I have to admit, starting something new is often more appealing than recommitting to the old. In addition to its lack of shininess, the old is often freighted with guilt. During the fall semester, I didn't blog as much as I would have liked, and I rarely made it to my morning yoga class. Recommitting to these practices for the New Year entails reflecting on the way I didn’t always follow through on my goals for 2017.
Recently, I had a provocative reminder of the way practice is a special kind of commitment to one’s self. I’m participating in the wonderful Meggin McIntosh’s “Academic Decluttering” workshops (they’re ongoing, if you want to join me: https://meggin.com/classes/academic-decluttering/). In a recent session on calendar clutter, Meggin asked a question that knocked me back a bit. Where on your calendar are you lying?, she asked. The surprise of this no-nonsense phrasing inspired me to take a hard look at the previous months of my electronic calendar.
To my disappointment, a lot of what was on the calendar was more a wish list than an accurate reflection of how I was spending my time. In particular, my non-academic writing and my yoga practice were the unicorns here—fantastic beasts living in the fictional world of my calendar, but nowhere to be seen in my real life. Taking stock of the way I was lying to myself wasn’t fun, but it was a useful shakeup as I was closing out the old year and looking forward to the new.
Despite the downer of reflecting on how I haven’t measured up to my ideal self—she’s also thinner, wealthier, and better dressed, while we’re at it—I know there’s good news about practice-based goals. Unlike performance-based goals, such as selling x amount of something or running a 10k at a certain pace, practice-based goals are less zero-sum.
On the one hand, calling oneself a writer but never writing makes a liar of you (and not the good, fiction-writing kind), as does calling yourself a painter when you’ve not picked up a brush, or a meditator when you’re not sitting in silence. But, the refreshing thing about making a practice-based goal rather than a performance-based one is that these goals are largely in our control and simply executing the action, whether well or poorly, puts us back on track. It’s a nice low bar—I like it.
Unlike the performance-based goals at which I might fail (running a sub-55 10k) or over which I have no control (winning a teaching award), my practice-based goals are relatively low-hanging fruit. When I post this blog entry, I’ll be back blogging. When I showed up bleary-eyed to the yoga studio, I was back practicing yoga. Now, it’s always possible that I may not continue, but just getting myself going counts for a lot. I’m not promising to write beautiful prose or to execute the perfect Chaturanga; I’m just committing to regularly doing these things, however badly.
When I do a little online research on “practice’s” etymology, I’m reassured that the word’s history supports the modesty of my aspirations. Coming from the Latin practicare, which means “to do, perform, practice;” by around 1400, the word takes on the simple meaning “to do, act.” Nowhere in the entry is there any promise of excellence.
So, as I approach the New Year, I’m trying to move beyond self-flagellation to think about tweaking behaviors so that I can make good on my promises to practice. To help myself get to yoga, I’m trying to build in both habit and accountability: I’m planning make more regular my visits to the studio by making them always Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then I’ll attend a rigorous weekend practice at least once a month to keep me honest. For my blog writing, I’m using a strategy of conviviality: joining a new Friday writing group that meets during the time I want to write my blogs.
If you realize that you’ve fallen off from practicing, what might help you get back doing the thing? Are there barriers of location, isolation, or timing in your way? What might help you back towards being the person who performs the activity, however messy your practice may be?