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Practice Makes Permanent


Remember that motto our elementary school teachers used to say, to hopefully prompt us into better penmanship or math or whatever we weren’t exactly excelling at? “Practice makes perfect!” Yeah, right, like I’d ever master cursive the way my teacher wanted, or math, or science (forget chemistry). Practice made a little dent in things, but “perfect”? Puh-leeze. If anything, it seemed the more I practiced something, the better I got at doing it the way I always did it.


Which is a truth my ballroom dancing instructor brought home to me, quite forcefully, one day. “Practice,” he said, “makes permanent.” Oh, my, now there was a new take on things! Which is why, rather than have me practice endlessly the same thing the same way, he always carefully reviews whatever it is I am learning, so that he can help me make the tweaks and adjustments that will result in the “permanence” desired.


Think about that for a moment. What are you practicing, day in day out? As in doing the same thing the same way all the time. Are you practicing complaining, for example? Or practicing happiness? Are you practicing looking at your kids, your spouse, your boss, your co-workers, your friends, with an appreciative eye? Or with a critical eye? Because whichever you choose, that approach will become permanent, with consequences – intended or not, on your relationships.


My mother, may she rest in peace, used to greet me at the door to her home with comments like “What’s wrong with your hair?” as opposed to “Hi, good to see you.” This, after I was a grown woman, by the way, not a child. I finally came to understand (after many years of therapy and meditation) that my mother’s unyielding and constant criticism was her way of loving me. She wanted me the best for me, and to her, criticizing everything she didn’t think was best for me was how she could accomplish it. Which led to far less interaction with me, and far less intimacy than she would have wished.


But here’s the thing: that’s really the long way round! Since indeed, whatever you practice on a daily basis will shape your reality, including your relationships with others, what would you rather practice? Much as I loved my mother, our relationship would have been far more harmonious and close, if she’d chosen to practice appreciation over criticism.


Pay attention to what you practice. What is your habitual approach to people and situations? If you like your approach, if it brings you joy and satisfaction, great! Your practicing is leading to wonderful “permanence.” But if whatever you practice brings you anything less, then consider practicing something different. Because “practice makes permanent” isn’t just a cute aphorism. It’s a deep and abiding psychological truth.

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