Learning

Practice vs. Duration

If I don’t like doing something,

 generally, it means that I’m not very good at it.

Backstroke

When we are not good at doing something, generally, it means that it doesn’t come naturally and so it is much easier to push it aside and focus on what does. In my opinion, the only way to get good at something, or to be able to perform better at something is to practice. Is practice synonymous with time? I don’t think so. But, to explain this we need to talk about two elements: 1) being consistent 2) correct information.

Pool Lap Lane

I immersed myself into swimming about five years ago. Sure, I could swim to save my life, but I didn’t know how to perform any of the strokes with much proficiency or accuracy. The bottom line is that I didn’t know what I was doing at all; so I took lessons. I didn’t really like doing backstroke, and when I heard my internal dialogue say so, I knew that I would have to work on it (meaning practice) to change my opinion of that stroke. It didn’t and doesn’t mean that I have to spend a lot of time doing it, but rather, when I do practice, I practice with my whole being. I dissect the mechanics of the movement to understand what it is that I don’t like about it. Now I like it, because I can do it, because I understand it – because, I understand what I need to do. But, to be clear, being able to do something well doesn’t automatically make it easy to do. In fact, each time I revisit the backstroke (or any stroke for that matter), I focus on the precision of each micro-movement, which makes up the whole and I continue to break it down, which makes it more challenging. This is why my practice sessions are relatively short, because they are intense. Now at the time of posting this, I can barely recall having any dislike for backstroke anymore…like water under the bridge.

“Practice, practice, practice.” ~Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Many people still believe that in order to become an expert at something, one must make an investment of nearly ten thousand hours worth of practice. This is a very popular held belief; it is not one of mine. This may sound like a contradiction but actually there is a distinction within this concept. Yes, I agree in practice, it is at the core of my being. What I disagree with is the statement of time. Duration or the amount of time spent practicing is meaningless. You can sit and practice for hours or years and still be mediocre at the thing you are practicing. Breaking down your body with hours of intense practice does not an expert make! Especially if that practice is done incorrectly. Intellectually, however, you may have become an expert in its theory. But, we all know that it is the application of theory, which is the goal. In other words, book knowledge vs. experience; a balance of both is ideal.

Sonia Simone writes: “I recently heard Yo-Yo Ma giving an interview about how he got started as a cellist. As it happens, Yo-Yo’s parents are both musicians, and had high musical expectations for their little son. So when Yo-Yo was three, they gave the boy a violin.

And Yo-Yo hated it. Wouldn’t practice. Wouldn’t focus. Didn’t have any zest for it. His frustrated parents finally gave up in disgust.

And then little Yo-Yo saw and heard something amazing, something that surprised and delighted him. Something that he knew was exactly what he wanted to play. It was a double bass — the violin’s really, really big brother. Now that was more like it.

He and his parents split the size difference, and Ma began to study first the viola and then settled (at four years old) on the cello. By seven he was a recognized prodigy, performing for Eisenhower and JFK, and by eight he played on national television, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

To have become so skilled between the ages of four and seven, he must have put in untold hours of practice. But they were hours spent on something he adored.

~ by Sonia Simone

Watch Karen X. Cheng. She wanted to learn how to dance in one year. You can too. You can learn anything if you set your mind to it. I have done it; I taught myself how to swim (I haven’t had a lesson in three years or so, but I keep on practicing, refining and researching. I taught myself how to do a Freestyle Flip Turn via GoSwim.tv and I continue to refine it. But don’t think that you need 10,000 hours to accomplish anything worth while. What you need is the WANT, the DESIRE and the WILL. And from that WANT comes the discipline to be consistent with practice. Just don’t kid yourself though, the practice has to be great! Practice with precision. Do it right, then practice again the next day and the day after that.

Read this: How To Become More Unstoppable Every Day

There is so very much to say on this subject; check back for Part 2…

In the meantime: Keep Learning. Be Consistent. Be Healthy. Be Happy. Smile.

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What Is Normal?

We Are All Weird, by Seth Godin

Seth Godin published a little book in 2011 called We Are All Weird. Click on the title to read an excerpt.

You’ve really got to think hard about this:

Being normal is based on what the average person does, through conformity.

Following this logic, I am, therefore, far from normal. Not in every way but in many ways. But I’ve known this since I was a kid. Most of us so called “weird” ones have been OK with our standing. We know we’re different. But there are many who are still learning to accept their differences and with every ounce of their being resist their nature and struggle to fit in or to be “normal-like-everyone-else”.  I would like to encourage everyone to be true to who you are, not who you think you should be; there is a difference.

