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Does Practice make Perfect?

Practice makes perfect

If you are on the path of self-growth and development, you will be familiar with the idea that practice is essential.  You may experience quick-wins, but if you are to have sustained and on-going growth, practice is a given.  Quick-wins are great.  They show you what is possible.  Then you need to put in the graft to make that possibility an on-going and repeatable reality.  You want to have it in your bones so that you have access to it at will.

Why is practice so important

In our busy lives, we often do not feel like we have time to practice.  There are always reasons why you do not have time to do something.  The question is, “Do you want things to stay the same, or change for the better?”  If you want things to be better, you want to set intention and then practice until that intention becomes manifest.

Without practice, the quick-wins do not become permanent change or growth.  Practice allows your body to set down the new wiring of your nervous system.  It also beds in the new pathways so that they are more likely to be used.  At the same time, the old pathways are being dismantled.  If the body is not using them, it has no need for them and so it breaks them down and recycles the parts.  That is why “perfect practice makes perfect”. This is an expression a friend and mentor of mine says and it has become a mantra for me.

Make the time to practice diligently whatever new habits you want to learn and embed.  Take the time to practice the technique right and you are supporting your body in creating new, more empowering habits and letting out-dated habits go.  This can be applied to physical activities such as running faster or further or mountain climbing, learning a skill like playing the piano or listening more deeply and embedding new mind-sets, for example, around money, work processes or health.

Intention

What are your desired outcomes? There is a pain you want to address- what are you willing to do to achieve that?  There is a problem you want to solve- what changes do you want to see? What practical steps are you going to take to get there?

You start from the inside out.  With emotion.  What is driving you?  A lack of confidence? Financial freedom?  Better relationships with your partner, children, friends, colleagues?  Clarity on life purpose?  More fulfilling work?  These are all emotive topics- particularly if you experience pain around them.

And these emotions drive your intention.  They act like a magnet that aligns you physically, mentally and emotionally.  From this place, you are more likely to take action.  But it has to be the right kind of action or you will not achieve your goal.

“What” do you practice?

So, practice with intention. Be specific and focus on your goals and desired outcomes.  Be intentional.  Whether it is a practical skill like martial arts or driving a car you wish to perfect or developing your leadership style or your competency as a solopreneur, intention and practice will be central to your success.

Learn from others what is required.  Have a mentor, teacher or guide.  Hone your skill.  Become an expert.  Practice whatever you require to excel.

The Challenge

You will meet challenges.  Your body resists change.  All biological systems strive for balance.  Growth and changing behaviour throw the system that is you out of balance.  So, the system fights back to maintain the status quo.  If you come at this from a perspective of patience and compassion, you will give yourself the time and opportunity to practice.  In time the new way of doing things will become the status quo.  And while it serves you, there is no reason to change it.  Once it stops serving you, change and growth are required to move things forward and take the next step.

Are you practising to be technically better? There is benefit in honing your practical skills so that you can perform well in any activity. Martial Arts is full of technical considerations. Life coaching requires a particular skill set that can be improved. Any activity requires practice of skills. Learn impeccable technical knowledge and practice endlessly those basic skills that are the foundation of all the advanced techniques. Writing with a pen, driving a car, golf swings, listening skills, dance steps- all have technical skills to practice. This is the “what” of your practice.

“How” do you practice?

“How” you practice is just as important as “what” you practice

It is not all about “what” you do.  There is also the “how” of your practice. By which I mean, what qualities are you using and cultivating when you are doing your practice? Are you developing cold and clinical execution or passion-filled expression driven by the emotion of the moment? Do you drive yourself to complete a certain number of repetitions or achieve something in a specific window of time? Or are you freer in your practice and go by what feels right?

In an earlier blog, I explained the 4 elements. This is a convenient way to describe qualities you might cultivate in your practice. Earth is more technical and precision based. Water more flowing and relational. Fire focuses on directness and driving through. While Air is lighter, creative and spontaneous.

How does the “how” you do something serve you?  You may want to be really efficient at updating your book-keeping but this approach may not work when building a vision for your business or dreaming up a family holiday.  Taking time to build rapport may be incredibly important in building relationships but serve you less when trying to meet a deadline or getting the kids to school.  Embodying the 4 elements can be a way of exploring the “how” of your practice so that you make the most of your time and get the most from each moment.

