How do I keep my practice routines fresh and avoid boredom?

Finding ways to keep yourself motivated to practice is key. When practice begins to feel more like a rote activity instead of a stimulating one, you are likely to lose trust in its purpose and forget about it.

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Researcher Ayelet Fishbach, from the University of Chicago, studies motivation. She says that the problem with staying motivated is that our priorities change over the course of a day, a week, a year. To help us manage these changes, Fishbach recommends employing creative strategies to keep us on track as our priorities shift.

There are four strategies that I recommend to keep practice sessions fresh and interesting:

  1. Organize and vary your practice objectives

  2. Split your objectives up into manageable mini-goals

  3. Find the right duration for each objective

  4. Look for fresh practice objectives

1. Organize and vary your practice objectives

The fuel of your motivation is the idea that you can achieve your practice objectives. To help you get there, write down your objectives and organize them strategically. Then create a practice plan. Think about it creatively, for example, you could see it as a meal plan. I’m guessing that you would not be too excited to eat the same food every day. The same goes for your practice. You could set up your objectives progressively, starting with fundamental ones such as balance and going from there, or by themes or areas of interest. Avoid putting all the fun stuff together—interlace fun objectives with ones you are less excited about.

Make sure your objectives are varied. For example, one practice objective could focus on your technique, while others could encompass your connection, musicality, and creativity. Don’t just practice one area of your tango.

2. Split your objectives up into manageable mini-goals

If during the process of creating your practice plan you discover that some practice objectives are larger in scale, parcel them out into mini-goals. To do this, you will need to define the individual components that form that larger practice goal. For example: if your objective is improving the precision of your foot placement and its look, you could split this up into the following mini-objectives: improve foot stability, get greater mobility, and articulate a greater variety of movement.

You can dedicate one to three practice sessions to each component mini-objective. After you have practiced all the components, you will see how your project goal has been achieved. For example: assuming you have the right exercises, after seven practice sessions working on your feet, you should observe a noticeable improvement in your overall footwork.

This strategy creates enough complexity and variation so you stay motivated. In addition, it makes all your objectives more manageable.

3. Find the right duration for each objective

Match your objective with the amount of time you are willing to invest practicing it. If you practice for too short a time, you won’t see the value; if you practice for too long, you will lose focus and interest.

Different goals will demand different amounts of time and levels of attention. You will need to match each exercise with the amount of time you should and can spend on it. If you push too hard, or not enough, you will lose motivation.

For example: if you are working on improving the stability of your feet, you will probably be looking at a more static workout, which will likely tire you out faster. For that objective, you will need to spend a shorter amount of time so you don’t feel too much tension or get a cramp. If your objective is to widen the spectrum of your mobility, however, you can spend more time working on it without feeling any impediment.

To find the right duration, look at each of your practice sessions carefully and assign an estimated time for each exercise. Then, try it out and adjust the time if necessary. Taking the time to find the right duration will give you a better reward.

3. Look for fresh practice objectives

Sometimes, you can lose interest in your own objectives. This is normal. They can become too familiar, less novel, and less attractive. When this happens, don’t stop practicing, look for new objectives. Ask other dancers you know about what they are working on. You will quickly find that someone is working on an objective you haven’t thought about. You might even find a new level of challenge, or a new way of looking at your own practice goals.

You can also try sharing your own personal practice objectives with other dancers. Someone might ask you a question or offer an insight you didn’t anticipate. That can refresh your enthusiasm.

Keeping your practice routines fresh will make sure you stay motivated and come back to practice.