Let’s talk about food for an example.

On occasion people say this phrase to me: “Well, you’ve got to live!” Often in reference to doing things that they know that they shouldn’t be doing; for instance consuming certain foods or drinks.

Eating Contest

Eating Contest

Since when, why and how did engaging in risky behavior equate living? And why is it so often about consuming substances? Is it that charge of adrenaline that is so titillating – oh, how it wakes us up like we have never been awake before and bang! we feel alive. Again, let’s do it again, but let’s push the envelope a little further this time. It is a heavy question with reasoning that could fill the infinite scroll down potential of any blog. I think the adrenaline rush associated with extreme sport is a little different from the rush derived from consuming substances, but they straddle the same hemisphere. So if you will, allow me to ramble for a minute.

At a restaurant, about sixteen years ago, when I was just dating my husband, he said to me, “If I’m going to risk my life why would I choose to do so by doing something as unadventurous as eating mussels?” I fear, most people are ignorant of the toxins present in the foods or drinks they choose to consume. Some restaurants actually have a disclaimer on the menu where items such as mussels, clams and raw oysters are served.

Cooked Mussels

Cooked Mussels

I am very aware that how I conduct myself is not the norm. The fact that I feel like I am “living” everyday without sacrificing anything, would categorize me once again as weird.

Definition of Sacrifice:

“an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy. We must all be prepared to make sacrifices.”

Must we?

Ah…sacrifice. It is such an interesting word, such an interesting feeling. It has been a long road of learning, but I can honestly say that I am at such a place where sacrifice does not exist. There is nothing that I would have to give up to be where I am. I make time to focus and take care of myself everyday because that is where I want to be. I eat well all the time because I want to – because it makes me feel great; and because really, for me there is no alternative.

It seems to be more difficult for others to accept that I have accepted that celebration and reward does NOT come in the form of food or alcohol or excess. I am right where I should be and continue to learn more about my body, mind and health each day. I have chosen to represent this sentiment with a photograph of a bee in flight, just approaching a flowering chive. Why? Because bees have focus and it seems to me like they enjoy what they do. It comes down to perspective.

I choose not to eat or drink anything that disagrees with my system. I choose not to eat or drink anything just to please a host or because it was a gift. The story of The Hungry Coat: A Tale from Turkey comes to mind when I think about this, because one thought always leads to another.

I won’t finish off something just to prevent it from going to waste. Forcing food to go through my body before it becomes garbage is no different than just throwing it away in the first place. Both are equally wasteful, but the former causes bodily harm. Better to learn not to prepare so much or order so much food. It is OK to have leftovers…I rely on them.

We can choose to make a thoughtful, informed choice or we can choose to sacrifice. In the end we have still made a choice. If we are going to bother to choose, shouldn’t we choose wisely?

“You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill;
I will choose a path that’s clear-
I will choose Free Will.”

~Rush the Band, Freewill

But clearly, weird is subjective. I think it is pretty weird to consume things that are known toxins, which contribute to lowering life expectancy, have potential side effects, which may contribute to birth defects, known diseases and cancer. And yet in the normal universe, which is parallel to my weird universe, this is considered living, by letting loose and not being so serious.

“I want to be normal!” – not me, thanks.

Just about everyone wants to be normal. Kids want to be normal; they want to fit in. They learn it at a young age. If they don’t conform they will be excluded.

“Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone…

In the high school halls

In the shopping malls

Conform or be cast out…

In the basement bars

In the backs of cars

Be cool or be cast out…”– Rush the Band, Subdivisions

They want to be able to eat or drink what everyone else does without thinking about the after effects or repercussions; they want to live in the moment. They want to live.

A few years ago when my husband and I were hosting our annual Canadian Thanksgiving feast, one of my guests, knowing that I was deep into the experimental phase of eliminating certain foods from my diet (to heal myself), said that she just couldn’t do what I was doing. So I asked, “I didn’t realize there were any foods that disagreed with your system.” Her: “Oh, yeah there are, but I eat them anyway and pay the price the next day.”

What?!

To me that’s CRAZY, insane even. I told her that I thought so. 🙂 

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. ~Albert Einstein

Except in this case I don’t think people are expecting different results. And we call THAT normal?! Only because the masses are doing it. If everyone is doing it, then it must be OK.

