Repetition is the mother(-in-law) of skill

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It sounds so simple – rehearse. Practice. Repeat whatever it is you want to learn and/or accomplish, consistently, and you will get there. Learn the skill. Reach your goal.
Consistency is a term that re-occurs often throughout these nuggets. It’s somewhat of a “theme” if you will. And for good reason. Consistency -as opposed to the previously reviewed pitfall-rich “routine”– can effectively shape your life to be exactly what you want it to be.
Repetition, essentially the “practical core” of consistency, can however be precarious in a way similar to the relationship with your mother-in-law – caring, fulfilling, loving or… let’s call it undesirable. Luckily (unlike with our mother-in-law) we get to choose the types of repetitions we let into our lives.

However, once you’ve made sure to only let the right kinds of repetitions into your life, like your -awesome- mother-in-law, they do require continuous care, attention and the right kind of treatment.

Catch: Repeating the wrong thing and thereby learning what you might want to avoid – conditioning yourself incorrectly.

Solution: Carefully plan. Be aware of good-, but especially bad form, specifically repetitions of the latter. Immediately fix even the tiniest of mistakes.


“Repetition is the mother of skill.” – T. Robbins

“Constant repetition carries conviction.” – Robert Collier

“There is no substitute for attentive repetition.” – Daniel Coyle

Everything Sticks


Repetition as a tool for learning.

As we have already seen before. by doing something multiple times, your body adapts and “gets used to it.” By forming new neurological pathways, connections that function like (shortcut) roads, tunnels, and then strengthening those pathways increasingly by making more of those repetitions, the execution becomes easier, logical, natural. A habit starts to form.

These neurological pathways are created both on the mental side (how you think about it, how you anticipate and handle the stuff in your brain) and the physical side – how it feels, the movement you have to perform (increasingly exact) to execute the skill.

There is much to be said about how much the physical is actually merely mental too. Which makes sense, when you consider that it is in fact the brain controlling everything; including movements.

Repetition as a tool for conditioning.

Enter “the snowball.”

On top of those mental- and motor-skill pathways, there’s another type of pathway that is created by repetition. It’s the one that makes you want to repeat again. These are what I like to refer to as “snowball” pathways.

They are the ones that make the skill become habitual, familiar and satisfying to perform. Snowball pathways are basically formed because forming the first two pathways feels good. They are the search, the urge, for similar reward.

On a chemical level, they are the dopamine, adrenaline, serotonine, endorfine and other brain-substance-releases when you succeed at something; and then the desire to get yourself some more of that.

This is one of the reasons why habit and addiction are so closely related: repetition makes you want to repeat.

Repeat the right thing | Correct conditioning

Let’s consider the gravity of this creation of pathways for a moment – now, and every so often, since this is where this nugget’s catch is hiding.

This might seem obvious, but you want to make absolutely sure that you create and strengthen the correct neurological pathways.

It’s really important to take note- and be aware of this, since your brain doesn’t know what is correct, and what is not. It doesn’t discriminate between a right and a wrong repetition. Pathways will be formed regardless of what you repeat.

This means that if you tend to repeat something that is undesirable you are actually teaching yourself that incorrect thing. Forming a habit around something that you want to avoid and not do, which essentially means that you are conditioning yourself to make the mistake again.

When we are trying to learn something, practicing, we tend to be aware of the fact that by repeating that which we want to learn, it sticks. It sinks in.

Although people are fond of saying “make mistakes! learn from your mistakes!” the very important nuance to keep in mind, is that not just the good, but also the bad repetitions stick.

Sniper Mistakes | The silent-but-deadly

All of the above likely makes sense and the advice therefore seems obvious: Don’t repeat mistakes and things you don’t want to learn – or avoid entirely.

There is however a form of mistake that is so sneaky that it’s hardly noticeable. You could be completely oblivious of how to fix it, even if it was flat out pointed out to you.

This form of mistake is known as bad form.

The bitch with bad form is that by executing it, it might still be possible to come very close to the correct, desired output and result. So close that you might not even really care.

It’s usually only much later, when you grow to transcend that particular level of skill that the bad form you’ve acquired at the more basic level isn’t just transferred over, but magnified, causing severe issues at the next-, and even bigger ones at the level after that. It grows in conjunction with your skillset, handicapping you increasingly more as you grow more.


Your body and mind are not able to make the distinction between what’s good or bad. It will just adapt to that which we repeat and make that a habit. We are what we do consistently and if we constantly do bad things, that is what -who- we become.

Good – i.e. the right habits, the correct way of executing a skill, is what we’re after, obviously. So that is what you want to focus on and make sure to repeat.

By being aware that every repetition, whether good or bad, becomes a habit, you can prevent falling into the trap of mistakes creeping in and staying there.

Habits are very hard to break. Make sure you create the right ones.

“Learn from your mistakes?” Learn to never repeat that again. Or at least as little as possible 😉

Bad form can easily be overlooked. Be sure to not go too fast too soon to catch them, preventing even minor flaws from sneaking in and hindering you at a later stage.

Exercise / Getting Practical:

Three repetitions in a row principle – inverted:

Just like the 3 times in a row principle can guide and tell you when you are ready to go on the the next level, we can also use the inverted version of this, where three bad repetitions -mistakes- tell you to take a step back.

If you make the same mistake thrice, decrease the level of resistance. Do not go on at the same level of difficulty, hoping that you’ll correct it on the next try, first correct it at an easier level (lower tempo, less resistance, fewer weight), make sure you put in two correct repetitions for every mistake (so if you really got to three mistakes, first make six correct repetitions before moving on).

The larger-scale takeaway:

Be utterly aware of anything you do that is not exactly in line with what you want to learn or who you want to become. Catch yourself making mistakes – even tiny ones – and correct them immediately.

The sooner you change- and replace them with the correct version – even if it’s “just” bad form, or in other words, a repetition that is not executed perfectly – the less time you’ll waist fixing bad habits and get to repeating (thus learning) the correct things and becoming who you aspire to be.

In which instance or other areas of your life have you caught yourself repeating something that wasn’t in line with what you wanted to learn or become?

Can you see yourself becoming more vigilant for mistakes and implementing the inverted three repetitions in a row principle?