You’re Always Practicing

Article in the Mindscape Section of the August 2015 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

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The word practice gets some of us thinking about some sort of repeated performance or systematic exercise. And perhaps fields like music, dance, theatre, sports or martial arts prominently surface when we think about where practice is done the most. In reality, we are all practicing something or the other all the time.

A lot of the work that I do is about understanding and using human behaviour. “A Behaviour Is Anything That You Do”. That’s one of the best definitions of behaviour that I have come across in recent times. If you wake up early, that’s a behaviour. If you make eye contact, that’s a behaviour. Not only is a behaviour something that you do physically, it might well be something that you do in your mind. If you tell yourself “Oh no! Not again” only in your mind. That’s a behaviour. Or if you daydream during a meeting. That’s a behaviour too. Now all of us are practicing some behaviour or the other all the time. The question is, what behaviour are you practicing?

Another fact is that we get better at what we practice. If you miss going to the gym once, it is easier to miss it again. If you wake up early once, it is easier to wake up early again. There are fewer instances of people starting or stopping a behaviour in one shot. Like smoking your very first cigarette in life and from then on, becoming a daily smoker for the rest of your life. Or dropping out of a fitness class. Very few people miss one day and stop altogether. There is mostly a transition from very regular to missing a class once in a while to missing classes often to stopping altogether.

Living the life you want involves regularly doing the things that will get you there. Practicing the desirable behaviours more often than the undesirable ones. If you want to become a guitarist one year from now, you should be practicing playing the guitar often enough for the next one year. You can’t spend all your time sleeping, working, commuting, watching TV, eating or meeting friends and expect to become a guitarist after one year. I know that seems rather obvious, but that’s exactly what some people do. I recently coached a gentleman in his late thirties, who was a manager at a fairly large technology firm. He would wake up in the morning, feeling lousy about the day ahead. So he would snooze some more and wake up with not enough time to have a relaxed morning. He would then go through the discomfort of running late for office and thinking about the possible traffic jam and consequences of reaching office late. While driving to work, he would think about the long arduous day ahead and already start feeling heavy inside. While at work, he would go about the day feeling sick about his job and wondering what he’s really doing in that company. He said that when he leaves office, there’s a brief period when he feels good. That is soon shrouded by thoughts of the treacherous drive back home and when he gets home, he feels stuck with household chores and responsibilities, till he finally hits the sack. So here’s someone who spends most of his day practicing feeling bad. I must admit that it might not be easy for someone like this to do a complete turnaround and start feeling elated for most of the day. In fact, what eventually worked well for this gentleman was starting with one hour a day, of doing something that he loves to do, enjoying it and feeling good about it. This was slowly spread to longer periods, coupled with redefining his life and career goals, making a job change and consciously practicing feeling good every day.

The point is that people don’t feel miserable overnight. It is the outcome of a lot of practice. And so are feelings of wellbeing, elation and fulfilment. So go after what you want in life and practice the behaviours that will get you there.