I’m a movie lover, and on three different occasions this month I had the pleasure of telling young students about one of my favorite childhood movies: The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, the only live-action feature film written by Dr. Seuss. In the film, a boy has a dream that he has been enslaved by his piano teacher as part of a 500-child chain gang being trained to play his magnum opus on a gigantic piano with thousands of keys. As the boy nods off to begin his adventure, he mutters his teacher’s favorite expression over and over to himself: “Practice makes perfect… practice makes perfect…”
Practicing something difficult can be a drag, and often the people making you do it – whether your teachers, parents, your coach, or your tutor – can seem as evil as the dastardly Dr. Terwilliker in that film. Most of us can relate to the kids in the dream when they decide to blow up Dr. T’s giant piano during the climactic concert. In reality, however, repetitive practice is often the easiest or even the only way to get better at something, whether it be swimming or solving quadratic equations. Putting in a little extra time and effort early on can also save you a lot of stress in the long run.
If you’ve learned how to drive, you probably remember that it starts out seeming really difficult and scary, but after a few months of practice it’s second nature. The same thing goes for a riding a bicycle, the skill that so many others requiring practice are compared to. In just a few days or weeks the balancing act goes from requiring your full attention (and stress!) to requiring no thought at all. Believe it or not, most mental exercises have just as much ‘muscle memory’ to them as physical ones. Even the most difficult math concepts, which are often the most intimidating part of a student’s day, can become easy with enough practice. Likewise for essays, even ones on complex subjects, once you have enough practice with building an outline. It’s easy to get discouraged if something is still giving you trouble after an hour or two of trying to wrap your head around it, to assume that it’s just ‘too hard for you’ or ‘not what you’re good at.’ Nonsense! In most cases the only thing standing between you and your goal of mastery is a certain amount of practice.
When you’ve had an especially busy day of school, sports, and other extracurriculars, the last thing you want to do is your math homework. It’s important to remember what you’re practicing for though. The more time you spend practicing early on, even a little at a time, the less stress you’ll carry into your exam or quiz. It’s a great feeling going into a test knowing that you won’t be surprised by any of the questions you see. So next time you’re cursing your math teacher for assigning your 50 problems that all look the same, remember that ‘talent’ isn’t necessarily something you’re born with. Behind every great talent is a boatload of practice, and with enough of it you can do just about anything you put your mind to.
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