We’ve heard the joke-question many times: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The funny and unexpected answer? “Practice, practice!”
So, no matter where you want to go or what you want to achieve, whether it’s to launch your own business, be a more loving parent, run a marathon or write a book, practice makes perfect. “Habits are an accretive process,” says Charles Duhigg, New York Times business reporter and author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.
He explains that each time you perform a habit, “there’s a thickening of neural pathways. It’s more automatic the third time than the first, and even more automatic the 21st time. Every single time you do it, it gets easier and easier, and eventually you cross the line in the sand where it feels automatic and it’s an almost thoughtless activity.”
Repetition Is Key
Repetition is key to learning anything, as you may remember from your childhood or from raising your own kids. Children love to endlessly repeat songs and rhymes. They also learn their multiplication “times” tables through repetition. How many of us adults blurt out tag lines and jingles from TV ads that we’ve watched so many times? When we repeat things over and over again, we no longer have to think about the words, answers or melodies.
As you can see, the method of gradual learning is the same no matter how old you are or what you want to learn. Repeat, repeat, repeat… a.k.a. practice, practice, practice!
Replacing Bad Habits With Good Ones Require Even More Practice
Now, let’s talk about how to undo a habit that no longer serves you well and replace it with one that is more useful or enjoyable. Bad habits have created those thickened neural pathways mentioned by Duhigg. He also addresses why it is often more difficult to change habits. He writes, “If you are attempting to replace a bad habit with a good one, your practice must be more disciplined to keep you from slipping back into old ways. The reason is that the old neural pathways are there and you’re not going to be able to ignore them completely.”
That means you’ll need to be more alert and conscious to keep the new habit dominant and ensure the old habit doesn’t pull you back into its inexorable groove. You may even want to reward the new behavior. For instance, if you’re a running aficionado, and you feel the urge to yell at work colleagues, then go outside and do your thing! Release those damaging survival emotions, lighten your emotional load and raise your energy. Everyone benefits.
Practice For Proficiency… And Expertise… in Self-Care
I’ll always consider myself a lifelong student of holistic learning, leading and service. To that end, I do many things to keep growing. One habit, in particular, is paramount. I frequently say to myself, especially on really tough days, that the most important job I have is to love myself. It’s a simple, powerful habit that I highly recommend.
Also, every year, I gift myself a long retreat in January to disconnect from my outer world to reconnect with my inner world – and create my future. I celebrate the habits and practices that have allowed me to fire and wire my neurons in beautiful ways. Then I unfold, go deep, explore and discover new ways to keep taking care of me. In the words of a memorable (repetition!) advertising slogan, “Try it, you’ll like it!”