After that conversation, I started asking other people if there were foods or drinks that they knowingly consumed which caused a delayed negative reaction. One person told me that they would eat certain foods knowing that they would have to be practically connected to the toilet for the following three days. “OH! But it’s so worth it going down.”

Really?

This is the original more familiar version of the famous song Crazy – by Gnarles Barkley. I’ve transcribed the lyrics below so you can read or sing along. While looking for the song I came across this slower version, which is outstanding. I have posted the link here in case you want to have a listen.

“I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind

There was something so pleasant about that place.

Even your emotions had an echo 
In so much space

And when you’re out there Without care,

Yeah, I was out of touch, But it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough

I just knew too much

Does that make me crazy? Does that make me crazy? Does that make me crazy?

Possibly [radio version] Probably [album version]

And I hope that you are having the time of your life


But think twice, that’s my only advice



Come on now,

Who do you, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are,

Ha ha ha bless your soul


You really think you’re in control

Well, I think you’re crazy, I think you’re crazy, I think you’re crazy

Just like me

My heroes had the heart to lose their lives out on a limb

And all I remember is thinking, I want to be like them

Ever since I was little, ever since I was little it looked like fun

And it’s no coincidence I’ve come, And I can die when I’m done

Maybe I’m crazy, Maybe you’re crazy, Maybe we’re crazy

Probably

Uh, uh”

We need to practice thinking about what we practice.

We can choose.

Practice Makes

Best 7min. 1-mile time

No “thing” just happens.

Everything takes practice. The Dalai Lama talks about practicing compassion. The key word is practice. It takes practice to be compassionate just like it takes practice to be able to run a 7-minute mile or to be punctual. Nothing just happens. And the list goes on. Life is about practicing, not always about perfecting. Learn new things and practice them forever. I don’t believe in mastery. There is always room to grow and more details to find, we are all eternal students. And so this is why I word my new learning in this way.

This year I’ve learned:

  • How to practice a freestyle flip turn
  • How to practice being compassionate
  • How to practice taking photographs
  • How to practice living in the moment
  • How to practice uploading photographs to Flickr
  • How to practice editing photographs
  • How to practice eating healthy food all the time
  • How to practice making a lot of different food at the same time for my family’s needs and health
  • And so on…

Want to Try?

Choose ONE thing you would like to improve or better yet something you have always wanted to do but held yourself back because of an excuse (valid or not!). Choose just one thing – maybe the first thing that pops to mind. Now make a commitment to practicing it consistently. You don’t have to sign anything or make a public declaration; it’s your word, your honour.

The “thing” you choose might have to be practiced every hour on the hour. It might be more often, like every time you open your mouth (?!), or once per week.

Every “thing” takes practice.

I’ve been practicing to be compassionate to everything. Even mosquitoes. I have made a conscious effort to assist any insect that happens into my house, back to the great outdoors (where I think they’d rather be anyways).

 Here’s how I did it:

  • First, I enlisted my husband to catch the insect and gently put it outside.
  • When he wasn’t around I’d have to build up the courage to approach the insect on my own.
  • With practice and experience I became less fearful and more comfortable with the task.
  • I found myself spending many minutes in a dance of catch the insect, often letting more in house in the process.

Now, I know I have reached a state of compassion for all bugs. I look at them with fascination, curiosity and kindness. They have as much right to life as do I. As a result I have found one of my pleasures is to photograph insects. Who knew this could happen? All because I decided to practice compassion.

Lady Bug

Friendly Flyer Insect

Injured Dragonfly

Spider

It takes practice to wake up a few minutes earlier every morning to practice my bed stretches. It takes practice to time my meals so that I am well fueled and adequately digested in order to practice my body maintenance exercises.

There is nothing special about me which enables me to run a 7-minute mile, to do a freestyle flip turn or take the time to relocate an insect to the great outdoors. All I’ve done is learned how to apply this magical element that is within each and every one of us, but has taken on an out-of-this-world status.

PRACTICE.

And it’s not that practice makes perfect. I’m not after perfect. “Perfect is a moving target.” Practice Makes. That’s it.

As my husband says: “It’s all about Discipline. And sure it’s Simple, but its only Easy if you Practice.

