Practice Makes . . .

Having spent my formative years as a figure skater, the one adage that was drilled into me, and that I have consequently always held tightly to was . . . yup. . .”practice makes perfect”.  But events over the past month have had me questioning whether that’s always the case.

See, back in the middle of January, my son came home from school with a box of multiplication flash cards and a log sheet.  The note from the teacher accompanying these two items explained that each child in the class was to answer as many flash cards as they could in ONE minute (a new card could not be shown until the previous one had been answered correctly), and they were to repeat this exercise five time each day.

At first, we ALL thought this little exercise was awesome.  So awesome in fact, that even my daughter wanted in on the action, so we started a sight word card challenge for her.  Each time the exercise was repeated, the scores went up, and everyone was excited.

But as the days ticked by, and the improvements in the results started to slow, the enthusiasm started to wain.  In its place crept frustration and impatience.

Sound familiar???

How many times as adults have we started some new program, regime, diet, only to get frustrated and impatient as the results slowed, or stopped appearing altogether, at which point, as adults not necessarily held accountable to anyone but ourselves, we abandon our ambitions.

With my kids, it was easy to find ways to keep them excited with their practice – I started calculating daily average scores, which tended to increase daily, even if individual scores didn’t change too much, among numerous other things.

But as an astute girlfriend pointed out – once you hit a certain point, there were diminishing returns to this exercise.

Concurrently, through the month of February, I was engaged in “Practice February” with my One Little Word project – those of us in the course were encouraged to pick one thing and to “practice” it daily throughout the month of February.  And . . . I was also working through my daily, weekly and monthly goals in my PowerSheets.  And . . . I was trying to keep up with working out (in the event that I changed my mind and entered the CrossFit Open).  And . . .I was practicing running as much as I could in preparation for the Tinkerbell 10K.

And . . . at the end of the month, which happened to co-incide with my 40th birthday . . .I realized I wasn’t as happy with things as I thought I should/would be, given how well everything in my life was running.

Cue the concept of diminishing returns, the idea that maybe all this practice was running me into the ground, and a suggestion by the Coach to take a break from my regular workout regime . . .

And so I find myself here, embarking on a new month of practice – the practice of yoga, of stretching, of breathing, and of letting go of what I thought I NEEDED to do to feel the way I wanted to feel.  And you know what – this whole idea of NOT practicing what I have been doing for the last few years is helping me feel more the way I want to feel.  Oh the irony . . .

While I doubt I’ll ever completely abandon the “practice makes perfect” adage, I am realizing that practicing one thing till you’re absolutely perfect may well result in diminishing returns – to how you feel, physically and mentally and emotionally.  And if you find yourself at the point of diminishing returns, then it’s time to take a look at finding a new way, or something entirely new to practice.

 

Saying Goodbye to Practice February and How it All Came Together Thanks to the Crossfit Games

For the month of February, I “practiced” on a daily basis.  While I chose a rather broad theme to “practice” (“What would love do”), I found by focusing on this theme, I ended up practicing a whole lot of other, smaller things that I might not otherwise have chosen to focus on, and on the whole, I’m a whole lot happier for it . . . yes, I found joy in practicing.

Let me explain.  When you put things into the context of love, things that might otherwise seem like chores become a lot easier and more enjoyable to undertake.  I found this to be profoundly true when I used this logic on myself.  About half way through the month, I realized that despite eating pretty well, and exercising pretty consistently, my body just wasn’t looking the way it had a year ago, and I just didn’t feel as good as I would like to.  (To put this a bit into context, it’s been a bit of a rough year for me having been put back onto meds for a pituitary tumour after being off them for a year – my hormones are still stabilizing and it seems that some weight gain has been the end result of this medical experiment).

In the past, I would have beaten myself up for allowing myself to get bigger; workouts would have gotten longer, more intense, and caloric intake would have dropped.  But this month, I took a different approach.  I lovingly treated myself like I would treat the Husband or the kids if they came to me with a problem; I was patient with myself, I didn’t blame myself, and I quietly set about finding a solution.  In this case, that solution involved sitting down with the Coach, reviewing my training and my nutrition and getting back into the practice of writing down when and what I eat along with my daily workouts.  With just a few small changes, my weight started to drop, my energy levels started to go up, and I was palpably happier.

