It might at first seem strange to consider repetition as an actual technique in the field of psychology, but it is one of significant importance.
By Roberto Assagioli, undated, From the Assagioli Archive in Florence, Docs. #24086 and 24087. Original Title: Repetizione e Ritmo. Translated with notes by Jan Kuniholm.
It might at first seem strange to consider repetition as an actual technique in the field of psychology. One might think that repeating things is a simple, almost trivial thing that does not deserve so much honor. Yet this is not so. Knowing how to repeat appropriately in time and place, and thus effectively, is far from easy: it requires a lot of psychological sense and knowledge of the laws and rhythms of psychic life. This knowledge is very often lacking in schools, where students’ personal rhythms are ignored, and they usually react with legitimate obstructionism.
Let us begin by affirming the importance, indeed the necessity of repetition. This, too, might seem superfluous, but it is not; because all those with a purely mental or intellectual attitude or conception tend to seek and appreciate only what is new. If they hear something said or repeated that they theoretically already know, they say, “but I know this; there is nothing new in this,” and they refuse to dwell on it or to deal with it, always seeking something new with restless mental curiosity. This is apparently why St. Paul rebuked the Athenians.
We are considering a purely theoretical and mental position of what is new, not its vital and existential conception. Everything that has not yet been assimilated, experienced, or lived by us to the point of knowing it by heart or expressing it very well intellectually is “new.” Not only that, but also whatever we have experienced, given, or renewed over and over again is “new” until it has become, so to speak, “flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood.”
The world is new every morning, even at every moment; that is, it is continuously renewed — but it is renewed by repeating or reliving what has been. Every sunrise is a repetition, yet it is essentially new, and so is every sunset. It is the poet who feels what is habitual as new, which for the common man has no interest precisely because it is a repetition . . . In 1961, there was a total eclipse of the sun. I remember how all the people crowded the bridges and riverbanks of Florence to see the phenomenon — and yet a sunrise is a more beautiful sight than an eclipse, only the sunrise is seen every morning, and the eclipse occurs only every century. On the other hand, taking a very broad view it can be said that nothing ever repeats itself identically. Along the successive and countless apparent repetitions of nature there is an evolution, a development that can be seen by comparing very large cycles and periods.
Returning to the more modest and closer proportions of the problems and tasks of psychic  life and psychosynthesis, one can say this: in order for an idea and concept, that may be understood and even mentally assimilated, to become living and operating in us — that is, to become charged with feeling, arouse images and translate into reality both somatically and of external action — it must be repeated many, many times. I can make a simple material analogy: one hammer blow is not enough to drive a nail into the wall; it takes a series of hammer blows. Often the “psychic wall” is quite hard to let penetrate, and vigorous and repeated hammering is needed. This covers the effectiveness, indeed the necessity of repetition.
But let us now come to something more subtle, namely, the mode and rhythm of repetition. Repetition has a drawback: it tends to become mechanical or habitual, and thus loses much propulsive efficacy. It loses the stimulus of novelty, so other elements, other stimuli, other dynamic energies must be found to make it effective. I have noticed an interesting fact: that children like to repeat the same thing many times until they are fully imbued and saturated with it. You see this in their free activity; it was observed especially by Montessori in her use of certain teaching aids. After successfully putting something together, or some other use of the material, the child joyfully repeats this same action many times before moving on to another. There is a point when the child spontaneously feels that the number of repetitions is enough, or is satisfying. Then he necessarily feels the urge to move on to something else. Similar observation has been made in the telling of fairy tales. There are children who are accustomed to being told a fairy tale, especially at bedtime (this happened more in the past than at present). Well, if the adult, parent or grandparent telling the fairy tale inadvertently or on purpose makes some variation, the child protests and calls him to order, “You didn’t tell it to me like that yesterday!”
It is not easy to ascertain when repetition [of something] is appropriate as it is, and when change is needed. Often it is not even a matter of changing everything, but of introducing variations. The method of variations has the advantage of both repetition and novelty. In other words, the same principle, the same idea, the same concept is presented in a different form, with different words and images.
We have a typical example of this in music. In one and the same sonata or in one and the same symphony, the main motifs are repeated many times, sometimes even identically, but often more or less modified, transported in tone, interwoven with each other; therefore, the ear rediscovers the fundamental motif again, but always in a varied way. This was later done systematically and consciously by Wagner with his signature motifs, or “Leitmotifs,” which are found, for example, through the four days of the Tetralogy. In contrast, a continuous, nagging, but highly effective repetition of the same motif occurs in Ravel’s Bolero. Another methodical form of variations is that used by various musicians such as Beethoven, who wrote as many as thirty-six variations on the same theme. Sometimes these are variations in which the layman finds it hard to recognize the theme, but generally one is faced with ingenious variations capable of creating wonderful harmonies from rather colorless themes.
Hammering and “The Psychic wall”
What is done in music can and should be done with equal effectiveness in psychological technique, whether therapeutic, educational, or self-educational: Repetition with variations. One can proceed in different ways; for example, one can express the same thing in new forms. Another very important way is to show how with seemingly different and conflicting presentations we have only different aspects of the same truth. We can find one fundamental motif in seemingly different things and show that they are variations of the same theme. This ability to find the same thing again in different forms could be called psychological or philosophical or spiritual polyglotism, and it is the way to eliminate many artificial contrasts. One could say that the great principles, the great truths, have been gradually repeated in different times and places in different ways.
