This essay is in memory of my Uncle Joe Neyer.
Everyone knows that if you want to get better at something, you need to practice it. Less widely understood is the fact that you can’t just repeat something over and over – you need to be deliberate about improving. There’s a saying, “perfect practice makes perfect”. My Uncle Joe told me once, “if you want to do something fast, learn to do it perfectly. If you can do it perfectly, slowly, you can do it as fast as you want.”
I’ve come up with what I think is a novel explanation for this phenomena: if you repeat an action performed imperfectly, you aren’t really repeating it. You’re doing a bunch of actions which are similar, but not the same, and so you don’t build your skills because you haven’t really repeated anything.
For example, suppose you wish to get better at drawing circles. Let’s say you are drawing a circle with a radius of 50 pixels in a buffer of 100×100 pixels. There’s exactly one way to do this correctly. There are 10,000 ways to draw “something which is very close to a circle, but off by one pixel.” Get two pixels wrong, and that number jumps up to 100,000,000 circle-like shapes you could be drawing.
If you draw a perfect circle 100 times, you have drawn the same perfect circle 100 times.
If you draw an imperfect circle 100 times, you have actually drawn 100 different imperfect circles.
The band that plays in tune plays loudest. Their waveforms they create superimpose on top of each other. They add constructively.
When we practice, the actions of our past selves are in harmony with our actions in the present. Those waveforms, superimposed on each other, add up to something greater.