This weekend, the Crossfit Games Open started – for those of you who don’t know anything about Crossfit, this is a 5 week competition that anyone around the world can participate in.  Each Thursday night, a workout is revealed, and participants must complete the workout and submit their scores (each workout is scored) by Monday night.  The top men and women in each region around the world go on to compete at a regional competition, from which the top men and women then go on to compete at the Crossfit games.  I participated in the “Open” two years ago.  It was a terrifying yet thrilling experience and I loved it.  Each week I loved seeing how well I completed the workout compared to the thousands of other people in the competition.  But each week I also realized how much work I needed to do in order to get better at Crossfit – I turned something I had loved to do into a chore that I pursed with dogged perseverance, and in the end, there were some unpleasant consequences to my actions.

Once I was able to get back to that place of fun in the gym, and working out for the pure love of movement and physical activity, without the pressure of constantly needing to reach specific goals in specific time frames, I became happier, and more excited about my workouts, and decided never to risk doing another Crossfit Games again.

Fast forward to this Sunday – the first workout of the 2016 Crossfit Games was announced last Thursday night.  Of course I watched the announcement, and was prepared to cheer on all my friends at the gym as they completed their workouts.  But there was NO WAY that I was going to sign up to do it myself.  I walked into the gym on Sunday, expecting to do a partner wod with my training partner . . . but before I knew it, I had barbell at my feet, a judge to my right and a countdown clock beeping out the seconds until the workout began.

This particular workout contained a movement called “Chest to Bar” pull ups.  This means, that each time you pull up to the bar, your chest, at a point below the collar bones, must hit the bar.  Judges are told to hold on to the support of the pull up bar so they can literally “feel” each time you hit the bar.  I’ve said before .  . . regular pull ups are a challenge for me.  Chest to bar pull ups seem like an impossibility.

But, the rush of adrenaline that kicks in during one of these competitions, combined with the amazingly supportive atmosphere of my gym . . . and I managed to eek out FORTY chest to bar pull ups during the course of the 20 minute long workout.  Now, to get those 40 “reps”, I think I tried at least 80 . . . and spent the last 5 minutes of the workout struggling to get the last set of 8 reps done.  When the time on the clock mercifully ran out, my immediate reaction was to get upset with myself.  “Why haven’t you worked harder on your pull ups” … “Why haven’t you worked harder to get lighter” …  “You could have done so much better if you had dedicated yourself to working on your pull ups” … “Why” … “Why” … “Why”.

And then I stopped.

What would love do.

And then I smiled.

If the Husband or the kids had just done the workout I had done, I wouldn’t berate them.  I’d hug them and tell them how proud I was of them, how amazed I was that they’d done what they’d done.  And in that moment, I was able to release myself from the negative self talk, embrace the moment, and be proud of myself.

Sunday night brought my family together ostensibly to celebrate my birthday.  But inside, I was celebrating so much more.

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Practice What You’re Good At . . .

Trust_life_2048x2048I came across this quote earlier this week.  At first I thought it was pretty awesome.  But the more I thought about it, the less awesome it seemed to be be.  Let me explain . . . as I write this post, one kid is watching a show, the other kid is “practicing” guitar (we watched School of Rock as a family today and it seems to have inspired the older one to pick up his guitar and start “rocking”) and the Husband is listening to something sports related on his phone.  Meaning, I, who would live in a library if given a choice, am forced to practice organizing my thoughts amongst the chaos of a noisy but happy family.  When viewed as a form of practice, I am much happier about working through the current chaos.  But, when we are faced with far more troubling circumstances, like a serious illness, it’s pretty hard to frame the situation as the universe’s way of telling us we need “practice” at something.

While I freely admit that I did learn lots from going through the experience of having a brain tumour, I’m not sure I “needed” that particular experience to learn those life lessons.  As I was working my way through some of these thoughts, I came across a very pertinent article in the New York Times yesterday, and in particular, this line:

“There has to be a reason, because without one, we are left as helpless and possibly as unlucky as everyone else”

Later yesterday afternoon, the whole family went to see Kung Fu Panda 3.  While the kids loved it, I think I took away more from it than they did.  Why?  Well, lines like this one:

“Your real strength flows from being the best you you can be.  So what are you good at?”

Which brings me back to the concept of practice.  Sometimes in life we encounter bad luck.  And we will be forced to practice things that we may not be so good at (yes, having a brain tumour has made me practice over and over and over again the concept of patience – a skill I have yet to master).  But in the absence of bad luck, rather than force ourselves to practice things we’re not so good at, maybe we should practice that which we are good at already . . . if we are happy, and in our “element” (like I talked about here), well, that’s where we’ll find our real strength . . . and maybe from there, in a position of strength, we’ll be able to tackle the things we’re not so good at.

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