This post is the seventh in a series of posts on the psychological and practical benefits of daily practice. In this series, I’ll explore the elements of daily practice, varieties of daily practice, challenges to daily practice, and strategies for meeting those challenges. Please join me in learning more about this important subject! Complete information can be found in The Power of Daily Practice.
To have a daily practice means that you arrive at your practice every day. You do not skip your practice because it is gloomy outside or because you are gloomy inside. Every day means every day: that is the essence of regularity.
You can, of course, skip a day and still have a daily practice. Skipped days are built into the idea of daily practice. Life is life and you may need to pay full and complete attention to some other aspect of life. Or you may simply get too busy and forgetful and lose that day. A single skipped day and the occasional skipped day are not significant.
But when you start to skip several days, and then weeks, and then months, well, then you no longer have a daily practice. All of the benefits that you would have received from your daily practice are lost. Your novel doesn’t get written; your relationship with your child doesn’t improve; your personality doesn’t get that hoped-for upgrade.
There is no exact number that tells you when you have missed too many days. But you might decide on how many missed days are permissible and make that a very small number, like two or three. This would sound like, “If I miss two days in a row, I will show up on that third day, no matter what.” Even two days may prove too high a number, as we typically experience two missed days as a slippery slope toward practice abandonment. You might therefore make “one” your number.
Part of us loves regularity and part of us hates regularity. We must deal with the part of us that hates it if we are to have a daily practice. Take Martin. Martin, an independent filmmaker, seemed to have a particular aversion to the idea of “doing the same thing every day.” He claimed to love chaos, to require “everything to be new and fresh each day,” and to reject ideas like marriage for the same reason.
Not surprisingly, he had great trouble getting his films made. Most remained half-finished or a quarter-finished. Money from home allowed him to continue on this path of daily novelty and a long string of incompletions. He came to see me because there was one film he really did want to complete.
“I’d like you to think about the following,” I offered during our second chat. “I’d like you to think about beginning a daily practice in the service of your filmmaking.” I went on to describe what I meant.
“Every day?” he said, as if stunned.
“But I can change up what I do with that hour, right? Maybe write poetry on some days, or do some drawing? That’s more my style.”
“Nope,” I said, smiling. “Well, of course, you can. But I’d love it if you played it my way. Because the ideas I’m trying to have sunk in are ideas about repetition and regularity. I want ‘I repeat myself’ and ‘I love regularity’ to become mantras. And not to be about prunes but about a real change in your life.”
Martin did not look happy. “I just don’t think that’s my personality,” he said.
I quickly explained my ideas about personality: about original personality, formed personality, and available personality. “So,” I said, “look at it this way. You’ve been doing things a long time one way and that’s kind of written in stone. But I know you’re hearing me and toying with the idea of ‘regularity.’ That means that part of you is ‘available’ to think about this daily practice and to maybe give it a try.”
“A very small part,” he said dourly.
“But a part!” I laughed.
We discussed in detail how his daily practice might look over the coming two weeks.
“That’s a very long time,” he said. “To keep doing the same thing.”
“The very same thing.”
“Or you might think of it as ‘new each day.’”
He brightened at that thought. “Maybe if I call it ‘new each day’ I can fool myself into not being bored.”
“And maybe I could get leg irons.”
“Well, maybe we don’t need to over-dramatize this.”
“It feels very dramatic to me!”
I chatted with Martin two weeks later.
“How did it go?” I asked.
“Not very well.”
“It kind of made me crazy.”
“What did? Showing up each day at the same time?”
“I never got that far! The idea of showing up each day at the same time made me crazy. I couldn’t sleep, I binged on mixed nuts — I think I put on three pounds!”
A coach always has the following question in mind at such times: Should you invite your client to try again or should you move in a different direction? I wondered which way to go. As I was thinking, Martin spoke.
“I don’t want to try again,” he said. “But I’d like to try again.”
I nodded. “Should we set it up differently somehow?”
He thought about that. “I wonder. Could it be a rotating schedule? So that one day I do it in the morning, the next day in the afternoon, and the next day in the evening? Then maybe I wouldn’t feel so stifled.”
A key element of a daily practice is that it be daily. Its power comes in great measure from its regularity. By showing up every single day, or the vast majority of days, you build muscles, you live your life purposes, and you get a lot of work accomplished. Getting to your practice in a daily way may prove a struggle but it is the high-bar goal to aim for. It’s really worth the effort!
Previously published on Psychologytoday.com.
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