Practice makes perfect - Creation.begins

Practice makes perfect

Low sunlight reflecting off a large crystal rock
Shining Your Light
1 February 2024
crumpled happy face balloon lying in street
Embracing Unfairness
15 February 2024
Low sunlight reflecting off a large crystal rock
Shining Your Light
1 February 2024
crumpled happy face balloon lying in street
Embracing Unfairness
15 February 2024

Practice makes perfect14 min read

The image below came across my social feed recently, and struck a cord. It’s the “secret” that everyone is seeking. It’s what we all inherently know, it’s what the coaches and motivators and teachers and trainers have said for millennia.  It’s something that many people resist because, in the beginning, everything new is obviously more difficult than after regular familiarity, and far too many people are scared of being bad at something before they perfect it.

type written text that reads "I found a book entitled, "How to be amazing at anything." It had only a single page inside and was just one word long: Practice.

Most people aren’t looking for a secret to success that involves making any actual changes and effort in one’s life, but for those who are embarking on the journey of mastering a new skill, it may be nice knowing that there are ways to becoming a pro that’s both effective and enjoyable.

The Fundamentals of Perfection

One of the many skills and communities I’ve found myself a part of is in the practice of Kahuna bodywork. I learned the fundamentals and basic techniques at first, and in the two decades since, I have been on numerous more trainings and practiced what I’d learned relatively regularly, certainly enough to master the work in a way that an artist masters their particular style of art.

The term “Kahuna” actually means master or expect in the language of Ōlelo Hawaiʻi. A similar term exists in many languages. A shaman or a swami or a sensei or a guru or a mentor; these are all words that mean a high level teacher or expert in their particular field. In the English world, many of these terms are used mostly for people who are an expert in spiritual related matters but one can be an expert at anything one puts their focus on, whether it’s surfing guru, cooking guru, or healing guru.

And is that not what perfection really is; reaching a pinnacle level of achievement. One can never be truly perfect because there really is no final pinnacle. We are always learning more, we are always becoming better at what we are already good at, and we are always growing and becoming more knowledgeable in more areas. Many of our species the world over have mastered skills to such a phenomenal level that there are very few others who would ever match it. The Genius Book of Records, The Olympics, Olympiads, tournaments, challenges, there are numerous media publications that dedicate their pages and videos to the more spectacular individuals in our midst. The world is full of genius levels of masters, and every one of them got to be who they are through regular practice of their skill or art, whether in sports or arts or intelligence or any other aspect of life.

The trick is to enjoy what you’re doing and make it less of a need and more of a want. Practising something that doesn’t excite you will just cause you to resent it over time, and while you certainly will develop your skills with regular practice, there’s a chance you will quit the first chance you get, and the chance of reaching master levels are slimmer. On the other hand, if you are committed to any particular pursuits, here’s some guidance to help you make the most of your practice time.

Practice with a Purposeful Feedback Loop

In the practice of Kahuna, one of the principals we follow is Pono, which represents practicality. Pono translates into many different English word, because like so many Polynesian words, its meaning is so much more in depth than a single word for word translation. In Hawaiian, if a person is living pono, it means that they have struck the right balance in their relationships with other things, places, and people in their lives. It also means that they are living with a continuous conscious decision to do right by themselves, by others, and by the world in general.

When I first learned the concept of pono, I learned it as something similar to the idiom, “the proof is in the pudding”. If you’ve never heard that phrase before, it’s a contraction of “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”, meaning one will only know whether the pudding is good or not by trying it. Likewise, pono emphasizes the results of the doing. If what you’re doing results in what you want, keep doing what you’re doing, refining as desired to get better and more efficient results. On the other hand, if what you’re doing is not getting you what you want, adjust what you’re doing or do something else. If the pudding doesn’t taste good, find another pudding or another pudding chef or another pudding shop or another pudding recipe or try some custard with it.

Practice smart, not just hard. Pay attention to what you’re doing and the results, so that you can establish a logical feedback loop that gives you relatively immediate insights on your progress. Based on this feedback, you can adapt accordingly to ensure that each subsequent practice session contributes to improvement.