Perfect practice makes perfect

Only you can decide what is perfect for you.  There is no absolute right way or wrong way.  It is all about getting the results you want.  If life does not feel amazing, then there is room for improvement.  How can you tap into your own potential to create more of the life you want for yourself?  Are you earning the money you want?  Do you feel fulfilled in your work as you would like to?  Are your relationships with family and friends as you would wish?  Are your health, fitness and well-being at the level you want?  Does life feel balanced?  Or are you out of whack?

Over to you

So, look at the areas of your life that work and celebrate.  No, really.  Congratulate yourself on a job well done.  Savour the success- be it being able to pick up the kids from school and having quality play time with them during the week or feeling that your work contributes to society in a meaningful way to you.  You made that happen.  Celebrate that.

And those areas that need work, find out what will work better and practice.  Work out what you need to do and how you do it for greater success, well-being and happiness.  I’d love to hear what you’ve got planned.  And if you would like some support to work out what you want to be different and how to achieve that, please reach out.

Pass it on

If you found this blog useful, please pass it on to anyone you know who might find it interesting as well.  Thank you.

How do your patterns and preferences affect your daily life?

Inspiration

I was inspired to write this blog because of a post on LinkedIn by Anne Archer.  She referred to listening as a superpower.  As a coach and a Samaritans volunteer, I would definitely say that listening is a superpower.  However, this skill that I have cultivated over many years is also an example of patterns and preferences that can be incredibly useful and powerful.  They can also hold us back when used in situations when other actions might be more appropriate.

Listening

I have developed a skill in listening because I was so painfully shy, I preferred shrinking into the shadows and giving other people the limelight.  I would ask them questions and deflect the attention away from me.  As soon as they asked me anything, I would answer briefly, followed by another question.  I didn’t want to be seen or have the focus on me, so I learned to listen and ask questions.  This pattern has led to me playing small and not sharing my experience and wisdom with others.  It has also allowed me to give time and space to people to speak about challenging life circumstances, discover insights about themselves, reflect on choices and actions they have taken and share intimately their hopes, fears and doubts.  So you see, patterns and preferences are neither good nor bad.  It depends when and how you use them and whether they serve you and others in the most appropriate and empowering way.

Patterns and Preferences

Awareness of patterns and preferences gives you freedom and choice

Listening is just one example of my patterns and preferences. I am also prone to worry and anxiety, saying “sorry”, even when it isn’t necessary, not resting and working long hours and eating when I am bored or for comfort.  I do these things unconsciously most of the time.  They are not bad in themselves.  But when done unconsciously, we begin to lose choice, freedom and power within our lives.

Sometimes patterns and preferences have a positive impact. But the same lack of choice and control still applies. I am also prone to generosity, giving my time freely, I love to help others and cooking healthy meals.  And of course, I love to listen.  If you want to live a life of meaning and purpose, I think it is important to be conscious of your patterns and preferences so that you can be at choice.  To live on autopilot or defaulting to your habits may be convenient, but it can lead to disempowerment and take you away from your purpose and power in life.

Patterns and preferences are a compassionate way of looking at your habits. No judgement about whether they are wrong or right, good or bad.  It is about observation and awareness that ultimately leads to choice.  It isn’t always the best thing to listen.  Sometimes speaking out is important.

How can you notice your patterns and preferences?

By definition, patterns and preferences are so engrained in your mind and body, you often do not realise you are doing them.  Your neurobiology lends itself to creating patterns and preferences so save on time and energy (you can find a past blog I wrote about this here.  Recall your first few days at a new job.  They are tiring and time consuming, learning new tasks and processes.  Or learning to drive.  Using all those controls and manoeuvring through traffic take all your attention.  And then one day, those new activities are easy to do and you give them far less thought and energy.  Your body is excellent at making regular activities economical, moving those processes into your subconscious so that they happen automatically.  The challenge is they are often hard to notice as they happen below your conscious awareness.

Also, you may not connect your patterns and preferences to specific outcomes and therefore miss the impact you have on the people and the world around you.  Getting regular feedback from friends, family and colleagues can be a useful tool.  Make sure you can trust them to be truthful and kind with their reflections, otherwise it can become a painful experience that leads to greater resistance to change.

