As helpful as it is to see what's involved in an approach, it's even more important that during your training you fly in actual instrument conditions. Unfortunately, many instrument-rated pilots go through all their training without ever getting their wings wet. You'll also want to be sure to frequently fly missed approach procedures. It's important that you learn that every approach does not always end with a landing.
By definition, instrument flying is weather flying. Most of us give short shrift to the weather, getting through the weather questions on the knowledge exam with as little effort as we can. But it's important to spend the time to learn what to expect from cold and warm fronts and high- and low-pressure areas. As important as it is to understand what creates the weather and what's likely to happen, it's more important to fly with your eyes wide open, even in IMC. As Richard has often said, the best weather information is gained by looking through the windscreen. "What you see is what you get." It's an unusual storm that can outrun a general aviation airplane and there should be sufficient warning before you find yourself in a drag race. Always have an out. If there's weather around, know where things are better.
With the advent of flat-panel displays and the intriguing uplinked/downlinked weather images now available in our cockpits, it's important to understand what the information actually shows and how it should be interpreted. There are delays in the transmission of the information that have to be acknowledged when using the data and most of the systems only show cloud-to-ground lightning strikes and not cloud-to-cloud strikes. A good case can be made for including both a Stormscope or Strike Finder in the panel to augment the downlinked/uplinked images.
It would be interesting to see how many gear-up landing accidents occur following an instrument approach. I would guess few do. Those of us flying retractable-gear airplanes learn that the easiest way to start downhill after reaching the final approach fix, or once we've intercepted the glidepath, is to simply lower the gear and let the increased drag start us down.
As you pass the final approach point, you also want to check the crossing altitude on the chart to make sure you're in the right ballpark. Pilots have made approaches to airports other than those they intended. It's usually not damaging, just embarrassing.
The same goes for navigation waypoints. More than once pilots have flown a perfect approach, but to the wrong waypoint, and been surprised when things got ugly. With today's GPS navigators and moving maps it's hard to get confused and fly to the wrong waypoint, but it can happen. Be sure you have a VOR and not an airport selected, or vice versa. Make a habit of double-checking the frequency and OBS to be sure you're on the right track.
Partial panel work is a must. Particularly with the new displays, learning to control the airplane with the backup instruments is critical. But as important as it is to be able to control the airplane with the basic instruments, it's more critical not to lose control in the first place. Inevitably, it seems that once control is lost, the airplane is lost.
Your communication skills will improve with practice, but if you're concerned about your ability to understand controllers' instructions, there are several CD and interactive programs available to help you sharpen your skills.
Getting the instrument rating is a challenge. Even if you never plan to use the rating to fly in "hard" IFR conditions, earning the instrument rating will make you a more precise pilot. Learning to use the rating and becoming a "professional" instrument pilot comes only after you pass the check ride. 7