It’s natural for us to think of gratitude at this time of year, as we’re likely looking ahead to the Thanksgiving holiday (my favorite!) and time spent with family and friends over a delicious feast. Although Thanksgiving is traditionally the day we think about what we are grateful for, I think gratitude should know no season. So rather than reserving the activity for one day in the year, there’s nothing stopping us from practicing gratitude every single day… In fact, there are studies that show how the practice of gratitude leads to better health and happiness. An excellent overview of the research can be found here:
So as I was thinking about how important it is for us to practice gratitude, I began thinking about the idea of “practice” itself.
What do doctors, lawyers, and yoga teachers all have in common?
As I thought about this theme of “practice,” I started thinking about how medical and legal professionals, talk about their careers as their “practice,” rather than their “job” or “work.” Sometimes that word—practice—makes us feel a little uneasy. After all, I know quite a few people who have felt that their doctors and lawyers have only been “practicing” rather than demonstrating their expertise. But it is important to consider the fact that doctors and lawyers get paid to practice medicine and law, and we generally hold them in high esteem. In fact, we understand that each patient and each case can present unique challenges and that it is the doctor’s or lawyer’s practice that helps them respond to those challenges better.
Full disclosure: I’m not a doctor or lawyer. Yet, I do feel they’re on to something great with the concept of Practice being ingrained in their work. For me, it serves as a bright flashing light to transform our daily lives into a practice.
The benefits of practice
So many of us hold ourselves up to visions of perfection then when we fall short, we beat ourselves up and sometimes quit altogether. We can be so hard on ourselves for things like not exercising enough, deviating from a “diet,” getting a less than stellar review at work. Sometimes we even beat ourselves up for beating ourselves up!
In my own case, this problem of perfection reminds me of playing the violin, studying Japanese, and playing tennis. I invested years of my life practicing, studying, and playing only to quit at a certain point because I was frustrated that I wasn’t performing at the level I thought I should be. I sometimes think back to those activities and envision how much fun it would be to still be proficient with any of these “hobbies.” If I’d only adopted the attitude of practice for the sake of practice without the pressure of feeling like I needed to achieve a certain level of proficiency or success, I might be speaking Japanese today!
Now, often what kept me in my “Perfection Prison” were the expectations that were impressed on me 24/7. I’ve spoken about the pressures from my parents (my immigrant father who imposed his own high standards onto me and my sibs) that kept me from listening to myself. That influenced me to the point that I even adopted their inner critics as my own. Thankfully, through my personal experiences and my own inner journey, I can more readily distinguish between those expectations that were placed on me and the ones I place on myself.
While it can be very beneficial to have a goal or motivation to improve, those qualities can also keep you stuck when you find yourself in a Perfection Prison. If you feel committed to an activity or hobby that brings no personal fulfillment, I invite you to let it go. But, if this is an activity or quality that you want to cultivate for yourself, you have the opportunity to give yourself the gift of Practice. The way out of the Perfection Prison is through Practice. Practice being patient or compassionate or curious, etc. You fill in the blank. I think you’ll find yourself being grateful that you embraced Practice as a way of life
I certainly am grateful for making this realization about practice. This, my friends could even be your first step toward starting your own daily gratitude practice, and the beautiful thing is that it can easily be applied to whatever you want to cultivate – exercise, playing an instrument, learning a new skill, cultivating a new quality, etc. It really can be that easy, and that’s something to be truly grateful for.
Does the term Perfection Prison resonate with you?
What is the role of Practice in your life?
Today, what do you want to start practicing to support yourself?