Practice Makes Perfect?

No, not perfect. If you read my last post, you already know I think it’s counterproductive to aim for perfection.

But practice is another story. Practice is important, and definitely a worthwhile goal. I took piano lessons as a kid, and my teacher always told me to make sure I practiced my songs correctly. In other words, she didn’t want me practicing my mistakes. Why? Because if we practice something enough times, our brains and our muscles commit it to memory. My teacher explained this, and said that if I practiced it wrong, it was much more difficult to fix. In fact, she thought it was harder than learning it from scratch. Overwriting our brain’s muscle memory is challenging.

How do I apply this to mental health? Practice what works, and work very, very hard to change what doesn’t. If you are prone to a negative thought process, your brain has made this a habit. It can become your default setting. It will be like me playing the music wrong. Even when I know I’m playing it wrong and my brain is saying, “No, that’s not right!”, my fingers will make the mistake anyway. The same can be said for our thought process. We can recognize we’re in a negative cycle, but if we don’t work to change it, we will do it again and again.

Keep in mind, I said it was challenging, but not impossible. Practice every day, whether or not you feel you need it, and regardless of how you feel emotionally. The time to practice a new skill isn’t when you actually need it, yet this is what most of us will do! We think to ourselves that we’re feeling anxious, and we should practice that deep breathing our therapist told us about. Deep breathing is really hard to do when we’re anxious unless we’ve practiced enough to really nail it, but we forget to practice it until we feel anxious! A bit of a catch-22. Alternatively, if we practice regularly and often, it becomes memory. It becomes habit. It becomes something our amazing brains can implement, and will eventually implement automatically.

Decide what your skills are going to be, and practice them each day. Regardless of what you’re trying to change, you can add or replace old habits with practice. Whether you’re practicing an actual skill or attempting to change a thought process, it requires doing it over and over again. How many times you need to do it before it becomes automatic can vary, but the time will pass either way, so what are you risking to begin? Begin today, not tomorrow. Begin now.

It’s not just going to happen magically. We have to work for it, like anything else, and it requires patience and perseverance. Know you are worth the effort and begin again each day. And practice, practice, practice.

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