One of the common mistakes that I used to make about practice was that I kept waiting for everything to be perfect. “Time to sketch!” I’d say, and then putz about with sharpening pencils, adjusting the light, setting up the pose, changing the height of the chair, finding a zillion little details that needed to be just so before I could do the practice.
Some of that, of course, was procrastination. Some of it, however, was justified: I was creating a little bubble of reality in which all the factors that I felt would let me be my best practicing self were in place.
Nothing wrong with that! The problem comes when that is looked at as a necessity, rather than a luxury.
Plans Make the Gods Laugh
The fact is that reality rarely allows for us to control all the variables around our practice. ”Time for bed!” you say, and begin to shut down the computer screens and change into comfortable clothes and begin a quiet reflective journal session over tea…
”Mom! I don’t feel good!I” comes the voice from up the stairs. Or the phone beeps from your private number, because the office needs a different report tomorrow. Or your lover comes in and says “We need to talk”. Or your stomach gurgles, prelude to informing you that you’re really going to regret that Tuquelenas Torta you had for dinner…
The point is that if we let that dissuade us from our practice – or worse, let those realities tell us the story that we’re bad because we weren’t able to do the practice perfectly – then it is the literal manifestation of “the perfect is the enemy of the good”
Persistence Makes Practice
Instead of beating ourselves up about a missed practice, there are a few things you can do to let these unforeseen circumstances support, rather than hinder, your practice.
- Don’t Play the Blame Game. Certainly don’t blame yourself, but also don’t blame your kid, your boss, your lover, your stomach. Even – or especially– if it’s their fault. It is what it is, and any time spent stewing in a blame soup is energy wasted when you could have been doing something like…
- Mind Practice. Ok, I made that word up, but it’s based on fact: athletes who spend time visualizing doing well in a race tend to do better at racing. This applies to just about anything. If you imagine, as vividly as you can, the practice you would have been doing, it helps reinforce the neural pathways that you’ve been trying to create. Whether that’s a vivid meditation deep in the night as you’re cuddling a sick child, or just a random thought as you try to print a spreadsheet, having your practice in your mind helps keep it current.
- Let This One Go. Not that you’d want to make it a habit, but sometimes it’s good to practice another skill: the skill of releasing yourself from an expectation. Of simply saying “I didn’t get to do it this time. I will try to do it next time.” And then you can devote yourself mindfully to whatever it is that has taken the place of your practice for this particular round.
The biggest thing is to remember that you’re playing the long game. Statistical trends look like cliffs when you close in on them, but when you look at the big picture, you can see a smooth and graceful curve. If you miss a day of practice, remember that it’s a blip – and if you keep your focus on the arc of your life, you can choose what direction that curve takes.