The Power of Practice, Part I

30 Sep 2011 11:19 AM | Kathleen Loehr
As my karate teacher used to say, practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent. What we've done before, we tend to do again. (Martha Beck)

There is so much to say about the power of practice that it will span a series of blogs. For today, let’s start at the very beginning. What is Practice?

Practice is a repeated behavior we do over and over, often unconsciously. It can be as simple as typing an email or as complicated as producing the monthly financial reports. Many minute data points, actions, processes were learned in sequence over time to produce a result consistently.

I remember learning how to drive a car. I was scared when I was behind the wheel trying to figure out the pedals, shift, turn signals, and mirrors—and still keep my eye on the road. I was incredibly awkward on my first drives—cutting corners too close, bumping the car behind me when parking, driving off from the gas station with the hose still in my car! But with practice I learned to drive evenly, confidently, and soon could get to my friend’s house without even thinking about it. With this new skill, I was a different person. I was now a driver. A whole new world opened up for me.

That is the result we are looking for as leaders to reach our “whole new world,” also known as our vision. We need to consistently act from our values and principles and take effective action each day to fulfill on that vision.

Yet how many of us are that focused, that consistent? I certainly got pulled off center very easily by demands, disruptions, and my own internal dissonance when I felt overwhelmed. My old practice of overextending myself kept me racing and responding to others’ urgency. Immediate problems got solved, yet we did not move the needle on achieving our vision.

What are the unconscious practices that keep you from moving toward your vision? These are default practices—the ones done consistently, automatically and unconsciously in response to any situation. We learned these default practices through our life experience. They helped us survive, belong, feel in control. But that does not mean they serve us today in our leadership.

Ponder your default practices this week. What shows up automatically under stress? That is a great time to witness what you do without thinking. Do you move away or toward conflict? Can you feel or tolerate emotional chaos or do you go numb, or try to have someone else deal with it? When you feel at a loss, do you cover it up, blame someone else, or take on more to compensate?

By becoming aware of what you do automatically, you begin to loosen the hold of default practices that others see but you may not be aware of. “We are what we practice.”

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