Note from Hannah: This is a guest post by Emily Caswell as part of the popular New Perspectives Series featured on this blog. The goal of this series is to shed new light on mental health, wellness, and just being a human being. For more posts in the series, click here.
“Have you practiced your flute?” is a common question in our house. My son, finishing up the second year with his instrument, always says yes. He’s developed a great habit of practicing every day, something I wanted for him (and for his sister) from the time they were little.
I know, that sounds like a strangely specific thing to wish for your children: “Please make them healthy, happy people who practice.” But there are reasons for my wish and those reasons have nothing to do with that other “P” word so often associated with practice. While “perfect” is a concept that can paralyze and often leads to disappointment, “practice” delivers so many benefits that I honestly don’t think we can be happy or healthy without it. Practicing teaches us skills and lessons that we can apply to almost every part of our lives—not just sports or music. Here’s some of what we learn from practice:
Practice teaches the value of perseverance
My daughter joined the cross country team last fall, which required her to practice five days a week. Some days she had a lot of homework or wanted to spend time with her friends, but she went to practice anyway. About six weeks into the season, she started to notice her times improving. As she continued to practice, she had more endurance and could finish strong (instead of sick). Her race times at the end of the season were several minutes faster than when she started—progress that everyone could see and that she could feel when she started her winter sports season.
It’s hard to overestimate the number of things in life that require small actions on a regular basis—or how frequently those same activities will bore you, stress you, or make you wish you could do anything else (Barney, anyone?). But if you have experience with practice, you know that sticking with it through the frustrating or difficult parts is what gets you to the good stuff.
Practice teaches us how to handle mistakes
When I was a kid learning how to play the clarinet, I practiced every day. Some days went really well; hitting the notes felt effortless and I knew that I was making progress. Other days my practice was filled with squeaking and fumbling. I hated making mistakes, but eventually I learned that they weren’t a big deal. They actually helped me by showing me where I needed more practice.
When I screw up these days, it’s never notes I’m missing but things like appointments (or car keys). I could beat myself up about it, or I could remember that I have a Punctual Self just dying to come out (with a little help practicing my organizational skills).
Bonus: Once you know that mistakes are a normal part of life—and nothing to be ashamed about—you may be more willing to try something new (after all, it’s just practice). Released from the pressure to be perfect, you can move out of your comfort zone and take risks without worrying about failure. Want to go back to school? Learn how to bungee jump? Start that new business? Go for it!
Practice is hopeful
Practice is helpful for what it teaches us, but also gives us hope with its power to change. Understanding the benefits of practice through sports and music can encourage us to consider other areas of our lives that we’d like to make…well, better. Having trouble communicating with your spouse? Practicing your listening skills may help. We can learn to practice compassion, patience, mindfulness, and kindness, too, all of which have the potential to improve not just our marriages, but our friendships and working relationships, too. If we don’t know where to start with this practice, there are teachers, coaches, and therapists who can help.
Has “practice made better” for you, too? What have you learned from practice?
Emily owns GCDSpa.com, where she creates bath and body products in unique fragrances and flavors that celebrate life’s big (and small) events. Her specialty is designing tiny thank-yous in personalized packages.