Slow is Beautiful

One question that pops up often: why does super-slow practice work so well?  After all, we see it over and over in the talent hotbeds, where it’s used to learn everything from algebra to tennis to writing. And yet slow practice grates against our instincts. Speed is good, right? Shouldn’t we always push ourselves to go faster, faster, faster?

Here’s the deal: super-slow practice works because practice is about construction.  We are literally building a neural circuit — connection by connection. Slowing down lets us pay deeper attention to those connections; it lets us fire the circuit more accurately. Super-slow practice allows us to not only perform the action, but to also simultaneously observe that performance; to coach ourselves. When we go fast, on the other hand, we are only performing.

I just came across a interesting new book: Slow Practice Will Get You There Faster, by Ernest Dras.  Dras points to the above video, where we can watch all-time-great Ben Hogan perform his super-slow golf swing (check out the incredible fluidity and control Hogan displays at 1:45 and beyond; it looks like the film is slowed down, but as the waves in the background prove, it’s pure Hogan). Dras points out that Mozart and his father did essentially the same thing.

The elder Mozart would place ten dried peas in his son’s left coat pocket, and for each successful attempt at a difficult passage, Mozart would move a single pea to his right pocket. When he failed on any piece, even if it was the tenth repetition, all the peas had to be placed back in his left pocket — Wolfgang had to begin anew. What usually happens when using this method is that the student slows down his tempo in order to play the passage perfectly.

Naturally, I’m writing this as I race out to catch a plane. Imagine how much better this post would have been if I’d only gone slower!