My relationship with practice was not good as a kid. I thought practice was about non-stop self-criticism and really sinking in to the fact that I’m messing up over and over. “I’m not good enough” was the mantra.
We’re now in an age of over-educated and under-experienced creatives. We have so many ways to learn about our field. We can download anything ever made, but we don’t get our hands dirty.
The result is
- Standups that can reference any comedian in history, but don’t breathe on stage
- Writers making impossible allusions, but not connecting with our hearts
- Film makers that make a gorgeous thing that doesn’t represent anything
Practice is a gift to the world
It’s a cop-out to practice something tangential to what we want to do. If we want to be a great musician on Zoom, we’ve gotta get on Zoom as much as possible and play our hearts out over and over. The more we can do the whole thing in a practice session, the better.
I’ve practiced a lot of things. Some things I didn’t know I was practicing until it was too late — I was already good at them. I learned a lot about how a good practice session works from juggling. There was my own practice, then teaching lessons.
People are motivated by service of people and a higher cause. Here are mantras in order of reverse helpfulness,
- “I suck at juggling”
- “I want to be a better juggler”
- “I want to be a cool juggler”
- “I want people to see juggling in a certain way that nobody else is doing it.”
We can take the focus off ourselves. We can be positive. Progress will still be made.
Each time we practice, the primary goal is to show up. If I commit to doing an hour a day of juggling practice and I juggle for an hour, that’s a 80% successful practice.
Sometimes, the stuff we do in the practice seems like a big leap forward, sometimes the opposite. Setting goals like, “I’m going to get 300 throws without dropping” is great for keeping focus, but not a good measuring stick of whether it was a successful practice. We can’t always see the progress, and the sucking is why we’re practicing. The sucking can be celebrated, because that day that I had crappy practice is a day that I didn’t share with crappy juggling with my audience. That was a hurdle I had to get over to make something better for the future. That better for the future is my bigger goal.
Children see progress
I believe an important part of why kids are so good at learning is they don’t have baggage. They don’t have success. When kids stumble, they think “Wow, I walked further than ever before!” instead of “I’m supposed to be good at walking. I’m a grown up!”
So, three things to steal from kiddos…
- Forget past success
- Look at progress
- Don’t try to know how fast progress “should” come
Focus… But not too much
The best way for our bodies and minds to learn is not by squeezing things in our mind-vise, but by finding a lot of periods of relaxed focus. I want to get in a state similar to driving a car. Paying attention, but not tense.
Once we get warmed up in our practice, our brain can make progress. Usually, it takes me at least 15 minutes to get warmed up for something. With juggling, I would feel warm when my skin started to itch a little with the first sweat. Then, my arms were ready to learn.
In order to do all this gentle and present practice, we need a safe space to do it. The stakes must be low and it must be not too laborious to step in and do it regularly and a lot. So, if we want to get better at writing jokes or photography, we can set up an anonymous instagram or twitter account and pile them on. See if they work. We’re not trying to get noticed or trying to build whatever. We’re trying to practice – and we’re succeeding.