Is Daily Practice Important? Why We Need to “Load the System”

I broke my DuoLingo streak. While studying for the PT licensure exam, I used DuoLingo as part of my Spanish training. Every day, I would hop on the app and do the exercises to hit my daily XP requirements. I built up a 45 day streak. Yet I retained little to nothing from these exercises (despite accumulating almost 2 hours per week). So I deleted the app and broke the streak.

I had been fixated on this idea that I needed to practice every single day. DuoLingo states that “15 minutes a day can teach you a language”. And many people online stress the importance of daily training: exercise, mindfulness training (meditation), etc.

However, if we are overly focused on daily training, we can run into a few issues:

First, adherence can be difficult because there is usually a cost to switching tasks (i.e. to exercise you have to put on exercise clothes, warmup, etc.) Second, sometimes life happens and we don’t get to practice. So we may feel we are failing since we’re not keeping our daily streak. Lastly, certain types of training actually benefit from not being performed daily. For example, most often people lift weights intensely 2-4 days per week. Lifting weights daily can make it harder to bring the necessary level of intensity (i.e. due to motivation, fatigue etc). Training too often can be ineffective and/or impractical.

So what is the alternative to daily training? We need to “load the system” with deeper, more intense sessions. A basic principle of biological systems, like us humans, is that stressors (challenges) promote adaptations. When a person lifts a heavy load they feel tired Their muscles, bones, and tendons have been stressed. They have “loaded the system”. That load provokes an adaptation to get stronger. Now they can lift the same heavy load with less effort.

Similarly, with other types of training we need to “load system”. For example, in language learning we need to reach that point of being challenged in order to progress. When I went to Argentina for a short trip, I thought I would practice a lot of Spanish. I did. However, the conversations were mostly less than 10 minutes and therefore not challenging. When first meeting someone, the conversations are mostly small talk, “what do you do, where are you from, etc”. Only after the 10-15 minute mark do you really get to discuss more in depth topics. And that depth is challenging, which is where the growth happens.

All this being said, daily “low load” training is still beneficial. For example, in addition to lifting weights a few times per week, walking daily is excellent for your health. In language learning, daily immersion is useful in addition to having challenging conversations.

Note that there is a minimum frequency needed for training. For example, although lifting weights for 1 hour, 3 times a week is beneficial, it would be ineffective to lift weights for 3 hours straight, once per week.

In short, not all training needs to be done daily. Rather we need to ensure we “load the system” by working at our limits.

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