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The Error of the Perfect Start

by Alison on June 24, 2014

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I made a beginner’s mistake when I took piano lessons as an adult.

Each day I’d diligently start practicing the opening measures of the piece of music I’d been given. I wanted to get them just right before I moved on. When I made a mistake I’d go back to the very beginning of the piece to try again. I made a lot of mistakes, so I never got very far into the music.

When I went to my piano lesson, I’d sit down and start playing what I’d been working on for my teacher. It would begin okay. Then I’d hit a section I’d never tried before. The music slowed. The errors intensified.

After a few weeks of this my teacher asked me how I was practicing. When I told her, she said, “No, no, no! You’ll never get any better like this. You can’t play from the beginning each time. You need to practice in sections. Divide the piece into a couple sections. Play one section a few times through. Then move to the next section and play it a few times through. Only try playing the whole piece once you’ve made it through all the sections individually a couple of times.”

With this new methodology my playing underwent a vast improvement. I was no longer getting stuck at the beginning, which allowed me to learn how to play the entirety of a piece of music.

This tendency to try to start something perfectly applies to more than just hobby level piano playing.

I’ve heard speeches where the beginning is crisp and clear, but the rest of the material hasn’t been thought through. Colleagues have gotten stuck spending hours and countless revisions on the very first week of a program. And clients can get stumped on starting a new venture or career path when they know that their very first effort won’t come out perfectly.

Is there a project or an area in your life where you’re getting stuck at the beginning?

Give yourself permission to move on from those initial steps, even when they haven’t been as good as you’d like. Work through the next section and the section after that. It’s often important to make it through the entirety of a piece of writing, an organizing attempt, or a resume before you go back to the beginning for revisions.

By moving past the beginning you’ll actually complete what you’re working on. And the lessons you learn from the entirety of the project will help to inform you of what to do differently the next time around.

Has this ‘perfect start’ phenomenon ever happened to you? When? What strategies do you use to avoid getting stuck at the beginning? Leave a comment below!

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