Improving Your Practice

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Commitment and practice are powerful partners.

                                                       Sarah Jane Pennington

 

The importance of practicing

How does a potter craft a perfectly balanced vase? She practices.

How do you become an accomplished musician? You practice.

How do you become proficient in a sport? You practice.

How do you become adept at a task? You practice.

How do you sustain healthy teeth and gums? You brush every day.

How do you master all of the Tai Chi sequence? You practice.

How do you nurture mental health every day? You practice.

How do you become a reflective person? You practice.

Have you something that you would like to do better than you presently do? Is it mastering something physical? Is it developing emotional or social skills that would help you live with less strife? What is a small thing which if you mastered, would add to the quality of your life? What is it that interferes with your ability to enjoy where you are, what you are doing, and who you are with?

 

What is practicing?

Basically, practicing is improving or refining something that is desirable and important to you. We improve our practice in order to improve our results.

All of us are already practicing many different things throughout our days. Some practice humor, some practice competence, some practice kindness, some practice fairness, some practice taking control, some practice strength, and some practice being difficult.

One of the tenants of consistent mental health is “if you want something different in your life, you have to do something different.” That means practicing.

 

Improving your nature

Every day, we encounter evidence of the stress imposed by our complex culture. The impatient driver, the short-tempered colleague, the discouraged student, the dispassionate clerk, the neglectful neighbor. COVID has magnified many of the issues by accelerating constant change, imposing unusual expectations, contributing to isolation, and assigning unexpected consequences in our life over which we have little or no control. Media contributes by selectively focusing on the aberrant.

It is important to remember the courteous driver, the supportive team member, the dedicated student, the compassionate clerk, or the helpful neighbor. It would be easy to forget the many acts of kindness that demonstrate people’s willingness to lend a hand during difficult times.

Practice is often associated with the physical dimension of our lives – learning to swim, learning to drive safely, increasing our ability to do something physical. However, it is equally important to practice behaviors that develop qualities that help us maintain a balanced perspective. With Covid or without Covid, achieving/sustaining a positive sense of well-being takes practice.

It takes practice to develop a commendable character, to become a person whose values are a solid balance of our relationship to the greater good.

Many people are unskilled at even the smallest self-sacrifice. They are accustomed to instant gratification.  Delayed gratification is annoying to them. They want what they want when they want it. A friend recently captured the essence of the consequences of this kind of attitude saying, “The thrust of humanity to live in the kingdom of self has taken its toll and we are all paying the price.”

 

Beginning your practice

Change begins with a decision. Commitment to that decision brings practicing.

Marion Roach Smith in The Memoir Project says that it is never too late or too early to begin. She is referring to writing. In reality, the statement holds true for many aspects of our lives.

If you wanted to change something about the way you live life, what would it be? It needn’t be huge. Do you need more or less structure in your life?  What aspect of your character would you like to further develop? What practice would contribute to your mental well-being?

Sometimes before we can embrace a new practice, we need to relinquish an old practice. What practice might you need to let go of before you can focus consistently on the person you want to become? Do you tend to procrastinate? Do you feel entitled? Do you blame others for how you feel? Do you want to be rescued? Do you avoid asking others for help? Do you have fear or anger as your “go to button”? Do you act before you have thought something through? Do you hold on to resentments?

We don’t learn to swim with one lesson. Similarly, we don’t succeed in our aspirations to live life differently without intentionally setting out to do so. Change takes practice. Practice needn’t feel painful. It can actually feel rewarding in and of itself.

If you practice forgiveness, you become more forgiving. If you practice tolerance, you become more patient. If you practice smiling, you will be more fun. If you practice mindfulness, you will become more calm. If you practice gratitude, you will become more grateful.

Does practice make perfect?  Probably not. Practice is a series of successive approximations. That’s why we need to begin over and over again. Each day, we can start over. Over time, our practice can become our personal way to sustain our mental health.

What is your way of bringing about change. Some people need to follow a recipe. Here is a helpful site on how to develop new habits. Other people do well finding their own way. The way that works for you is the way that works best for you.

Remember, many people find writing helpful.

 

The role of writing

Writing can help us name what we want and therefore what we need to practice. Putting our intention and our progress on paper reminds us that we are in charge of our inner lives even when our lives are affected by factors outside of our control. As we learn to notice the lives that we live, we increasingly understand that our inner life is a continuous statement of what we have been doing.

Just start writing. Write about how and why you want to live life differently. Write about your commitment to purpose-driven-change. Record your progress and your shortfalls.

Matt Lillywhite points out that developing a writing practice itself can change your life.

 

Recommended readings

The Gratitude Diaries

Janice Kaplan, a journalist, makes a New Year’s resolution to be grateful and look on the bright side of whatever happens. She realizes that how she feels over the next twelve months will have less to do with the events that occur than with her own attitude and perspective. Over the year, she consults with psychologists, scholars, teachers, doctors, and philosophers sharing with the reader her witty journey to discover the value of appreciating what you have. Relying on her personal experience of practising gratitude and her research, the author explores how gratitude can transform every aspect of life including marriage, friendship, finances, ambition, and health.

 

Research

Developing and executing rituals is known to effect outcomes. One approach to rituals is to think of them as helping to establish habits. Another is to think of them as helping with a specific issue in your life. In both cases, writing out the ritual is helpful.

 

Writing Strategy of the Month:

        Using ritual to develop a practice: (May 2021)

Testing your resolve

How long does it take to develop a new or release an old habit?

The time that it takes varies. It varies depending on our level of commitment, the practice that you are developing, and the support you have or need. With a “thirty-day challenge”, it is common to successfully establish a new healthy ritual.

However, choose the duration that you prefer, if you differ.

A duration too short will be ineffective; a duration too long will be tedious.

Thirty-day challenge:

  • Identify a new practice that you want to develop or an old one you want to release.
  • Write out clearly what you will practice each day for 30 days. Keep it simple.
  • Include writing about your practice each day.
  • Print out a one-month calendar. Each day that you do the ritual, cross off one day.
  • At the end of a month, reflect on how your developing practice is progressing.

 

Photo Question of the month

 

Using the above image as a prompt, please write about what you would like to do well on a consistent basis? Then write about how you experience life differently once your practice becomes more consistent.

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