Practice Makes Perfect

I'm not very good with schedules. I think that I am, but in the past few weeks, I've come to the realization that I'm really not. Nor am I very good at practice, at least not practice that involves incremental improvement of skills over a long period of time. I wish that I were. Indeed, I have spent hours and days of my life lamenting the fact that I don't get enough practice, be it at writing or fencing or yoga or any one of the many skills at which I have tried my mind, hands and body over the years (piano, calligraphy, knitting, drawing, languages). And yet, truth be told, I suck.

Okay, okay, so I have managed for the better part of twenty-some years to do my yoga on average something like five times a week (in good weeks), and there was that year or three when I actually sat down at the piano on a daily basis for the better part of an hour. And, okay, I have stacks and stacks of notebooks that I filled with daily Morning Pages, which may (possibly) have something to do with how much I have been able to write these past ten or so years. But in actual fact, I am, yes, a slacker. Given the opportunity--as, for example, for the better part of this week--it's something of a toss-up whether I'll actually get myself to the mat or the target to do my (supposedly) regular exercises. More often than not--at least, it feels that way--I can quite easily talk myself out of it, always promising, of course, that tomorrow will be different.

Oh, will it? It's amazing how easy it is to delude ourselves. For example, I tell myself, one day, I will start eating right, not so much sugar, more fruits and veggies. One day, I will sit down at my desk and put in a regular five or six hours on my own research--and keep at it long enough to finish my next book. One day, I will have worked up to doing 1000 touches a day (including 500 lunges) on my target at home. One day, I will do my yoga every morning, six times a week, while spending the same time on Sundays in meditation and prayer. One day, I will be able to sit down at my blog every other or every third day on a regular basis and write for an hour or so something that somebody else might actually want to read. One day, I will finish that sweater I started knitting last autumn; I might even manage to block it and sew it together.

Put in those terms, I'm not entirely clear why I am finding this so hard. So, okay, just do it. Do your yoga in the mornings, do your touches in the evening before dinner, write on your blog a couple or three times a week, go to your desk and start working. What's the big deal? Oh, but the other day, we overslept and I just couldn't get up the energy to get my mat out. It's hot and I'm so tired by the end of the day, I don't feel like working my arm. I'll just have this handful of chocolate-covered banana chips now, I need the boost and I'm feeling a bit lonely. I don't have anything to say and everything I do try to write comes out too personal. Sigh. And the dog just pooped on the floor again because I didn't get her out in time; how can I possibly focus on creating something?

It's one of the things that my husband and I have been talking about with our counselor: how do we balance our work with our need to have time together? How do we keep all of our other responsibilities in check so that they do not take over our home life? Again, put in these terms, it seems obvious: don't bring our work home with us, let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day, there will always be papers to grade and objects to conserve tomorrow. But what about fencing and yoga and keeping my blog? None of these things count as "work," even if I sometimes try rationalizing them as experiments that I am doing for the sake of my work (which, if you think about it, is a whole other problem). Practicing any of them is, yes, purely selfish, benefiting directly nobody other than me.

Is that it? Do I feel selfish when I practice these things solely for the sake of doing them? No, that can't be it: at least when I go to fencing practice, I help other people by being there to fence; I'm hoping some of my writing actually gives people something to think about; and doing my yoga is like prayer, it has benefits that may be less tangible than, say, publication, but are essential to my functioning nevertheless. But perhaps there is something in my sense of whether these activities are in some way valuable to me. It's hard writing just to write. I've been doing my yoga now, as I've said, for the better part of twenty-some years, but thanks to age and fencing, I'm actually less limber now (particularly in my right hip) than I was even five years ago, never mind twenty. And, as you all know, I've not been particularly successful in competition, despite having been "practicing" (if you can call it that) fencing these past seven years.

Am I just too focused on results? Well, yes, but surely if I were truly focused on results, I would do something about improving them. Write blog posts that actually touched on things people are talking about. Go do that yoga teacher training course and stop pretending that my yoga practice has been anything but sporadic these past (yes) twenty-some years. Do my touches and footwork and drills every day. Actually really practice, not just moan about how hard I've worked and why aren't I better at this or that already. Ah, but then I wouldn't have any excuses, would I? I might still be a mediocre blogger, an unlimber yogi, an indifferent fencer. Then what? Practice some more? To what end?

It's interesting. When my husband and I talked about all of this with our counselor earlier this week, all I could do was panic and say, "Oh, maybe I should just quit." Because, truth to tell, it is hard to find the time every day to do all of these things. Some days, there really isn't a moment for writing or yoga or touches; there is church and cooking brunch and going grocery shopping and doing laundry and talking with my husband and taking the dog for a walk and reading a little bit about theology and...suddenly it's 10pm and time to go to bed. Or there is reading student papers and going to the bank and taking the dog for a walk and cooking dinner and talking with my husband and having a nap because I really was up too late last night, um, having fun. So, do I interrupt the flow of all of these things to keep to my schedule? Or do I allow my schedule to be more flexible--and thus never get around to doing any of my practice because, truth to tell, the only way I seem to be able to get over the hump of not doing it is by making it as regular as possible?

So which is it? Do I want to do my practice or not? I know that I want to have the benefits of practice: more blog posts, more open joints, better point control. So why then do I kick and scream about not being able to do my practice even when I can? Here's a pretty tangle. Again, I'm going to have to think about this.


  1. I dunno 1000 touches/500 lunges EVERY DAY sounds not only time consuming but overtraining-ish to me.

    Perhaps your goals of frequency are unreasonably high?

  2. Well, I'm managing 300 touches a day (sometimes, when I do the practice) without lunges, and it doesn't really seem like very much. It only takes about 5 minutes. I did more like 450 (with 100 lunges) the other night at practice, and it felt like I was really only just getting started. That took about 20 minutes, since the lunges require more recovery. So maybe 30 minutes of point control practice? That might mean 600 touches.


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