Strength in the Mundane
It is funny how we all know that there is power in repetition and in creating strong habits. We also know that we should eat our veggies and drink lots of water for optimal health, but we don’t do that either. So what is the real power of repetition and why don’t we do it?
The Real Power in Repetition
So what is the power in repetition? Is it the same as building a habit? The real power in repetition, as far as this author is concerned, is that it helps us learn and master skills. Consider when you started learning how to play an instrument. Little known fact here … I play the accordion. When I started paying accordion I was given a series of exercises that my very sweet and very old teacher expected me to practice every day of the week until the next lesson.
$50 million dollar question. Did I practice every day? Heck no! I was a kid and I thought I had a lot better things to do than learn the Drink More Beer Polka. Consequently, I am a pretty terrible accordion player. Yet, if I would have mastered those exercises I would have been given even more difficult exercises to try.
Perhaps you didn’t learn to play an instrument. Perhaps you wanted to learn a new language. I took several years of French in high school. By repeating unfamiliar words or using them in sentences It become more natural for me to speak French. Again, I didn’t stick with it. I know like one word now, Merci.
Okay, so I am not looking all that great here, so let’s try another skill. What about sports. I loved volleyball as a kid. I played long enough to get reasonably good. I was on varsity one year. I was also able to be a coach for my daughter’s middle school team. As coaches we spent time helping the other players master skills like hitting and setting. We repeated drills to help them get muscle memory until it become second nature. When the players mastered the skill, they started to do it without even having to think about doing it. It was at this point that the skill become who they were vs what they did. They were able to be different without remembering to be different. At this point the tasks stopped being repetitive tasks and became habits. I will be honest here, I am not a master. I helped the middle school kids. I am not skilled enough to help the high school kids.
Last example, maybe you didn’t do sports, play an instrument or learn a language. At this point I am starting to wonder what you did do. Well, most of us — in the United States anyway — went to school by about age six. We we were all given homework and it was often in the form of repeatable tasks. Remember doing multiplication tables over and over again until they thought you might literally injure yourself? Yeah, power of repeat. I bet nearly all of you are able to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. You can probably rattle-off multiplication facts with very little effort. That is the power of repetition.
Why We Quit?
If we know it is really powerful, then why do we quit? Why do we get so frustrated? The biggest problem … to me anyway … is that we get bored. Yet, we love new experiences and the excitement that comes with it. But, when we must repeat a task over and over we would rather be doing something else. Our brains want novelty. They want excitement.
Since we would rather do something new and exciting it makes it difficult to bring ourselves to practice an instrument or repeat the same words over and over when learning a language.
What Can We Do to Persevere?
So if we know the power of repetition an we know that boredom is a big reason that we quit, what can we do about it? The first thing we can do it limit the time that we spend doing the tasks.
It is better to practice the task in short durations consistently than to try and put several hours into the repetitive task. The key is consistency. Try to work on a new skill for only 15 to 20 minutes at a time per day and then step away.
What If We Do Get Good at the Skill?
One more roadblock that often comes from repetition is that we tend to get good at something. Once you get really good at something, often we stop doing it. We hit a plateau. When you repeat something to the point that you are good at it, you feel satisfied that you can do the task. Then when you try to advance to a new level, you tend to revert to the previous level.
Ever hit a plateau? Ever stop loosing weight? Well, it might be because you’re normal. Yep. You created a habit so strong that you now have to essentially add to that habit … in the for of a habit chain …, break the habit, or create a new one in order to move past the plateau.
Some people find that if you spend some time thinking about how great it felt for you when you first became skilled at a pervious task and then try to imagine how great it will feel when you master a new one that it helps to get past the plateau. Me, I usually revert to just habit chaining. I personally find it easier to keep doing something well and then add on a new thing than to totally change something that is working. We all have different methods though. You have to do what works for you.
One thing about skills is that if you don’t use them you can lose the ability to do them well. Sometimes you might have to revisit a previously mastered skill. For example, after you mastered learning the basic verbs in French or Spanish, you might forget a few. The good news is that when you get rusty and you revisit the skill, it likely takes much less time to get back if you use the same repetition that you used before.
Power of Repeat vs. Habit?
So is the power of repetition and a habit the same thing? Yes, no. It depends on your point of view. You can repeatably walk, but do you consider walking a habit? Probably not. I think we often associate habits with something that we repeatedly do without thinking. You can use the power of repeat to create a habit. Yet, you don’t necessarily created a habit of everything that you repeatedly do. And really, who cares anyway? If you want to learn something — break it up into 15 to 20 minute chunks and do it every day. When you get good then add another habit to the end of that one and you will begin a chain of habits that will likely change your life for the better.
Want some support or accountability in creating your new habits? Check me out on Coach.me. I run an accountability for habits program. Best of luck in creating your new habits. https://www.coach.me/PressPlay_Lifestyle?ref=135Kp
Originally published at Medium on Practical Mind Mastery on October 9, 2019.