This post is part 21 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.
While you’re engaged with your daily practice, it comes first. It has primacy. Many things in life are important but for that period of time, those other important things are not permitted to intrude on this important thing, the important thing you are working on. You do not think about the other things you might be doing, you do not think about the looming day, you do not think about all those other practices that are also worthy. This current important thing takes center stage.
“Priority,” a related idea, has a head feel to it. “Primacy” has a body, heart, and energy feel to it. It feels close to “primal.” Your whole being and not just your head has chosen this as your focus. Practicing your guitar may not be your top priority in life but for this period of time, it has primacy, because, as you look at your day and your life, it is the appropriate next thing to do. It has currency and primacy.
The first goal is to do the next right thing (and the next right thing after that). This implies that there are multiple possible next things to do, that more than one thing might vie as the next right thing, and that you are obliged to choose among those possible next right things and intentionally choose one as the next right thing. You might fight for a cause, work on your novel, have a heart-to-heart chat with your child, repaint the spare room, or relax. Any one of those might be the next right thing, in context. But one has primacy because you’ve made a choice.
There is some primal prioritizing necessary—and not just this one time, but at all times. A day is exactly a sequence of primal prioritizing. If it is the appointed time for your daily practice, and unless there is some compelling or urgent reason to choose differently, you choose your practice. You make it your sole and primary focus for its minutes or hours. Since it is an intentional choice, it is also a rededication: a rededication to your noble effort to live your life purposes.
You arrive at your daily practice not through mere habit, not through mere repetition, but instead, because each time you announce, loudly, and clearly enough that you hear your announcement, “This is important.” In fact, most people have trouble doing this thing which sounds so simple in principle: announcing that one thing is more important than another thing. Their mantra is more “Let me pass the time” or “Let me satisfy a craving” than “Let me do the next right thing.” They have not organized their life around what they genuinely value.
Primacy involves a reckoning of values. You reckon that, right now, this has more value than that. It is a 10, that other thing is a 9, and that other thing is a 2. Ah, but that 2 is so shiny. That 3 would taste so good. That 4 would produce oblivion. That 5 would pass the time. You shake your head: 10 is 10. It tops the list, a list where what’s appropriate and what’s right are doing the ordering.
You pick your next right thing not in a vacuum but as part of the way you are sequencing and negotiating your day. The next thing you choose may have primacy because it is serving the thing that follows it, which really has primacy. For instance, you might take a nice, hot shower before you settle in to write your novel, support your cause, or upgrade your personality—just so long as that is indeed the right sequence and just so long as you actually get to your novel, your cause, or your upgrade. If that is the appropriate order, then that is the appropriate order.
The peas don’t have to come before the ice cream. But you do need to get to the peas. That nice, hot shower may have been for its own sake but it was also for the sake of your practice. That nap may have been for its own sake but it may also serve as a strength-building prelude to the hard conversation you intend to have with your daughter. That hour of television may be half frivolity and half relaxation but it may also be the absolutely necessary relief between two serious daily practices.
When it is time for your daily practice, your daily practice needs to rise to that place of primacy. If it’s its turn, it moves ahead of everything else except something urgent. It takes its place at the head of the table. You may need to prove the exception, as most people have trouble with the very idea of priority. For your daily practice to last, you need to embrace the idea that life is a series of choices and that, once made, each choice gets a felt sense of primacy bestowed upon it.
In this series, I intend to explain the elements of daily practice, the varieties of daily practice available to you, and how to deal with the challenges to daily practice that inevitably arise. If you’d like to learn more about the psychological and practical benefits of daily practice and better understand the great power of daily practice, I invite you to get acquainted with The Power of Daily Practice. It is available now.
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This post was previously published on Psychologytoday.com.
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