Interesting Thought: Practice as a Way of Living
When you first hear the word "practice," what comes to mind?
Perhaps you thought of an athlete doing drills in between games, or a musician playing scales on a piano to prepare for a recital. This is how I thought about practice for a very long time.
But lately I've been thinking about, and even experiencing, practice as something much broader. You can apply the art of practice to anything at which you strive to get better—whether that means shaving two minutes off your marathon finishing time, becoming a stronger, kinder, and wiser person, or more gracefully moving forward amidst uncertainty.
Practice means approaching something deliberately, with presence, and with the intention to improve and grow. Anything you value can be a practice.
You can have a writing practice. A legal practice. A medical practice. A running practice. A parenting practice. A coaching practice. A teaching practice. An artistic practice. A meditation practice.
The possibilities are endless, but they all have one thing in common: when an activity becomes a practice it shifts from something you are doing at a point in time to an ongoing process of becoming. The former lends itself to "good" or "bad" judgments, forgetfulness, and discontinuity. The latter lends itself to integration, continuous learning, and wholeness.
When you immerse yourself in a practice you still have acute ups and downs, but they are merely part of a much larger process. And it is the larger process that matters. Not even the outcome of that process, but how you go about being in the process itself.
Take moment to reflect on the things you do regularly, that you consider a big part of your life. Do you currently approach them as practices? If not, what might change if you did?
And then ponder this: Ultimately, perhaps it's all a practice. The pinnacle of integration, continuity, and wholeness? The practice of living.
Coaching Corner: Expecting Easy Makes Things Hard
When it comes to a running race, there's a simple formula that can predict whether you will speed up or slow down at any given time:
Expectations of difficulty/Actual difficulty
So long as that equation is greater than or equal to one, you'll probably be OK. If not, things could get ugly fast.
Did you reach halfway expecting to still feel under control, yet your breathing is labored? You'll likely slow your pace down. Do you find yourself bursting with energy 75% of the way through the race when you expected fatigue to rear its ugly head by now? You'll likely have a quick run to the finish.
While other factors are at play and can influence your decision to speed up or slow down (e.g., motivation, a conscious and conservative race strategy, etc.), it largely comes down to this: Do you feel better or worse than you expected to at a given point in time?
In the running world, we mostly focus on modulating the second half of the equation, the actual difficulty. We perform lung searing workouts on the track to improve our fitness so that we can run faster and further before fatigue hits us.
Yet it's the expectations that set the stage, providing the template for our minds to follow. Our mind works in a predictive way, utilizing prior information, our motivation, and our expectations to anticipate the demands it's going to be placed under. Think of this programming as our leftover survival guide from days of encountering and avoiding threats. It's better to be partially prepared and predictive, than solely reactive.
Often we pay lip service to the influence of our expectations by encouraging lofty goal setting and a positive attitude. "Dream big. Shoot for the stars," we're told from a young age.
Yet this framing can set us up for disaster. If our only inner narrative is one of success, of feeling great halfway through the race, what happens when reality hits us on our head and the actual effort we are putting forth far exceeds our idealistic pre-race expectations?
We slow down.
It's important to embrace reality. I'm not encouraging doom and gloom thinking or setting your sights low. But by going into any endeavor (this isn't just about running) with a realistic expectation of the challenges you are about to face, it puts your mind-body in a better position to handle the demands.
In running language: Don't go into a race expecting to feel great; instead, realize and accept that it's going to hurt, it's going to be difficult. And that's alright. In fact, it will probably allow you to run faster in the end.
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