, the act of preparing your practice is still crucial to creating a consistent routine. In other words, knowing what you need to do and why means you are more likely to take action. In my experience, there are two main reasons that this is true.

The first reason is that it makes the transition from wanting to practice to actually practicing as seamless as possible. Why is this important? Think about a time when you wanted to do something but justified pushing it off in your mind because you weren’t totally sure of what steps you had to take. Here’s my favorite example of that: cleaning out the garage. Everybody wants to have a clean garage, but it’s such a hassle and where do you even begin? Of course, even if you knew exactly which box or broken exercise equipment to move first, that doesn’t mean you’ll jump right to cleaning out the garage. The real reason you don’t clean out the garage is because you don’t have a compelling reason to. You vaguely accepted the idea that your garage should be clean, but can’t think of a clear reason that motivates you to actually do the work. Which leads me to the second reason…

When you know WHY you’re practicing a specific skill (or practicing at all), you are far more likely to put in the work because that ‘why’ reminds you of your overall motivation and gives you a defined start and end point. The best way that I’ve found to keep track of exactly what I’m practicing and why, is to keep a practice log. In case you’re unfamiliar with how to set up a practice log, I’ve included an old page from my jazz guitar log below. Over the years, I’ve tried all kinds of methods for tracking my practice, and so far I’ve found that this way is simple and clear enough to keep me tracking my progress.

An old page from my jazz guitar practice log.

Principle #3: Accountability allows for long-term success.

“Accountability breeds response-ability.”

-Stephen Covey

If motivation (Principle #1) and preparing your practice (Principle #2) get you to practice today and tomorrow, then accountability is what keeps you practicing weeks, months, and years into the future. To demonstrate its effectiveness, let me tell you how I used accountability to ensure I ran three times a week, even though I HATED running.

My sister and I went to the same college, and one semester she decided to start running in the morning around 7AM before her first class. I wanted to get into a running habit myself to exercise on my days off from lifting weights, but every time I tried to I never kept it up for more than a couple weeks. I had recently listened to a podcast by Alex Epstein where he talked about the importance of having an accountability partner and decided to put those ideas into action by teaming up with my sister. Here was our plan. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, my sister would show up to my dorm room at 7:15AM and then we would run around campus. It was that simple, and this is why it worked. Every morning that we planned to run, my sister knew that I would be getting up too, and she knew that if she didn’t show up I would be pissed that I got up early for no reason. And, it worked the same way for me. We had tied our commitment to run in such a way that neither one of us could single handedly back out of it, even on days it was freezing cold outside or we felt tired.

My first suggestion to you would be to find your own accountability partner. Find someone who is near your level that you can be slightly competitive with and push each other to practice. What if you can’t find someone to keep you accountable? Make yourself publicly accountable to your entire social network with an upcoming deadline. For example, if you’re learning guitar, pick a special occasion or family gathering a few months down the line where you can show off, and then let them know now that you will be performing. If the idea of performing in front of a small crowd makes you nervous, then good! Make yourself accountable anyways and use that fear to keep going on the days when practice is difficult.

Accountability is such an important part of improving in any skill that we’ve included multiple ways to stay accountable in our course Crafting Your Perfect Practice Routine. (Click here to learn more. Registration ends soon for the course and access to a live masterclass with Yotam Silberstein is included with purchase.)

To Recap:

Principle #1: Motivation matters.

-Gets you to practice today

Principle #2: Prepare your practice.

-Gets you to practice tomorrow

Principle #3: Accountability allows for long-term success.

-Keeps you practicing for weeks, months, years into the future

These three principles have allowed me to achieve most of my success, and the more I consciously implement them, the more results I see. In fact, I used these principles in writing this article. My motivation was helping a few close friends and family instantly improve their practice routine and guitar skills. My preparation was making a detailed outline of the article before I started writing. And, I made myself accountable by messaging a few of those friends to tell them that I would send them this article, which I hadn’t started at the time, within the week.

Now the thing is...I don’t want to help only a few of my closest friends. I want to share what I spent the past 18+ years learning through trial and error with you as well, so you can benefit from my experience and not waste years of your time and energy stuck in the same place like I did. If you’re struggling with practicing, you need to check out our latest course with Yotam Silberstein called Crafting Your Perfect Practice Routine. Click here to learn more.

All the best,

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Cras sed sapien quam. Sed dapibus est id enim facilisis, at posuere turpis adipiscing. Quisque sit amet dui dui.

Call To Action

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.