This post is part three of 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.
Maintaining a daily practice can be as easy as getting to your writing, getting to your online business, or getting to your yoga mat every day, without fuss, without resistance, just because you want to be there and just because there’s nothing you’d rather be doing.
To have that sort of relationship to daily practice is a blessing, one that eludes most people. Most people struggle to maintain their daily practice and the vast majority let go of their daily practice, even if they’ve been able to maintain it for months and even years. This happens because powerful challenges arise that erode their ability to show up.
Your main tasks, if you want to maintain a practice that is beginning to slip away, are the following four:
- Admit that your practice is in danger and needs real attention.
- Try to name the challenge that’s getting in the way.
- Implement a plan for dealing with whatever you’ve named.
- Stick with your practice even if you can’t quite identify what’s going on and even if you can’t fully fix the problem.
Better to have a leaky, intermittent, problematic daily practice than no practice at all. But better still to have one that works well, one where you’ve identified, addressed, and remedied any problems that may have arisen.
To deal with the challenges that arise, you’ll need some tactics at your disposal. In working with clients, I tend to bring up a particular handful of such tactics. I don’t hand them a checklist; rather, the list is somewhere in my mind and, depending on the person, the situation, and the challenge, I’m more likely to bring up one strategy or another. Here are the seven tactics that I employ most often.
- A cognitive approach. I advise clients that their primary goal with respect to the thoughts they think is that they think thoughts that serve them. I explain what “thinking thoughts that serve you” means and provide tactics for achieving that high-bar goal, including the simple three-step tactic of hearing what you’re thinking, disputing those thoughts that aren’t serving you (“No, thought, you are not serving me!”), and substituting a more affirmative or useful thought for the disputed thought.
- A ceremonial breathing-and-thinking approach. A good way to marry the physiological benefits of deep breathing with the psychological and emotional benefits of right thinking is by dropping a useful phrase into a deep breath, saying or thinking a portion of the phrase on the inhale, and saying or thinking the remainder of the phrase on the exhale. I’ve dubbed these breath-and-thought bundles incantations and you can increase your motivation and reduce your experience of anxiety by using incantations like “I trust my resources,” “I feel supported,” “I embrace this moment,” or any incantation that you dream up yourself.
- An anxiety management approach. Anxiety makes us want to flee the encounter and leave our daily practice. One answer is to possess some anxiety management tools that you’ve tested out and that you know work for you. There are many kinds of anxiety management tools available to you: relaxation techniques, guided visualizations, discharge techniques (where you expel anxiety through movement), reorienting techniques (where you turn away from the stimulus that’s raising your anxiety level and turn toward a neutral stimulus), disidentification techniques (similar to the idea of detachment in Buddhism), and many others. Acquiring one or two of these techniques is likely a must.
- A focused journaling approach. This problem-solving journaling technique is made up of the following eight steps: Step 1. You identify an issue; Step 2. You examine its significance; Step 3. You identify core questions; Step 4. You tease out intentions; Step 5. You notice what shadows get activated; Step 6. You identify the strengths you bring; Step 7. You align your thoughts with your intentions; Step 8. You align your behaviors with your intentions. By carefully examining an issue in writing, by coming to some new, updated intentions, and by then aligning your thoughts and your behaviors with those new intentions, you can work through virtually any issue that may be stalling or derailing your daily practice.
- A sleep thinking approach. I regularly suggest to clients and workshop participants that they try solving their problems, including any problems they may be having with their daily practice, by engaging in some sleep thinking. By that I mean, turning the problem over to your sleeping brain by going to bed with a sleep thinking prompt like, “I wonder what my daily practice needs from me?” or “I wonder why I’m avoiding my daily practice?” Your brain will “run” with that question, think about it while you’re sleeping, and often provide you with a clear answer in the morning. This works especially well if you give yourself a moment when you wake up to process your sleep thoughts. This is a robust problem-solving technique and one that I recommend to you.
- A life purposes approach. When you put your daily practice in a larger context, in the context of your desire to live your life purposes, that helps you stay motivated, focused, and on track with your practice. It is a kirist axiom that identifying our life purposes and figuring out how to actually live them on a daily basis are vital tasks that we must mindfully set ourselves. If we don’t set ourselves those tasks, who will?
- A kirist approach. Over the years I’ve developed a complete, contemporary philosophy of life that provides new ways of thinking about who we are and how we might live. The best way to meet any challenges that arise with your daily practice may be to anchor that daily practice in the “bigger” context of a comprehensive philosophy of life. You can learn more about kirism in my book Lighting the Way.
Use these seven tactics and you’re unlikely to ever fail at your daily practice again!
Previously published on Psychologytoday.com.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project, please join us as a Premium Member, today.
Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS. Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: iStock