Monday, February 01, 2016

Practice makes perfect

Would you rather hear "You're brilliant at ...." or "You work so hard at ...."?

I bet, instinctively, you prefer the former. I do too. Let's be honest, the hard work observation is often a euphemism for 'You're not good at ....". Shame.

Our society has, for the most part, lost its appreciation for practice and long-term effort, favouring the instant gratification gained from a 'natural' talent. We admire overnight pop idols and talent-spotted models, not veteran politicians, social workers, foster carers and relatives.

Practice is for some reason considered the domain of the elite. It is vital for musicians and sportsmen. But it applies to the simplest of things. Everyone can use it to their advantage. If you practice smiling, you feel happier. If you force a yawn, you grow sleepy.

We don't get good at being parents, spouses, friends, honest, caring, disciplined etc by magic, genetics or reading lots of books. We get there by practicing.

Now, Gladwell's rule says it takes approximately 10,000 hours to gain true expertise. Does the new parent despair of raising a well-adjusted child? No. Partly because I think you can inherit the practice done by others - get it in your blood, so to speak. A child treated kindly (by someone - not necessarily their parents)  will usually be kinder. It is likely their benefactors were able to be kind for the same reason.

Our job is to carry on putting in the parenting practice in our time. It will benefit our children for much longer than the 18 years they're under our rooves.

Consider the difference between practice and rehearsal. If you're a musician, practice means going over the difficult bits time and time again, doing scales and exercises (boring!), altering your technique - ideally, with a guide. Rehearsal means running through a performance.

It is interesting to apply this idea to our relationships and character development. If you are trying to build a deep bond with someone or to change yourself for the better, you constantly need to consider your behaviour, spot the bits you don't do well and strive to improve - ideally, again, with a guide. Hammering out the same old reactions and conversations time and time again, in the hope they'll work eventually, is at best frustrating and at worst destructive.

Finally, I notice two extremes in relation to the 'practice makes perfect' mantra. Some people, more typically men, will adopt it wholeheartedly. They believe they can get to the top. They idolise excellence and the progress they can make, stamping on all kinds of little people along the way. Others, more typically women, will happily rehearse the same old ditties but do not have the confidence or bravery to practice sacrificially, in the belief they can improve and become excellent.

The way we practice is not for our benefit alone but for the benefit of the communities in which we live. We should not fear becoming excellent. Neither should we forget that our excellence is not for us - but rather for the world in which we live.

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