Integrate Practice into Your Life

Starting a new practice is difficult when we already have a life too full of other practices. If there’s something you want to improve or introduce to your life, make it easy to be a part of your life. Imagine if you didn’t practice brushing your teeth every morning, how would you introduce that habit into your life now?

In short, it would be the same process. Make practice a seamless and organic part of your daily routine. Etch out some time for you to practice and stick to it. Set your schedule to compliment itself, with sessions that are not too short so as to feel like we haven’t done our practice justice, and also not too long so as to feel overwhelmed and resentful. For example, if you wanted to practice archery, it would make most sense to schedule your practice sessions at times when you’d most likely want to practice. Maybe it works for you to practice first thing in the morning, but it probably won’t make sense to practice for two hours immediately after an eight hour work day. If you did the latter, you’d fall off the wagon within a month, if not a week.

Find a balance that works for you. Your sessions should be intense enough to engage and work you but not so much that you don’t want to do it again tomorrow. On that note, it is just as important to align the frequency of your practice with the effort required and the results you want achieved, creating a sustainable rhythm. For example, three days a week of gym workout might suit your workout needs, or one day a week, or five days a week. Every one of us is different and at different levels. Maybe one hour a day, three days a week is what you can manage for now, but in a few months time, you might want to increase your sessions to five days a week. You do you, as long as you are not derailing anything else that you consider important, and you aren’t sabotaging your results to date. It might take some trial and error to figure out whether a change in routine is beneficial or not. Don’t be afraid to experiment; that’s how we discover truths.

Putting in Thoughtful Effort

In order to maximise your enjoyment and progress, perform your exercises consciously. Be present, pay attention to how you’re developing and progressing, and what you’re learning as a side-effect to the main task. Reflect on what you’re doing and what you’re achieving, either by yourself or with trusted people. Getting to understand your learning process will better help you know what you need. Learning about ourselves while we’re doing our exercises is a huge part of our progression. As you better understand yourself and your needs, you can adapt the activities to suit your unique style, figuring out and focusing on the actions that lead to better results for you.

Progress isn’t just about action steps; it’s about refining those actions to fit your individual needs. Understanding why we are taking certain actions can help us adapt to using better actions for similar or better results. We all do things differently, and we all have different needs, and therefore cannot be expected to act in the same way to achieve the same things. Some of us need more breaks in order to be our most productive, or for the learning to sink in better. Some of us need more physical practice time than others. Some of us need more rest and relaxation time than others.

We need to comprehend what we’re doing “wrong” or “right” in order to do more of what is right for us specifically. In this context, what’s right for us is what ethically gets us closer to our goal. We can learn from every action we take and every result we get, perceivably good or bad. Care enough to keep learning and figuring out the best process for you, and be open to adapting and experimenting regularly as you develop, and as your needs change.

Soft focus picture of a human working on gym ropes

photo by Chase Kinney

Redefining and Identifying Progress

Progress is a subjective thing, let’s be real. Yes, there is a starting point and an end goal, but the journey from one point to the other can be, and often is, different for everyone. It’s not about what other people see, but how we feel for ourselves and what we have decided making headway means. Progress could mean walking up two flights of stairs without being winded. Progress could mean simply finishing the race, no matter the time. Progress could mean eating one healthy meal a week instead of none at all. You have to define what success looks like for you for your particular main goal. Once you know this, you get to decide what your meaningful measure of progress is, so that you know how to track your progress or lack thereof.

At its core, progress simply means you’re a bit closer to your goal today than you were yesterday. Establish a metric that you will use to measure your progress. Let it be something that is tangible and measurable, such as waking up before 5 every day for a month, or lifting up two kilograms more than you did four weeks ago. There should be a time factor included so that you can tell where you are at now compared to where you were days or weeks or months ago. Also, b open to changing metrics as you understand yourself and your goals better.