Another form of repetition is to show the application of the same principle or law in different fields or in different circumstances. Recapitulation is also a form of abbreviated repetition and thus allows a vast subject to be mastered from above, in a unified way.
There is one modern, current field in which this technique, the art of repetition, is used on a very large scale: the field of advertising. Industrialists and marketers would not spend many millions to repeat the same advertisement if they had no proof of its effectiveness, of its economic performance. The same can be said more generally of the effectiveness of “slogans,” formulas, mottoes in all times. Hitler, in Mein Kampf said, “Repeat a lie — even something obviously false — repeat it enough times, and people will end up believing it.” This is an exaggeration, and Hitler made far from commendable use of it, but one must always learn, even from bad people, since the latter are dangerous precisely because they know how to use the right methods.
One precise technique of repetition consists in having the same formula, the same suggestive phrase, that is suitable for achieving a given psychological effect, written numerous times. Here is a typical example: a young man had become a slave to narcotics. Everyone knows how difficult detoxification is, especially outside a rehabilitation facility. I advised this young man to write a given Bible verse thirty times a day, and he, who sincerely wished to free himself from drug addiction, succeeded after writing this verse seven thousand times.
Repeatedly writing a given formula, a given suggestion, is effective in several ways: first, it is an affirmation of the will to achieve the desired goal, thus an example of will. Second, it takes advantage of the conscious attention factor: one sees what one writes, and then there is the action exerted on the unconscious by the image, the word, or the written sentence. So even if by writing the same sentence thirty times one gets distracted, to use the current expression — that is, consciously one is thinking about something else — little harm is done, because while consciously and mentally one is thinking about something else, the words one writes have an automatic action, rebounding on the unconscious.
Somewhat generally, but not quite precisely, one could say that repetition is a form or technique of suggestion; and inversely that one of the most effective means of which suggestion can be used is repetition. Repetition gradually makes the expression of actions easier until they become automatic.
It has been said that education consists in moving something from the conscious to the unconscious. This is definition is wrong, because education is quite something else. But this definition is nevertheless valid for training. It is very true that training consists in making actions pass from the conscious to the unconscious, from conscious effort to spontaneous performance. One who learns to play the piano must first pay attention to the keyboard, to the notes, to the way of placing the fingers, etc. Then little by little, with training, with practice and repetition, this becomes easier and easier, more and more automatic, until an accomplished pianist no longer thinks about the technique of using his fingers, but focuses his attention on the interpretation; that is, on the emotional coloring, on the artistic value of the music he plays, while his fingers play on their own.
All this happens because he has created certain automatisms in the unconscious. This phenomenon also has a physiological basis, although we cannot prove it under the microscope. We can say that synapses are formed, associations are created between motor nerve cells and muscle fibers; and all this is achieved by repetition — and only by repetition.
After acquiring this ability, one must continue to maintain it by practice, that is, by repetition. A great violinist, I think Heifetz, used to say, “The discipline of practice every day is essential. When I skip a day, I notice a difference in my playing. After two days, the critics notice, and after three days, so does the audience.”
This should not be taken in an absolute sense, however, because breaks in training are appropriate, during which what has been learned and developed through practice is assimilated, settled, and organized. There is a German proverb that says, “One learns to ski in summer and to swim in winter.” It is a paradoxical phrase to say that training done in a certain season is rediscovered, sometimes even with improvements, in the following season, after a very short re-training.
This art of pausing in the practice of repetition is important and should be studied experimentally, because these breaks will have to be longer or shorter depending upon the fields, the cases, the different situations, in order to give better results.
 This essay was also published in an Italian journal of unknown date. —Ed.
 psychic is here used in the broadest sense, to include all interior, mental, psychological and spiritual activity. —Ed.
 Maria Montessori (1870-1952). Italian physician and educator best known for the philosophy of education that bears her name. Montessori schools are now found worldwide. —Tr.
 “The Tetralogy” here refers to the four German-language operas by Richard Wagner, collectively called “The Ring of the Nibelung,” which are often performed on four successive days. The leitmotif is a musical signature designed to represent a character or a theme that recurs in the opera.Thistechnique is often used in modern film scores.—Ed.
 Bolero by French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) is an orchestral piece that consists mostly of a single melodic line without variations that is repeated many times, but the melody is passed among different groups of instruments, with different timbres and effects. —Ed.
 This is an exaggeration only insofar as not everyone will believe it. But history has demonstrated that this statement is true for many people, and the technique continues to be used successfully. —Ed.
 This fact may be said to be the basis of behaviorism and behavioral psychology, although Assagioli places this phenomenon in a larger context of consciousness that utilizes the will to deliberately create the autonmatism. —Ed.
 This quotation as presented is a correction of Assagioli’s quote, which was attributed to the conductor Kubelik, and was slightly misworded. This was taken from https://jaschaheifetz.com/about/quotations/. —Tr.