When we practice and focus our energy on something meaningful it seems like amazing things happen. But those amazing things are actually just run of the mill kind of things. Ask anyone who looks as though they are doing AMAZING things. They’ll just nod and shrug it off; to them its just a natural part of living – simply, who they are and what they do.

 

To Do or Not To Do?

Just Do It Anyway

Image by MikeVC via Flickr

I read this great bumper sticker a few months ago: “Kids who hunt, trap and fish do not mug little old ladies”.  It got me thinking…

The Industrial Revolution brought with it an incredible opportunity for creative thinkers, builders and doers.  Yet, the same seed spawned a cloud of laziness for the masses.

Sliced, pre-packaged bread – no need to make your own anymore…who’s got time anyway? We have gone and replaced the time we’ve gained from these inventions with more things to do.  Because in truth, we are not lazy we are doers – each one of us.  We have gained more time to do more, but at what cost?

My point is that for a large part we have lost the art for having to take care of ourselves.  Not having to explore, create or examine because the fundamentals have been taken care of for us.  This wheel of convenience has run amok.

Humans need to ‘do’.  We are no different from the very busy animal kingdom.  We see the birds preparing their nests for spring: tending, feeding and guarding their nestlings.  This is their natural cycle, which is not so different from ours.  But ours has gotten muddled up.  Historically, our natural drive was to find shelter, be clothed, and eat three meals per day, dance and sing.  Presently, we still have this natural survival energy.  We need to burn it off somehow.  If we do not find a constructive way to utilize this energy we are going to sit around and overeat.  Much like the housebound dog that doesn’t get exercised; he gets himself into mischief to satisfy his natural drive, often in the way of eating a lone leather shoe or digging up the garden. Or, like the “kids who mug little old ladies”!

To think that those of us in Western society who are lucky enough to live in an age where education and personal development is attainable and affordable:  from life coaching, music lessons or personal fitness training to name a few…isn’t that fantastic?

However, it is what we do with this gift of learning that is worth questioning.  Has it become an affordable disposable luxury much in the same way that food has become?  (Read FUEL https://youasamachine.com/fuel-2/ to know what I’m talking about.)

Let me pick on personal training since it is my background.  Does personal training work? It depends. It always depends on a variety of factors. It depends on whether you hire a trainer as an educator or as your motivator.

I know way too many people going to personal trainers and not making progress.  Sure, maybe at the beginning when doing anything new will have an effect.  But as time goes on the people I have talked with admit to not doing any workouts except for when they have a scheduled appointment.  And even fitting in those appointments becomes challenging.

I think personal training would be more effective overall if sessions were viewed more as lessons, like swimming, martial arts or piano lessons for example. A lesson being something whereby you acquire further understanding of a subject.  You learn, practice, refine, learn more, practice more, refine more etc.

For the most part personal training has become a service of sorts, a session in which a client is often mindlessly put through their paces.  They leave feeling wiped out and think they got their money’s worth.  But has the client learned anything in the process?  Money can buy an hour with the best trainer on the planet but I don’t believe that it can buy health or a lean well-conditioned body. But if it does, it is only a temporary transformation. Yes, you’re better off having done a mindless session than none at all. But this reinforces dependence.

Your body doesn’t know how much money you have or don’t have.  You can deceive the mind but not the body.

If a client is seeing a trainer once to three times per week for a year and hasn’t made a significant change, which is to blame, the trainer or the client?  I would think that after one year of private instruction a client would be very well versed and on the road to becoming self-sufficient and accountable.  But that rarely happens.  Why?

In order to make progress in any subject we need to understand the fundamentals.  Before we can read we need to learn our A-B-C’s. In terms of our physical health and fitness we need to have a grasp of basic anatomy.  Does this mean that in order to brush our teeth effectively we should first be schooled in dentistry?  Not quite.  But our brains are able and hungry for knowledge and up for the challenge.

We all should be well versed in our anatomy and physiology, but we aren’t.  We let the experts take care of us!  We let doctors prescribe pharmaceuticals.  We let our governments come up with ‘programs’ to raise awareness to better our health.  It’s all fluff.  We need to take control of us.  En masse, we need to give our heads the proverbial shake.  Just like handing over our hard earned life savings to the expert to invest for us and not having done any research into where or what it is being invested.

Each and every one of us needs to become accountable.  We need to learn about how our body works so we can take care of it – and stay out of mischief.

Be accountable.  Become your own expert.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow.  Learn as if you were to live forever.”

– Gandhi (1869-1948)