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Practice Man, Practice

Practice Man, Practice

The art of practice is underrated, and that needs to change. There is no growth without practice.

My grandfather was a musician and music teacher. His favorite way to inspire me to practice my piano was to tell a little joke:

A pedestrian on 57th Street sees a musician getting out of a cab and asks, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

Without pause, the artist replies, “Practice man, practice.”

It never inspired me to spend more time on the piano bench as a kid, but as an adult I can see that it’s brilliant life advice.

Practice is so underrated. As adults, our egos start getting in the way. We want to project competence and confidence at all times, all under a veneer of cool. Not only do we want to be perceived as successful, but it somehow needs to seem effortless. We don’t want anyone to see us sweat or DO THE WORK. People might think we are frauds if we can’t effortlessly accomplish our goals. We are competent adults that know everything!

Wrong.

Embracing the art of practice opens the door to growth and is a key ingredient to a life well lived.

It took a regular meditation practice, and working on my fear of public speaking, to really develop an appreciation of practice. The simple act of sitting cross legged and practicing paying attention to my breath, and alternately noticing when I’ve lost attention, has been transformational. Over time this simple practice has made me more aware of my mind and what it’s up to. I now do a much better job at noticing when my attention wanders during a conversation, and pulling my focus back to the person I’m talking to. Not 100% of the time, but definitely more of the time. I think it’s made me a better listener, friend and colleague.

There is another type of meditation I practice called loving-kindness where the focus of the meditation is to practice sending compassion and kindness to yourself and others. This felt a little strange and hokey at first, to “practice” being kind. Repeating kind phrases to myself had a Stuart Smalley effect – I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me – making it feel a bit like a joke at first. But when I stopped listening to that cynical little voice and did the work of practicing kindness and compassion, I found that I actually was becoming kinder and more compassionate.

It is so obvious to practice performance related skills. If you’re a musician, you practice before going on stage. If you’re an athlete, you practice before a big game. If you’re giving a speech, you practice before delivering your talk.

Less obvious, is to practice the regular everyday skills and traits of being a good human, yet this is the practice that is truly life changing. This is our life’s work.

If you practice being more grateful, you actually become more grateful (and studies show, happier).

If you practice noticing what presses your buttons, you can choose to respond in a calmer and less reactive way to life’s challenges.

You can do all of this with the goal of becoming a better human, which is beautiful. Good for you. But you can also do this for yourself, to live a calmer, more joyful and more peaceful life. Win-win.

I have found this mindset to be particularly helpful when dealing with life’s personal and professional challenges. Every difficult situation is an opportunity to practice. When I find myself agitated by a difficult conversation with a family member: opportunity to practice noticing my feelings and choose a different and calmer response. When I find myself frustrated by a seemingly impossible challenge at work: opportunity to practice noticing self-defeating self talk and replace it with a more positive path forward.

In this way, life’s greatest challenges, while unpleasant in the moment, become life’s greatest teachers. They become a gift.

When we embrace the idea of using life’s challenges as an opportunity to practice, we also embrace the idea that it’s ok to suck at something for a while. This is a great and humbling thing. If you can acknowledge that you need to practice calm/kindness/focus/gratitude, etc., you can also acknowledge that you are always learning and it’s ok to fail or to not be great at something.

Self-kindness is critical as we practice our way through life.

This outlook has helped me to find meaning in difficult situations. On the surface, a bad day at work, or a bad exchange with a loved one, can feel defeating and unpleasant. Once these moments are framed as an opportunity to practice a different way of being, a little bit of space to grow opens up. And that is the gift that keeps on giving.

Let’s Do This

Do you embrace the art of practice?

What do you want to practice?

2 Comments

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  2. […] wrote in an earlier blog post that I struggled with this type of meditation when I first tried it. It felt a little strange and […]

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