Everyone thinks practice makes perfect. But they're wrong.

Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi said you have to add one word — "Perfect practice makes perfect." I heard a man complaining that he had 10 years of experience at work, but never got promoted. Here's the real question. Did he have 10 years of experience? Or did he just have one year of experience repeated 10 times? Practicing only works if you correct, not repeat, your mistakes.

If you're putting in a lot of work but not getting the results you want, you may be working hard doing what will never help you. It's not about how long or hard you work; it's always about the results you produce.

Just watch ants carrying grains of sand. At first their efforts look hopeless, but each time another ant piles on another grain of sand, the pile gets a little bit bigger. Before you know it, all those tiny grains of sand have created a massive anthill.

Practice the right things today to get the results you want tomorrow.

That's what practicing any skill can do for you. The key is persistence, consistency and correctness. And this advice is true across disciplines.

Persistence means you practice regularly, no matter what. Even if you don't feel like practicing, do it anyway.

In my case, it was learning a language. Mandarin Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn. But by studying for 20 to 30 minutes every day for three months, I was able to get up in front of a Chinese audience of 3,000 and address them in Mandarin for the first five minutes of my speech.

Consistency means practicing at the same intensity. NBA great Larry Bird used to spend hours alone on the basketball court, practicing his shots. Each time he practiced, he imagined that the game was on the line and he had to make the shot or his team would lose. That's the intensity you need for your practice.

Novelist Sinclair Lewis didn't mince words. Once, he was giving a lecture at Middlebury College on the subject of writing. "How many here are really serious about being writers?" he asked the audience. Almost everyone in the audience raised their hand.

"Then why aren't you home writing?" challenged Lewis, and walked offstage.

Don't practice or train as if it doesn't matter. Training isn't always a life-or-death affair, but one story from a survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor illustrates how important thorough training can be.

In 1941, Robert Kronberger was a 23-year-old petty officer serving aboard the USS West Virginia, stationed at Pearl Harbor. When the Japanese bombers commenced their surprise attack, Kronberger was in charge of the boiler room.

As numerous torpedoes ripped through the ship, the lights went out and water began pouring in. The bulkhead seemed to be collapsing around Kronberger and his men.

But no one panicked. "I just did what I was trained to do," he recalled many years later. "When the lights went out, you did the same things you did when the lights were on. You secured your firearms and your space, got the people that you were responsible for out, and tried to keep the ship from sinking."

His ship lost more than 100 men that day, including the captain. But during the crisis, Kronberger said, everyone was too busy to think about being scared.

In the days after the attack, when the fear crept in, his training continued to serve him. "When you'd start to look for people, you'd feel a lot of sickness in your body. You'd wonder where your best friend was — but it didn't stop you from doing the job that you were trained to do."

Maybe you'll never be shot at while your ship is sinking beneath you, but knowing what to do and practicing it until it's second nature will keep you safe no matter what happens.

Mackay's Moral: The difference between ineffective and effective practice means the difference between mediocrity and mastery.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.