I’m guessing that most of us are familiar with the saying, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice…practice…practice.” But what about the equally familiar saying that goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?” While doing something over and over again might look the same as practicing, I think we all know they are pointing out two different actions and mindsets. And from my way of thinking they explain the difference between a practice and a habit. Knowing the difference and consciously choosing one over the other is a SMART and mindful approach to living our intentions.
Okay, so you may be asking yourself how on Earth did she start thinking about that? It began when I was re-reading Seth Godin’s book, The Practice for the mastermind group I became a part of back in January. If you remember, back in December 2020 I wrote a blog post where I reviewed and condensed what I considered to be some highlights. After finishing the book and the blog post, I decided it would be a great book to use as a discussion or a framework for a “mastermind group.” Shortly after that four other people from around the world—a woman from Vancouver in BC, another woman from Brisbane, Australia, a couple from Oregon, and Thom and me—started meeting on Zoom every two weeks. Our intention was to discuss ideas from the book and support one another in our “practices.” Although our Australian dropped out early on, the rest of us have been meeting ever since.
One of the core ideas in Godin’s book is how important it is to create practices around our intentions. He defines a practice as, “…a choice. It’s a commitment to show up consistently, a posture of generosity, and a set of skills you learn by doing the work over and over again.” He is also very clear that we must continue our practice, “Even when you don’t feel like it. Especially when you don’t feel like it.” So while preparing for our Zoom meeting this week, I started thinking about all the practices I do on a regular basis—even when I don’t feel like it!
- Doing “morning pages” five days a week as inspired by Julia Cameron. I have been journaling this way for over 25 years.
- Walking 2+/- miles every day for 30+ years.
- Blogging on SMART Living for just under ten years with a blog post of some sort every Friday. Sometimes I posted more, but the practice is once a week.
- Doing daily meditation (with Thom) since 12/1/10
- Drinking a vegetable and fruit smoothie six days a week since Jan/2015
- Started taking Spanish lessons online for about 20-30 minutes DAILY since Aug 24th, 2020. That’s 215 days straight!
- Meeting with my mastermind group every two weeks since Jan 14, 2021.
Of course I have also started, tried and been a part of dozens of other practices on and off for years now. But when I took the time to look at what I consider to be my current practices, I realized how they define me. It is one thing to say you believe in something, and quite another to stick with it—day in and day out, year after year—even when you don’t feel like it.
The big point that I believe Godin hopes to make about our practices are the way we are showing up in the world. Ultimately he believes, like I do as well, that we are all creative and by choosing and following through with a practice that supports our innate creativity, we can gradually improve and then generously share it with the world (remember Carnegie Hall?)
Godin goes further by explaining the difference between a practice and a habit. He says, A “practice” is something done intentionally. You decide to do it yourself, or you decide everyone in your office will do it (if you are the boss). If you keep doing it, it may become a “habit” or may not. So, a “habit” is something you routinely do, without ever deciding to do it.” While a habit may be a good one or a destructive one, our practices point out what we believe and back it up with our actions about what matters most to us in the world.
At the same time, Godin believes that an important element to our practice is that we detach from any outcome that we “expect” to receive from it, and just keep putting it out. Will we improve? Probably—but that isn’t a goal. The goal is simply to keep doing the practice–consistently putting it out for the people who will “get it,” use it and appreciate it. This approach is generous and filled with opportunity, possibility and fairness. Even if it doesn’t lead where you thought it would, it will lead you to the kind of life you want to live.
I think the best example of that is that when I began doing my Morning Pages Journal so many years ago. I didn’t really have a goal in mind. I was following the advice of Julia Cameron who said it would help me become a writer. I took her word for it. It didn’t happen overnight—in fact it took years for me to consider myself a writer—but it happened. Regardless of whether anyone likes my writing or my topics, I like what I create and more importantly, I believe that there is a group of people who benefit from my work as well. My journaling practice got me where I am today.
The same with my blog. I wasn’t sure if what I was creating would be helpful or interesting to others but I have faithfully stuck by it all these years. My meditation practice, my smoothies and my walking are all things that keep me focused on the good health I hope to continue. My Spanish? My hope was that it would serve me well when we travel to Mexico (and Spain) so that I can communicate well in another language—oh, and I hope it keeps my brain healthy as well. My practices are concrete examples of my intentions and point me in the direction I hope my life is going. And you know what? Your practices (of lack of them) is a guidepost for you as well.
There is a great quote in the book that stands out for me by writer and sculpture named Elizabeth King. She said, “Process saves us from the poverty of intentions.” In other words, when we show up and consistently do our practices, they will carry us along toward the intentions we believe most important to us. It is that repetition and consistency that are the building blocks to an intentional life. So more than just claiming an intentional life, a practice gives us the stepping-stones to its fulfillment.
I have always been a big fan of the poet Mary Oliver and particularly the poem that ends with “When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real. I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument. I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” Like Godin I believe each of us is a creative being with a unique set of gifts to offer the world. Hopefully none of us leaves this world habitually thinking the same things or habitually doing the same things year in and year out. Perhaps the SMART perspective is to find and use any practice that guides us towards the life we want to live.