My daughter is five years old and learning to read. I watch her determination as she patiently sounds out the words, even the hard ones. She takes deep breaths, leans in closer to the book, puts her finger under the word with purpose. She is concentrating, putting her energy towards achieving what she set out to do - read the sentence on the page.
A moment later, success! She has done it! Her smile is wide, a laugh bubbles up from her tummy and she throws herself backwards onto her bed, legs in the air. "I did it mama, I read it!"
I celebrate with her, we high-five and settle back in to read some more. The difference is that now, she's on a high from her win. She wants another one. But this sentence is harder, it doesn't come as easily. It's getting close to bedtime, she's getting tired. I can feel her frustration rising. This isn't how she wanted to feel. She wanted to follow her first win immediately with a second! I can feel it coming - she's gripping tightly onto the book, her voice is tense, and soon, there are tears. "Can you help me mama? But I want to do it! I'm never going to be able to read!" The book is thrown across the bed and her face is buried in her pillows.
As her mom, I feel her frustration in my bones. I comfort her the best I can. I of course know that before we know it, she will read with ease. She will soon be devouring books like I did, and within a few years probably reading mine (even those she probably shouldn't be reading; I remember reading things from my mom's shelf that were definitely a bit too mature for me!)
I lean in and tell her quietly, I know it's frustrating. It's ok to feel frustrated because I know you want to learn. And you are learning! Every day you are learning a little more. The way we get better at something is to practice. We have to practice every day to get good at the things we want to do and to become who we want to be. Mama is still learning so many things. I also get frustrated sometimes. But I have to practice every day.
As adults, we tend to think about practicing as something we have do to attain a specific new skill like learning french, piano or tennis. But what about practicing for the person we want to be?
No matter who you are, you have a dream inside of you. It might not be entrepreneurial or particularly lofty. It could be that you want to have more patience with your kids, or more time for creative projects, or to travel. There is a bridge between where your life is today and where you want to go. What skills do you need to get to that place? Or another way of looking at it is, who do you need to be to get to that place, and what skills does your future self need?
That is where your practice comes in. Perhaps you need to practice better time management, or stronger focus. Perhaps you need to practice being patient every day, strengthening that skill. Perhaps your lack of patience comes from not giving yourself enough time for yourself, and you actually need to practice self-care.
We are forever practicing. Our daily habits, thoughts and reactions, whether we perceive them as negative or positive are a form of practice. So what if we became more intentional about what we practice?
Throughout my husband's illness and even for years after he passed away, I woke up feeling sad. The feeling was so familiar, I almost couldn't imagine feeling any other way upon waking. Feeling sad after going through so much is absolutely normal, but after a while, I started to wonder, have I "practiced" being sad so much that I really don't know any other way?
Since then I've deepened my self-care and meditation practices and I am shifting away from those automatic, programmed feelings. I am practicing feeling joy and contentment. I am practicing feeling gratitude. I am practicing being aware of negative automatic thoughts and feelings. Every day I practice, and every day I get a little bit better and closer to who I want to be and how I want to feel.
So my question to you is, what do you want or need to practice?
“Everything we do is practice for something greater than where we currently are.” ― Adam Kirk Smith
PS. I am launching a 3 month program that starts on May 19th for women who have achieved success on paper but feel that something important is still missing. If this sounds like you, send an email to email@example.com with PRACTICE and I'll get back to you personally with more details.
PPS. This post originally appeared in Kena's Sunday Newsletter. If you'd like to sign up, you can do so here.