When I was in high school, I had a friend who attended a performing arts magnate school as a bass player. One year he was playing in the orchestra for the school’s performance of A Chorus Line. He invited me to watch the play at a special friends and family showing. If you’re familiar with this particular play you’ll recognize the song: “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three.” Those that aren’t familiar with it, there’s a particular phrase in the song, usually abbreviated T.N.A. that gets repeated multiple times. Because of all the parents in attendance for this show, the director decided to change the line to “This and That”, for this performance only. The problem was that in all of the rehearsals, the perform had practiced using the original lyrics. The number was a mess; the actress kept singing the original instead of the altered lyrics, this would cause her to stumble through the rest of the verse, which was probably more embarrassing to her than if she had sung the song the creators of the musical had intended.
Now to take this post in a completely different direction. The office I work in has a security feature known as a man-trap. A man trap works much like an air-lock on a space craft, submarine, level 4 biohazard lab, or any other thing necessitating an air-lock, without the air problem. It is a small room, about the size of an elevator, that slows the progress of anyone entering or exiting part of the building. The room has two doors on opposite ends, and only one door can be open at a time. In order to pass through, you must enter the room, then wait for the first door to close. Once the first door is closed then you can open the second door. In an emergency it is possible to exit the building using a crash bar to bypass the locking mechanism. The inner most door does not have a crash bar, so anyone who approaches this door must use a security card to open it. Once inside the room you can use the crash bar to open the outer door, but an alarm will let everyone in the building know.
So the other day the fire alarm in our building goes off. Most everyone in the building assumed it was a drill or a problem with the alarm system, so they slowly started to make their way out of the building. The thick smell of smoke in the hallway, however, gave us more of a reason to suspect the alarm was the real thing and everyone quickened their pace. As each group of people approached the man trap, habit kicked in. Without thinking group after group waved their security badge to enter the man-trap, opened the door and entered. Then they waited for the door to close behind them, some forced the issue by pulling the door closed behind them. Once the inner door was closed they waved another security badge at the outer door and proceeded to exit the building. Once the outside door is open, though, the inside door cannot be opened. There is no way to open the inner door while the outer door is open. Those who did not make it to the first door before the group in front of them closed it had to wait until the second was closed before they could continue out of the building.
People had become so ingrained in their habits, they never considered opening both doors. That would set off an alarm. Nevermind the alarm and odor of smoke that prompted them to stop what they were doing and proceed to the exits. They had been conditioned to not set off the alarm, so they made sure they took all the steps necessary to avoid doing so.
As it turns out the smoke came from a burned out fan in one of the buildings air conditioning units. It was not a true emergency, but if there had been a fire, people’s lives would have been in danger.
Whether you are a musician and you practice the piece too fast, or you’re an actor and always forget a critical line, or a baseball player only practicing with slow pitches from the pitching coach, you are setting yourself up for failure. You will play too fast, you will forget the line, and you will will swing too late when it comes time to perform when it counts. Any time you prepare for something they must rehearse in exactly the same way you intend to execute. My high school drama teacher used to tell people that practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. This is true not just in areas of life that come with an audience, but in the private moments of life we practice for as well. Doing it right when it counts requires not just practice, but perfect practice.