We’ve all heard the advice on how to eat an elephant; one tiny bite at a time. Identifying smaller progressive goals or milestones between the starting point and end goal will make it easier for you to be more consistent with your practice. Make the activities a cinch to do. A step is small enough and easy enough for most of us to take once a day, every day. And yet, 1,000 days later, we could turn around and not even see where we took that first step. In order to have consistent motivation and wins along your journey, make each step easy and obvious to do so that you do them regularly without fail.

Understand also that progress is a dynamic target, which is constantly evolving based on your feedback loop. As you observe more clearly where you are and where you’re going, you will be better able to determine whether you’re on track to achieving your original goals or not, or even if those initial goals need refining. You must obviously make adjustments as you get better clarity of your path and destination, and the more often you pay attention to your progress in relation to your goal, and the feedback you’ve observed thus far, the more often you will make those adjustments timeously.

We have all lived enough life to accept that progress is never a straight line. We move forwards and backwards and downwards and upwards, adapting and adjusting all the time. Life doesn’t give us a straight, clear, easy path. We often have got to figure out the path as we go along. Sometimes we notice the short cuts. Sometimes we wind up on a bit of a detour. Sometimes we find ourselves on a different path altogether. Progress is always a moving target that we get to define, between the starting point and the end goal. Using our logical feedback loop, we can evaluate whether we are progressing positively (closer to where we want to be) or whether we need to adapt our exercises and practices. By consistently checking in and being cognitive of how on track we are, we can adapt quicker and correct our course sooner.

Part of this process is embracing our mistakes as opportunities to learn and adapt your practice. That’s all mistakes are; experiments that gave us the results we didn’t want. By trying out different approaches, techniques, venues, people, etc. we clarify better approaches for us specifically; what works for others may not work for you due to there being so many different variables.

Adapt the habits, behaviours, and mindsets that better serve your goals, and that takes knowing yourself and your desires better. This is all part of the process and is a useful aspect of the feedback loop. Failing is not an end point, it is a particular result that says we need to try something different. The more failure we encourage, the more feedback we are receiving, and therefore the quicker we can try out and adapt successful strategies.

woman running up flight of colourful stairs

photo by Ev

Fun and Sustainable

In the quest to master any skill, the key is to develop a practice model that’s not only effective but also enjoyable and sustainable. It can be difficult maintaining momentum on something that isn’t easy to commit to. So figure out how to tailor your routine to be fun, rewarding, fulfilling, and/or educational. What will get you to practice that particular task until it’s part of your daily life? You know you, so you are the best person to figure it out.

Ideally, your practices are going to become part of your lifestyle, integrated seamlessly into your daily or weekly life, making your progress self-driven and practically automatic. Your practice model should be flexible, allowing you to adjust as you clarify your goals and desired results. The journey is unique to you, so don’t compare your routines nor your progress with anyone else. When you’re ready to compete with them, you will, but until then, get yourself up to speed by only comparing where you are in relation to where you want to be.

Enjoying the journey is key to everything in life. You decide on your goals and what practices you want to incorporate into your life, your internal decisions are what drive the progress, from defining those goals to setting timelines. If it’s not enjoyable, you’re less likely to be consistent. So right from the get go, make sure that your practice sessions are fun and align with your preferences. Whether you’re aiming for a permanent skill or a bonus proficiency, ensure the process is both rewarding and enjoyable. Otherwise, why bother at all?

Your Journey to Mastery

If you are not having fun or enjoying the process of practising, you’re more likely to find reasons not to be consistent. Just remember that it’s all internal; you decide what progress looks like, you decide how often to practise, you decide what the end goal is, and the timeline. You decide your journey towards your personal idea of perfection.

Embarking on the journey of mastering anything is a personal and dynamic adventure. With a purposeful feedback loop, thoughtful effort, and a commitment to enjoying the process, you’ll find yourself not just mastering skills but also enjoying the people you’ll meet, the adventures you’ll have, and the bonus skills that you’ll learn, and really the entire journey along the way. So, give yourself permission to dive into your passions, practice with purpose, and let the journey of mastery be as fulfilling as the destination.

low view of a chess board midgame

photo by jeshoots.com

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