Do something different

Taking up new activities is a brilliant way to notice patterns and preferences.  Or doing the same thing in a different way.  Both will highlight what feels familiar to you mentally, physically and emotionally.  As I mentioned in a recent blog, I have taken up Tango.  What I require from my body is completely different to martial arts- Tango asks for freedom in the chest and shoulders while martial arts requires a more solid and rigid centre.

My mind set is totally different too- one of relationship, leading, following and passion in Tango rather than one of domination and control which martial arts can be prone to.  The learning environment also exposes patterns- group classes give you a place to hide and be less precise and disciplined with technique, while private lessons offer greater feedback and focus.  Conversely, group lessons give you a chance to dance with many people, while private lessons don’t offer that diversity.

Freedom and Choice

No one way is right or wrong.  I mention them to highlight patterns and preferences.  What do you prefer? What feels familiar?  Think of something that you do regularly.  Brushing your teeth? Dressing? Communicating with your partner, children, work peers, your boss, the checkout person at the supermarket? Are you quiet at parties or the life and the soul? How do you do it? Could you do it differently? What would it be like to do it differently? How does it feel to change it? What does it tell you about your patterns and preferences? How might the outcome be different if you did it differently?

The more aware you become, the more freedom you have to choose your actions and how you take action.  Who are you being when you speak to people?  And how are you being when you are doing it?  Mind and body are one integrated whole.  Mind set and how you are you in your body are intimately connected.  You can use mind and body as entry points to developing that awareness.  And with that awareness comes freedom and choice.

Over to You

What are your patterns and preferences?  What could you do differently?  Once you notice them, how do your patterns and preferences serve you? How do they not serve you? Do you want to make changes as a consequence? What would those changes be? I’d love to hear about your experiments and discoveries. Please post them in the comments box or if you prefer, e-mail me at david@potentialitycoaching.co.uk and we can explore your findings together.

Goal setting- do you only set professional goals, or personal goals too?

Do you set personal goals for yourself?  If you do, are they only for work?  Or do you set goals for your personal life as well?  Are you focused on the journey or the destination?

I have noticed with clients that they are often focused on setting goals for their business or career. Less so do I notice clients taking their personal life in hand and asking the question “What do I want to achieve in my personal life?”  When I realised that, I took a look at my own life and noticed that I had few personal goals outside of my business and almost all of those were long-standing and no where near being achieved.  It was a slap in the face.

As a result, I brainstormed ideas and goals that I would like to achieve that had nothing to do with work.  It was tough at the start.  Eventually I got into my stride and the list got really long: holiday destinations, charity work, new learning experiences and skills, building plans and so on.  It was a wonderful and joyful experience.  It continues to grow, and I tick off things off the list on a regular basis.  Life feels more fulfilling, fun and enriching.

Let me share with you some of the things I have learned by setting and striving for personal goals in general and one in particular: climbing Helvellyn via the Striding Edge route.

Expectation and Anticipation

In this instant, have-it-now modern culture, it’s quite a rare experience to have to wait for something.  There is a mounting pleasure with delayed gratification.  I set the date 8 months ahead in early June and did some early planning in a fit of enthusiasm.  But then, I had to wait.  It drifted to the back of my mind, but every now and then, something would happen to remind me, and I got excited again.  I asked friends if they wanted to join me- another reminder and a sharing of my dream and passion.  There was also the feeling of acceptance and rejection as people committed, said no, changed their minds, said may be and made stipulations about details.  I bought equipment, maps and booked accommodation, planned the route.  It all added to the anticipation and expectations.  It was a very joyful journey to June 8th, 2019.

Alone or together

I made a commitment to go, happy in the knowledge that I could do it alone. I had practised map reading and using a compass and I had all the equipment I needed for a solo trip.  In spite of that, I asked people to join me- it honours my values of friendship, connection and inclusion.  I was also honouring the values of solitude, down time and getting away from it all if no one accepted my invitation.  So, I was happy either way.  When I asked people to come, I still experienced the feeling of vulnerability.  I am a relational, people person and thrive in good company.  I also get energised by time alone, so I organised my trip to The Lakes with a day walking and exploring by myself as well walking with a friend. Does that make me an ambivert (both an introvert and an extrovert?)

