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Record Your Practice Sessions To Learn How You Learn

Despite your best efforts, it is difficult to be 100% aware of what you do while practicing. Depending on the subject, being able to judge your performance while actually performing may be difficult. Therefore, you need a way to judge and improve yourself while detaching from the actual practice. But how can you do that?

I found the answer to that question through gaming, which is reviewing your replays. Making it more universal, the answer is to record your practice sessions and then review and analyze your recordings. The concept is that, when you are calm, it is much easier to identify mistakes and figure out what you could have done better. After all, you can’t fix something until you know what it is.

Since I first came across this concept, I’ve been surprised by how many disciplines actually utilize it. In my research, I’ve found articles on utilizing this technique in gaming, sports, music, and poker. These are natural fits for this technique, but they are not the only ones. More surprisingly, I’ve found content on using this technique for presentations, public speaking, coaching, and even therapy. In all these disciplines, people use this technique to improve quickly and efficiently through reviewing their practice and performance.

Why should you record your practice?

Building Awareness

The most important reason to record your practice and then review the recording is to build awareness on how you perform. This can include but is not limited to, how well you do, your technique, your posture, distractions and many more, depending on the subject.

If, for instance, you record a piano practice session, you can build awareness on your posture, your hand positioning, how you move your fingers and arms on the piano and, of course, how well the music sounds.

In another example, when reviewing sports recordings, you can notice your positioning on the field, your technique or your collaboration with your teammates, in case of a team sport.

Identifying strengths and weaknesses

By calmly reviewing a practice recording, you get the opportunity to watch yourself like an external observer, detached from the “heat” of the moment. Through this process, you can identify more easily your strengths, your weaknesses, and your mistakes.

Practicing on what you need the most improvement on, as well as utilizing your core strengths, are major points in learning and improving. (Read my article on the 80/20 rule to understand how to choose what is important). Therefore, it is very important to give yourself the opportunity to identify effectively those areas.

Identifying lazy practice

Another major reason to utilize this technique is in order to identify all those moments that you do “lazy practice”. That is when you practice things that you are already good at, instead of doing the conscious effort to practice on something that will help you improve. This conscious practice is called “deliberate practice”. To learn more about deliberate practice and how to utilize it in your life read my article on deliberate practice.

In the piano example, lazy practice would be when you, while practicing, take time to play songs you already know and play well, instead of taking the time to play songs and exercises that challenge you. Reviewing your recording can be a great way to identify those moments.

Tracking your progress

Finally, recorded practice sessions over time can be a great progress tracking tool. It can be pretty motivating to watch two far apart recordings, enjoying how far you’ve come. This is also a great way to overcome negative feelings on reaching a plateau by acknowledging how much you’ve really improved over a greater amount of time, despite intermittent plateaus.

How to record and review your practice

Don’t record/review everything!

The most common mistake people commit when starting to use this technique is that they try to record and review everything. That is so tedious and time-consuming that, soon after, most people quit.

What you should do instead, is to choose which sessions to review. I personally try to record much more than I eventually review, in order to have multiple sessions to choose from. The recordings you should review are those that come from practice that was neither too easy nor too hard. Rather, choose sessions that productively challenged you, which won’t under- or overwhelm you while reviewing and analyzing.

Another way to choose is to keep some simple notes while practicing, noticing parts of the practice to review later on. For instance, if recording poker sessions, identify which hands were the most challenging for you and make a note to review those later.

Personally, I try to devote 5%-10%, depending on the subject, of my practice time on reviewing and analyzing recordings. That has proven to be my sweet spot between reaping the benefits of this technique without getting bored.

Focus on one mistake at the time

As you start watching your recordings, you’ll be able to identify multiple mistakes and things to work on. While it will be tempting to start noting and working on all of them, that will leave you spread all over the place. Instead, identify the 1 or 2 areas you need the biggest improvement in, which will also have the biggest impact on your performance. Focus on them alone, until you are confident with yourself, and then move on to the next ones.

Have another person watch the recording(s)

This is the most effective tip I can give you on this technique. It is common to be biased with your performance, positively or negatively, and an objective point of view can be extremely helpful.

The most important reason, though, why you should ask someone else to review the recording is that you may not be good enough to identify your mistakes. It is much more effective when you ask someone better than you (or a mentor) to review your session and give you some guidelines on what (and how) to improve.

Recording analysis is a skill

Like most things, recording analysis is a skill, and the more you do it, the better you’ll get. For that reason, don’t always ask others to review your recordings, but do some yourself, in order to eventually become good at it. As time passes, you will be able to quickly extract insights from a recording, making the process more effective and less time-consuming. Who knows, after a while, you might review others recordings, too.

What about practice that can’t be recorded?

While most practicable skills can be recorded, studying based practice is not the best thing to record and rewatch. Imagine watching yourself sitting on a desk for hours solving math exercises. Boring! In such cases, you can still extract insights through recording, but fewer, and you should use the technique more scarcely.

For instance, you can record your screen while studying on the computer to find out how much you get distracted or how much of your studying time you spend on Facebook. Watch the recordings at a very high speed to avoid getting bored! An automated way to achieve the same results is by using specialized activity logging software on the computer, like RescueTime.

Tools you can use

You can use your computer’s webcam for most things, as it can be used to record video and most often audio. Another idea is using your phone, which can also complement with audio if your webcam is video-only. Of course, more high-tech equipment, like a camera or a microphone, can be used.

To record your screen you can use tools like OBS, which creates medium-size files. To record audio, I personally use Audacity.

Conclusion

There are tremendous benefits in recording your practice sessions and reviewing them at a later moment. Use those recordings to build awareness on your performance, to identify strengths and weaknesses and to ensure that you practice deliberately.

To not make the technique tedious, don’t record everything! Instead choose the sessions you will review, and maybe ask someone else to review them too. Finally, remember, recording analysis is a skill. The more you practice it, the better.

Call to Action

As this technique will be new to most of you, you will probably have questions and/or difficulties in implementing it. I’d love to help you with those, as well as learn what you’ve managed to improve by using it. Post on the Facebook group, or contact me directly!

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