It’s not hard to see why. If your childhood was like my childhood, at some point you had to write lines as a form of punishment. There were more than a few afternoons spent writing, “I will not hit my brother,” one hundred times, or longer depending on the severity of the infraction.
As a cross country runner, we would run hill “repeats,” which means exactly what it sounds like. A steep hill on the other side of the bleachers became its own form of punishment, both on the body and the mind.
And don’t even get me started on math homework.
I hate repetition. I can still hear my coach yelling, “Again!” in my nightmares, along with pages of unfinished algebra equations.
But, repetition is also profoundly powerful.
Stephen Curry, the world’s best and most accurate shooter in basketball, knows a thing or two about repetition. Each week he consistently puts up 1,000 shots in practice. It takes a lot to be the best.
It doesn’t just work for Curry, though. To stick with the basketball theme, a Buzzfeed reporter named Steven ran an experiment where he decided to try and learn how to shoot free throws. He started at 37% – even Shaq would have destroyed him at the line. But, after a little coaching and taking 400 free throws a day for 30 days, he increased his percentage to 70%, which is close to the NBA average.
Using Repetition to Strengthen the Mind
Repetition clearly helps with training our muscles and stamina, especially when it comes to athletics. But, it helps in many other ways too besides just building up muscles.
Whenever I’ve tried to memorize something, I learned early on that the best method for me was writing and re-writing it over and over and over again – whether it was a verse, a definition, equation, or something else. When I got better at typing, I discovered the usefulness of typing and retyping concepts I wanted to cement into my brain. After a few (or sometimes a lot) of repetitions, they would stick.
Why is this discipline so helpful? I think it has a lot to do with the lost art of focusing. Repetition makes us mindful of the most important and easy to miss details.
For much of my day, I am on sensory overload. I have a phone that buzzes at me whenever an email comes through. I have multiple tabs open on my browser. One meeting runs into the next as I juggle different hats that I wear at work and home.
Sometimes I need to be forced to do one thing… over and over and over again… in order to accomplish something meaningful.
It seems to me most experts – craftsmen, athletes, scholars, leaders – understand the necessity of mundane repetition to hone their skills. Is it possible that the most exciting things in life are found by fighting through the most boring exercises?
While repetition was a punishment for many of us, maybe it’s actually a blessing in disguise. Today, instead of looking for something new to try, consider what skill, task, or concept you need to repeat. And then repeat it. And maybe repeat it a few more times for good measure.