I’ve been wanting to write about practice for the longest time. Mainly because it’s been such a massive game changer for me. Mainly because it’s given me permission and courage where previously there was none. Because seeing the world through the lens of “just practicing” is exciting and hopeful. Once again, it was Brene Brown’s teaching that reminded me how much practice matters.
At any moment in any day I am just practicing. Every time I have a go at interacting with my kids, it’s a practice. Every time I want to try a new way of being in the world, or less loftily, every time I want to try out something new, like painting, or cooking a new food, I am just practicing doing it. And what is practicing if it’s not the permission to have a go, and mess up, and have a go again, and maybe make a different mistake, but then the third time, maybe get a little better at whatever it is you’re practicing, and voila if you’re not starting to learn something new, or make the change you’ve been meaning to make for the longest time. Voila if you’re not on the road toward mastery.
So the just practicing lens is just about the sweetest lens I’ve tried out in the longest time. With its implied permission to mess up, it’s just about the most useful parenting perspective I know. Because truthfully, this parenting deal, it’s all a practice – it’s all having a go, time and time and time again. Every day of my life, I have a go at different ways of engaging with my kids. I have a pretty good idea of what doesn’t work so well (yelling) and what does (deep breathing), but knowing that gets me nowhere on its own. Whereas practicing that gets me everywhere. To all sorts of awesome and exciting places that at times have seemed impossible to reach.
But I have to practice, every bleeding day. Every bleeding time I am in the company of my kids, I am practicing, over and over. And the getting better happens slowly, and almost imperceptibly with each repetition, with every time I slip and up and do a Big Yell that I didn’t notice was brewing in my belly until it came out. But practice lets me slip up. Practice says – that’s part of the deal. You’re going to do it. It’s going to happen. So when it happens, it’s nothing more than a (very loud) reminder that I’m still just practicing.
Unless I’m missing something, there’s never one big performance when it comes to parenting. There’s never one moment when you finally have to get it All Right, like an exam. There are thousands upon thousands of moments that happen over and over and over again, and if each of these moments is nothing more than a practice, then suddenly I’ve got all this room to grow I never knew I had. Suddenly I’ve got the permission I need to change when change is what’s needed. To try things out. To test them and perhaps find them lacking, or even better, perhaps find out that they work. If I’m practicing parenting, the pressure is off. If I’m practicing being a human being, the pressure is off too.
Much of my childhood was spent playing the trumpet. I remember the sense of privacy, safety and freedom that came with practicing. With no audience, or indeed teacher, listening. Just me, having a go. Repeating stuff over and over till I got better at it. Mucking it up, getting the rhythm or the notes or the technique wrong – whatever the mistakes needed to be that day. That’s how I got better. Alone. Having a go. Practicing. But in music, there are more obvious moments when you have to show what you can do – be that exams, or concerts, or simply turning up to your lesson, and showing your teacher how much better (or not) you’ve got since the previous week.
While for most folks, there is no such thing as a parenting exam, there are absolutely moments when it feels like we’re on stage and the spotlight is glaring into our face. Usually when one of my kids throws down a challenge round someone else’s dinner table, or in the middle of a quiet doctors waiting room. And if I’ve been practicing, then in all likelihood, I’m able to dig around and find something of use to fall back on.
But the thing I never realised when I was performing on stage, and I am only just starting to realise about parenting, is that even if I’m performing, or I feel like I’m performing – I’m still just practicing how to perform. Which means that if I make a mistake, or fall head first off the front of the stage, I’m embarrassed, but I’m learning. I’m just practicing how not to do that next time.
And as a result of all my practicing, I have moments when I realise that I’ve improved without even realising it – recently, I’ve been shouting less and breathing more. And I feel all pleased with myself…..just as the next challenge pops its head up, and gives me something else get practicing.