“Practice puts brains in your muscles.” (Sam Snead)
Daily, I am inspired, entertained, and even challenged by the thoughtful posts of my fellow bloggers. Recently, the wonderful Jennifer Balink at Jenny’s Lark set me off on a journey of recollection and recognition. Her lovely post recounted an experience where, as a teenager, she witnessed a friend’s mother react with grace to a situation where most of us would have a meltdown. It took years for Jenny to realize what it is that gives someone the ability to instantly respond to a setback with poise and perspective.
It isn’t virtue, or superhuman patience, or even piety. It’s practice. Tedious, mundane, sometimes even annoying, practice. As lackluster as that word may be, I believe it’s one of a dozen or so secrets to living one’s best life.
Practice is one of the most undervalued traits or actions that we humans have at our disposal. Given a choice, we’d much prefer innate genius, instantaneous transformation, or magic to make us better at some pursuit—or simply to become better humans—when the answer is practice. Just keep doing it. Just keep showing up.
“Don’t you have something a bit more wondrous . . . something, I dunno, maybe kinda sexy? Like enchantment, or sleight-of-hand, or maybe something I could buy with cryptocurrency?”
Nope, sorry. It’s practice. Just show up. Do the work. Rinse. Repeat.
I was invited to speak about kindness to a virtual conference last week. One of the participants asked me why something as desirable as kindness was often so hard. She described a situation where she had spoken rudely to someone and later regretted it, but had simply felt out-of-control in the moment and watched her good intentions fly out the window. This is something I hear a lot, and if my unscientific observations are true, we most often tend to lose our cool behind the wheel of our cars and in crowded spaces, and sometimes with our families. I think the woman was hoping for a wise and inspiring answer, but my reply to her was simple: “It takes practice.” Lots of practice.
Oh, sure, there’s also intention, and awareness, and patience, but without practice, those other traits can’t move the needle very far.
Whether we want to become better writers, cello players, wind-surfers, or simply better humans, it requires practice. Find a way to make your practice fun, and keep it fresh. Make it the highlight of your day. Carry it with you and think about it even when you aren’t able to engage in it. I love how Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield views it: “The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind.”
What is it you want most to do well, to shine at? How you gonna get there? It isn’t rocket science (unless, of course, rocket science is your field, then more power to you). It’s practice.
Go forth and practice.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” (Dalai Lama)