Spaced Practice: Big Changes from Small Steps

“Intermittent Reinforcement.” Also called “Spaced Practice” – a gift to give yourself for 2015. Forget New Year’s resolutions. Forget promising yourself that you’ll NEVER do this or ALWAYS do that. And forget about learning a new habit or behavior by repeating it again and again in one “massed practice” – one large chunk of time.

pianoInstead, “get tiny.” Focus on the small steps, the tiny bits and pieces of time. Say you want to learn how to play the piano in 2015. Instead of setting aside thirty minutes to practice each day (a feat which can be quite challenging when your daily schedule is already crammed), set aside just ten minutes three times during the day: before you leave for work, when you get home, and just before bed. Why? Because brain research demonstrates that this kind of spaced practice helps build skills more effectively than massed practice in one sitting.

The same goes for exercise. While a 30-minute walk can get your heart-rate up and will do you a world of good, three 10-minute walks seem to give pretty much the same benefits, health-wise. Plus, they have an added benefit: a release of endorphins or “pleasure chemicals” in your brain that stay with you throughout the day because you spaced the practice time.

The benefits of spaced practice also apply to learning and memory. Spaced practice over the course of one day of training is better than one long practice activity at the end of the day. Spaced practice can be bits of review time: a minute here, two minutes there.

Examples of one-minute review activities are: a one-sentence verbal or written summary by the learners, a question for all learners to answer, learners calling out ten facts about the topic, learners participating in a one-minute paired discussion about the content just covered.

Your training participants will learn more – and remember more – when you use spaced practice during your classes and training programs.

happynewyearMeanwhile, back to 2015 and you. Want to change a bad habit or begin a beneficial one? Think intermittent reinforcement. Spaced practice. Get tiny. Use bits of time to make small changes in your diet, exercise, health, or well-being. Whatever you want to change for 2015, do it in small, incremental steps. And be sure to reward yourself when you do! Happy New Year to you and yours!

2 comments

  • Love it!

    Just over two years ago my 4th son (Clay Anderson) came up with a brilliant idea. He called it “Friday Resolutions” and it works a lot like what you’re describing. I picked four basic areas where I wanted to grow and each Friday I’d make a resolution, rotating among the 4 growth areas. The only rules are: 1) you have to be able to accomplish it in a week and 2) you don’t get to beat yourself up about other stuff you’re not doing, and 3) celebrate success!

    Over the past two years I’ve achieved almost all of my resolutions … a very different outcome from those New Years Resolutions that I rarely achieved. I’ve done simple things like “walk every day for 30 minutes” and fun things, like the time son #6 (Joseph Anderson) challenged me to “play more games” – during that week I went on two picnics and a bike ride! Another time Joe challenged me to “be a dragon” which led me down the path of celebrating my Welsh ancestry with cooking and telling my son’s about Wales and how our people came to be Americans.

    I keep my FRs in a journal – very simple, doesn’t take a lot of time and it’s filled with pictures that I draw representing the goal and the accomplishments or challenges that kept me from getting to the goal … the net result being a lovely history of places I’ve been and things I’ve done!

    This year – with my increased knowledge of neuroscience – I’ve added in another twist. If my FR is a new habit I’m trying to establish (like walking daily, or eating breakfast) I keep it going for 3 weeks (while simultaneously starting a new FR) so that I get strong neural connections and I ensure my FR includes a trigger and really delightful rewards!

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom and insight – I think you are absolutely brilliant and am so glad to know you!

    • Hi Deb: I don’t know about the brilliant part (thank you, though – I’m honored!), but I love the “Friday Resolutions” idea so much that I’m going to share it on my blog page as a “Contributing Author” post – hope that’s okay with you – it’s a GREAT idea! Thanks for sharing, m’dear! Sharon

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