Why Persistence is Worth It
My trainer has this quote written on the chalkboard in the warm up room:
“We are what we repeatedly do.” – Aristotle
Every morning that I’m at her gym, I face this as I warm up on the treadmill. So I’ve spent some time thinking about it: a simple yet profound statement.
The message is timeless and clear: in order to get good at something, it’s necessary to practice.
I see another message in the quote which is that the things we choose to do repeatedly are what make up the fabric of our lives. Our day to day actions and choices indeed make up our experience and, added together over time, our lives. It is up to us to choose to do those things and act in the ways that create meaning for us.
And being good at something we enjoy doing is a big part of what creates meaning and fulfillment in our lives.
Yet we live in a culture where we are surrounded by a conflicting message.
From much of our media and entertainment the idea is quite different: if you simply drive the right car, meet the right partner, dress a certain way, you will find happiness. Your goals will be met. It is a message of instant gratification, and it’s easy to fall into an expectation of quick and easy – if temporary – relief.
We live in a culture that sells the quick fix. Most of us are at least exposed to it – if not surrounded by it – on a regular basis. While we may intellectually grasp the importance of practice if we want to learn to play soccer, drive a car, master the piano, and we may even teach this to our children, it’s easy to be tempted by the notion of instant gratification.
We also don’t necessarily consider how practice in the art of those things that create meaning for us extends into our daily lives as adults.
And yet practice is so important. As professionals in any field, if we want to achieve a level of mastery, we need to practice. Even if we simply want to become passably good at something – say communicating, speaking in public or managing a team – it takes practice. If we want to introduce new behaviors into our lives, we can’t just depend on our will or even discipline to make them happen. We need to intentionally practice the behavior or skill day after day until it becomes a new normal.
Why Practice is Scary
Yet most of us as adults understandably avoid the prospect of being bad at something, even if we’re aware that our poor performance will be temporary as we learn the skill or behavior. When you try something new, you’re not usually very good at it, and as you continue to practice, you tend to become even more aware of this. It can get worse before it gets better.
When I first started practicing yoga almost 20 years ago (a practice that’s not designed to be a competitive sport) I found myself comparing my ability to bend, twist and balance with everyone else in the room. I was a runner and a triathlete and it wasn’t always comfortable to be in a room of people who seemed to gracefully bend into poses that weren’t accessible with my tight hamstrings and quads. But I loved the practice and the calming, centering affect it had on me.
So I decided on the recommendation of a teacher friend to keep at it, committing to practicing yoga at least twice each week – and what a difference it’s made. I’m by no means a master yogi but I easily move into inversions and arm balances. More importantly, I’ve found a strength and flexibility in my 40s that I didn’t have in my 20s. And when others compliment me on the grace in my practice or how strong or flexible I am, I always encourage them to stick with it. The flexibility and (apparent) ease is an outcome of the consistent practice.
The easiest way to get rid of that uncomfortable feeling when you’re trying something new is to quit: stop practicing and go do something else. That’s what most of us do when faced with the discomfort of learning and embodying some new behavior. But practice is important for all of us – regardless of our goals and aspirations.
Why Practice is Important
A little persistence in the face of this discomfort can result in huge increases in our skills – and in great satisfaction as we begin to embody our new behavior or skill. The early hours of trying something new are almost always challenging, but if you persist and practice in an intelligent way, you can experience dramatic improvements in a short period of time.
Whether it’s practicing a skill at work like leadership, communication or delegation – or a new hobby such as learning to dance or speak Spanish – there is a sense of meaning, fulfillment and yes, even confidence, that comes from learning to do something we couldn’t do before.
Most of us aren’t trying to become elite athletes or performers, so while part of the value of practice is in the benefits that will come from the new skill or behavior, I suggest that an equally important part of practice is the meaning and enjoyment that comes from the practice itself. Choose to practice those things that you are passionate about, those skills you’d like to strengthen, the behaviors you’d like to embody – that support you being the person you want to be in the world.
And remember: we are what we repeatedly do.
Who do you want to be?
What new skills or behaviors are you ready to practice to get there?
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