Practice: repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it
Can we all agree that TED talks are amazing. I love these bit size bits of information as a way to digest a concept fully. I recently stumbled upon this video on “How to Practice Effectively”.
This helped me understand WHY quality practice is so important. I love learning more and more about how our brains work and how to apply it in real life. Especially while working with tiny humans. Helping them become excited to practice new skills, I believe, is the key to success in all things that is human life.
In the video I learned that our brains have two types of matter- grey matter and white matter. The grey matter is what helps us take in information and translate it into action. The white matter is a system of neuropathways that becomes like a highway that helps transmits the information, by use of nerve fibers call “axoms”. In the brain those axoms are coated in a fatty tissue called “myelin”. The myelin is what had been seen to change with quality practice. It acts as insulation and allows for those pathways to become stronger and more efficient.
Something cool that I learned in the video is that physical practice is just as important and visualization practice. I always believed that if you would visualize things then it would help support the effort it took to get there, but there are studies out there that prove this theory!
Okay so how can we help ensure high quality practice? I’ve come up with five tips for better practice!
1.Set a Goal
Quality over quantity. Getting very clear on where we want to go is always the first step. I often see that the problem most of us face in changing any routine is that we use “grey terms”. These are phrases like “more”, “less”, “better”, “stronger”. Grey phrases create a space where excuses can influence the outcomes. To counter these grey terms we need to create a smart goal. No, not just intelligent, but Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. We need to clearly set where we are going. Then we can create a plan to get there.
Example: I want to stay calm and encourage my child to listen to me when I say “no” to candy demands before dinner.
2. Make a Plan
After we identify where we want to go, the next step is to create a plan. We need to work through what action steps you will take to complete this goal. It is not enough to just say “I won’t yell” the specific action steps taken need to brainstormed out. Creating a plan allows you to practice in the moment, not react in the moment.
Example: Tonight when my children demands candy before dinner, I will calmly say “no” once. When my child screams or hits me, I will walk around of the room. I will make sure to validate their feelings, but will not give in to the demands.
Time for honesty and suspending judgements. We need to asses how things went. We followed the plan and now is the time we ask ourselves “How did that go?” This is not a time to get upset over mistakes, or criticize if it didn’t go perfect- this is a space to reflect and make adjustments to the plan.
Example: When I said “No” my child instantly started screaming “You hate me, you’re the worst Mom ever” it was difficult for me to ignore and just walk away, I felt like I was abandoning them. I need to find a different way to work through this.
After you try out your new plan, reflect now it’s time to make adjustments. This is the part of the system where we introduce more brainstorming and commit to trying a new plan. This is where I find that most people give up and don’t achieve their goal. They quite before the tipping point.
*A note on the Tipping Point: this is the moment when the compound effect takes over. The compound effect is a very well-known principle in the investment/financial world but very little known in the personal development world. This is why so many people give up way too early and end up settling for far less than they deserve. (Thank you Manifestation Babe)
Example: When I walked into the kitchen I knew my child was going to ask for candy. Tonight before I walk into the kitchen to start making dinner, I will let my child know that there will be no candy and if they choose to ask for some when I walk into the kitchen I will need to say “no” and walk into my room. They are allowed to be upset and yell, but I won’t come out until things are calm.
5. Create a Visual
When starting any new routine or skill, creating a visual allows for some group accountability. It invites compliance and gives us support when we are in the moment. When our lid flips, creating a visual helps keep us true to our goal. Agreements, lists, charts, timers, alarms, gauges, calendars and posters are all examples of visuals that I use to help keep me on track.
Example: Creating a Candy Agreement will be a great way to help keep everyone on the same page. “Candy may be eaten after dinner on Saturday’s and Sunday’s. Requests made outside of these times will result in the answer of ‘No.’ If you choose to scream, hit, kick, shout I will leave the room and go into my bedroom until you are able to be calm again. If this agreement is broken by me you may have a bonus piece of candy. If this agreement is broken by you- it will require me to eat a piece of your candy. Signed by each” Creating an agreement like this will help communicate everyone’s roles and limits. Agreements like these are best made during times of peace.
6. Bonus: Bring in Support
Whenever starting out a new routine or skill, it is difficult to stay focused before the tipping point. It is easy to give up and throw the towel in. Bringing in a coach, accountability partner, or help will give you some support in trying out these new ways. Being a parenting coach allows me to hold space for parents to get on the same page about routines, teach new communication skills, and provide support while practicing out those new skills.
To me using the word practice is a word of freedom. Practice allows me to make mistakes and learn from them. Practice eases the stress of perfection.
Two years ago, Jason and I bought a brand new car. It was my husbands dream to buy a manual drive car. To be honest, at first I was upset (really just nervous) because I didn’t know how to drive it. I had to work really hard to stay open to the process of learning how to drive this car. The first night we picked it up we took it together into an empty parking lot and practiced. It only took me eight minutes to figure out how to start the car and shift through the gears. Jason was amazed- and to be totally honest, so was I.
What I didn’t expect was how much anxiety I would have when driving it in real life, in real traffic. The fear totally took me by surprise. I needed to adjust my plan and practice driving in real life to help ease the anxiety. So I made a plan, created some visuals and gave myself grace that stalling out was normal and okay.
It took me six months to practice enough to build up my confidence and surpass the tipping point. From time to time I still stall out and get triggered, but I’m able to recover quicker and not hold on to the shame or guilt from the mistake- I just label it as “practice” and move on!