It’s not all in my control

Weather is highly changeable in The Lakes.  The higher you go, the more extreme and changeable the weather.  We had driving rain and 80 mph gusts throughout.  For safety and self-responsibility, I had to be OK with committing to the trip in the knowledge that I may not be able to achieve what I had set out to achieve.  Committing to goals and at the same time being able to let go of them if something more appropriate comes along is a hard lesson for me to learn.  Getting too attached to an outcome may not deliver the best results.  Events beyond my control may intercede.  I then have choice about how I respond to the situation.  For me, this is the real meaning of responsibility- to be able to respond consciously, thoughtfully and in a centred way.  Not unconsciously, reactively and out of a sense of habit or rigidity.

The famous Striding Edge is an exposed, rocky ridge leading to the summit of Helvellyn

Danger

The famous Striding Edge is an exposed, rocky ridge leading to the summit.  People have died on it.  In fact, the week I committed to the trip I saw a poster at a local café that said that the owner’s son had died on Striding Edge that year in high wind while doing a charity walk.  The father was raising money for the charity in other ways and to commemorate his son’s death, charity and bravery.  It was a sobering thought.  And I committed to it anyway.  Goals require some risk and sacrifice.  In order to say “yes” to something you have to be able to say “no” to others. You may have to let go of others- perhaps even your life.  Extreme I acknowledge, but it tests your resolve and makes the journey more vivid and achieving the goal more delicious.  I think I enjoy the journey more with this mind set, rather than fixating on the destination.

Patterns

Doing something different reveals your patterns and where you feel comfortable and safe: exposed to the elements rather than in the security of home or work environments; spending time in the company of people I know less well or completely new to me; different food to fuel me for the long walk as I listen to my body tell me what I need to eat rather than my head saying what it thinks I should eat; being more active rather than sedentary; rugged hills of the North rather than manicured countryside of the South; camaraderie and friendship with fellow walkers; developing a new level of relationship with the friend I walked with; the glory of a cup of tea after a long day in the hills; a really deep sleep after a strenuous day on the mountain; noticing where my body is weak and strong; where my mind takes me when I am tired, lost or cold; missing loved ones.  Exposing these patterns can be revealing and you can use them as a growth edge in your development if you choose.  I’ve been listening to my body about what and when to eat ever since with remarkable results.

Surprises

Walking in the high mountains of The Lakes, I came across benches that commemorated Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.

However much you plan things, you will always be surprised by the ultimate outcome.  Things will never be exactly as you imagine them.  Walking in the high mountains of The Lakes, I came across benches that commemorated Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.  People must have carried these benches up mountains, over styles and finally positioned them so that they were safe to sit on and enjoy the views.  They went to tremendous trouble to bring pleasure to unknown walkers and in honour of the sovereign.  I think that is wonderful and extraordinary.  It is a legacy.  A reminder that things are bigger than you.  That your actions have a consequence for the future.  What do you choose?

Letting go of rigid control of the plan allows things to unfold organically, naturally and as they will.  Imposing your will only leads to tension, resistance and discomfort.  It is a fine balance to set your intention, allow things to unfold and flow and be a willing co-creator in the process as it unfolds.  Some of the greatest moments of my life have been when I have played an active role in creating something and allowed others to create it with me as equal partners.  I used to run martial arts sessions for 12-13 year olds on extra-curriculum days at a local school.  Each session was different as the children created with me what they wanted to perform to their peers.  It takes humility and responsibility.  I often stumble upon it by accident and find it hard to do on purpose.  I think coaching sessions are the closest I get professionally.  Travel and social situations in my private life provide beautiful platforms for such connections.

Completion

There is something satisfying about achieving a goal- or even seeking to attempt it without success.  When you get to the end, do you celebrate, reflect and learn from the experience?  Life moves on at a pace, and it is all too easy to move on to the next thing without savouring the experience you have just had.  Part of the journey is to come to the end, stop and rest.  All cycles go through this rest period (like the four seasons, Winter is a time to rest, rejuvenate and assimilate what has gone before).  As a culture, we are less good at the resting part, eager to move on to the next thing.  But we lose so much because we do not savour, integrate and process the experience.  Talking it over, looking at photos, considering what could be done differently and what you would do more or less of.  These are valuable exercises is embedding the experience and how it enriches your life.

Over to You

So, there you have it.  Some of the learning from setting personal goals and trying to achieve them. What do you learn from setting personal goals?  How might you do things differently?  Do you focus more on your personal goals or professional ones?  If you’d like that to change, how would you go about that?

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