“A genius! For 37 years I’ve practiced fourteen hours a day, and now they call me a genius!” —Pablo Sarasate (Spanish violinist)
Give Practice some Glory
Practice deserves a lot more glory around here, frankly. It is far too often the unpopular accompaniment to success and stardom. It is the unworthy servant next to Gods of fame and fortune. Practice hardly makes cocktail conversation, much less a serious topic of every day discussion and attention.
Today, I am going to put practice up on a pedestal, shower it with glory and worship it all over again. Today, I am choosing to remember the importance of practice and the essence of true growth and improvement.
Practice can be the one gap you have to close between yourself and your goals (Choose to close it). It can be the one impediment that can hold you back and leave you wondering why others are so much better at that something for which you pine (Don’t allow it). It can make the difference between good and great, mediocre and magnificent (Go for the latter). It can define your skills by different scales altogether (Up the ante) It can be your breakaway strategy and your true path to your very own authentic success or the lack thereof (Seriously, practice is that good and almighty.)
Practice is the brutally honest friend, dropping rude awakening on your path on an idle Tuesday. Unsolicited, unwanted, unasked for but nonetheless, it shows up, telling you quite frankly why you are not good enough at something just yet. A (big!) part of you wants to kick him out of your life and the other part — the smart part — knows the layers of truth hidden in the message.
The Difference between Hard Work and Practice
All practice takes hard work but not all-hard work is practice.
Hard work is the sweat and tears you put toward a single task, be it a challenging, intellectually stimulating, complex task or a boring, dull and repetitive task.
Hard work is going through college, medical school, or a certification program.
Hard work is also shoveling snow, cleaning your boat, washing your dog, and chasing after your kids. Hard work is exertion of the body and the mind regardless of the task.
When hard work trains and refines your body or your mind to perform a single task beautifully, effortlessly, strongly and gracefully, then it is called a practice.
This can be the practice of your abilities and skills at something that greatly interests you, be it your writing, your dance, your art, your cooking, your communication skills, your yoga, your running, your photography, your meditation, your fill-in-these-blanks passion.
Hard work can be wasteful and show no results beyond the immediate. I bet you can think of examples and spare me the trouble to reflect on the wasted hours of my life at menial, ridiculous tasks and jobs. (Please nod yes and let us move on.)
Practice, on the other hand, never goes unnoticed for long. When you practice consistently at something, it shows — whether you like it or not. Lo and behold, the fruits of all practice resurface and subtle that they may be, they gently nudge you forward on your particular path.
Practice is the beginning of beautiful miracles waiting to unfold. For me. For you. For anyone – and I mean anyone – willing to put in the practice to build a skill and develop a talent.
What Happens When You Practice?
When you practice, you use your skills and you build on them. You start to break boundaries, the ones you swore you’d “never be able to do”; you push past your old edge and start playing around new ones. Simply put, you get better with practice. Oh and you look like a genius on the side. (See my favorite quote at the opening).
Practice is intoxicating, brilliantly simple and simply brilliant and truly the best antidote for a dip in motivation. It empowers and enables. It reminds you that building a skill is difficult but not impossible. Practice makes things possible. Practice opens doors but only — and not a minute sooner than — when you are ready for it.
Consistent and regular practice has more of an exponential than a linear effect. If you practice your dance weekly, you advance very slowly over time but if you practice it daily, the jump is not linear. It is exponential — in other words, it’s a big jump, a huge jump, the kind of jump that makes the difference between good and great, mediocre and magnificent.
And practice rewards handsomely in all instances. It does not care about the state of economy, your business or even your relationships. When you practice something — anything — you improve, you grow, you advance, you gain a skill and heaps of confidence to boot.
On the scale of good to great, I have stumbled on these moments of progress in my yoga journey — things I thought I’d never be able to do are now part of my regular practice. What beautiful proof to believe that practice pays in abundance.
What Happens When You Don’t Practice?
When you don’t practice, you lose your skills, not all at once — now that would be obvious enough to terrify you back into practice — but instead, one subtle muscle and brain memory at a time. At first, it is frustrating but hardly bad enough to sound a loud alarm. Then you notice that what seemed so effortless at the height of your practice now takes so much more time and energy.
You slip here and there. You lose your refinement and agility. You notice that the skills you once held at the palm of your hands are now slipping through your fingers and you wake up to reality. You have slowly lost your sharp skills for that which you swore you loved more than anything else.
Without practice and use, you lose what you built. The less you practice, the faster it fades and it is a terrible thing to witness so stop the insanity early on!
Beware of the impending effect on your beloved skills. I have noticed this bitter effect many times. When we lived in Turkey, I had mastered Turkish like a native. I would ace geography and history in 8th grade, gossip with the best of them in school, and once successfully translated a car-buying negotiation between my dad and the dealer from Farsi to Turkish. Today I remember a few words and harbor some regret in losing my skill for not using it.
Fall in Love with Your Practice
Practice is tangible. Motivation and inspiration are sometimes fleeting but practice, you can hold on to it. You can count on it. You can schedule it. You can plan it. You can commit to it. You can return to it anytime so long as you believe in its power and its rewards.
So whatever your goals, your desirable skills, your artistic aspirations and dreams of creativity, build a consistent, unshakable practice around it. Stay the course, detach from the end-goal and delve into the world and wonder of your practice.
Fall in love with the slow, the steady, and after a while, the significant progress which awaits you. Fall in love with your practice and compromise it for nothing in exchange on your path to greatness.