Practice Doesn’t Always Make Perfect

I woke up knowing this: Practice is not my thing. Maybe it reminds me of 8th grade volleyball practice. We “bump-set-spiked” daily for months and only won one game. Perhaps it was having to “practice math” as a kid. The only math that doesn’t traumatize me is a 60% sale on shoes.

Yet, I said deep thought needed patience and practice. It does. Just not necessarily repetition.

Practice isn’t “let me think about this over and over until I’m great at it.” It’s more like thinking with purpose and intent. Which seems obvious when we talk about thinking, but it’s not.

Actually many things we take for granted really need focus and attention. Sleep for example. You would not think sleep is something you need to practice, however I’m here to tell you it is.

When I travelled more extensively for work I never got restful sleep in a hotel. I’d try wine, sleep aids, ear plugs – nothing worked. My doctor recommended: “Make the hotel feel more like home. Bring a pillow and your sheets.” Which I did (No, it didn’t help.)

I took Arianna Huffington’s Thrive course (available at OWN Lifeclasses) and she advocates sleep. Being a model student, I followed her advice: Devices out, no screen an hour before sleep, dedicate time for sleep. Shockingly, I noticed improvement! She also recommended tracking, so I started using my MS-Band.

It was a wealth of data – time to sleep, times woken up, restful sleep, etc. But it couldn’t tell me if I felt rested. I started to add my other info to my Maple Sleep Tracker, taking note of the most important data pieces and adding in how I felt when I woke up. Energized? Exhausted? Patterns emerged: I need 8 hours, meditation helped me fall asleep, wine too close to bed resulted in terrible sleep. Over time I’ve adjusted the routine. I write in my Gratitude Journal, no eating after a certain hour, I have a ‘bed time story’ to let my brain wind down.

Is it working?

Here are things I pulled from my Maple Sleep Tracker. For 24 consecutive nights in February my sleep quality was Low and I woke up feeling Tired. I had one Moderate quality sleep night in a six-week period. By August I had more Moderate or Good quality nights then Low. I still don’t wake up and go “Hell yea! Let’s start the day!!” but I no longer pry my lids open with my fingers.

Now here is the interesting thing, I didn’t say, “Chris, you are going to start practicing good sleep hygiene.”

If I had, during the great sleep drought of February, I’d have given up. Instead, I started to adjust my behavior, a bit here and there. Enough to make a difference but not so much it seemed like work. I leveraged the resources I had to keep going until it became a habit. The information I collected was reinforcement – when I did X the result was Y. It didn’t even feel like an effort to make the changes, it felt like a normal progression. Not remedial practice.

I’ve learned, if I tell myself to practice thinking deeply for 15 minutes that is probably not going to happen. But if I make the time, equip myself with the right tools and just dip my toe in then it’s not so painful. As a matter of fact, the insights generate and the dots connect on their own, kind of naturally. When that happens it feels like I accomplished something – and that’s pretty amazing.

I’m loving the porch!

How about you? Are you slowing down? You can do it, whatever that looks like for you. Use tools like Maple for support. Give it a try and tell me how it goes!

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Christine is a consultant, coach and collaborator. Her vision is a tool to nudge people towards the insights that are just out of reach; connecting their deeper thoughts and truest selves to make big leaps forward.

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