We're about three weeks into the new year. How are those resolutions treating you? More importantly, how are you treating them? Now's the time that we are considering how things are, how things have been, and how we want them to be in 2014 and beyond. We are imagining possibilities and setting objectives. You might be thinking about how good it would feel to earn a leadership position in an activity, improve your grades, exercise consistently, or ace the SAT or ACT. You've set a goal, and established resolutions to support that goal.
But, just as January first only lasts a day, setting a goal is the beginning.
We often associate the word "practice" with our efforts. We practice yoga, we practice compassion. You might not think of yourself as having an educational "practice," but lawyers and doctors are usually regarded as having practices.
Once you set a goal, you must adopt some sort of practice to get there whether that goal involves a musical instrument, a sport team, patience, or test prep.
Yet, somehow, we tend to think that the goal should be enough. We believe that wanting to be more patient or to go to play the guitar or ace the SATs should bring us there. It doesn't work that way. It's called a practice because you practice it.
It isn't as though I can write "Be compassionate with yourself" and you will think, "Oh! I get it! I'm supposed to be compassionate with myself! I'll just do that from now on!"
Nope. You might agree that it would be nice to practice self-compassion, and resolve to do so moving forward. Then something will happen: you'll think you screwed up, feel badly, and beat yourself up a bit. You've been here before. If it hadn't happened in the past, you wouldn't have set the resolution.
But, here's the kicker: lack of self-compassion in the initial moment isn't the difference between success and failure. The difference between the pre- and post- resolution is that now, hopefully, that bad feeling will serve as a trigger that reminds you of your resolution. Your goal is to practice self-compassion. Here is an opportunity to practice it.
It isn't as though resolving to prepare for your tests is the same thing as making time to do the work consistently anymore than resolving to do well on your tests is the same thing as earning the scores you want. These goals take time, they take consistency, they take practice.
Practice does not mandate getting it "right." Sometimes you will smoothly say, "I recognize that I am doing my best and I offer myself compassion," other times you won't. And when you don't, it's just a cue to keep practicing. With time, the recognition that you should treat yourself compassionately will come more quickly.
It's a practice, we all have to keep practicing. Forever. No matter how much you practice forgiveness, there will always be something or someone new to forgive. No matter how long you've practiced yoga, there will always be discoveries within your poses.
Even a goal like test prep that has a specific end point is a part of a larger effort: the effort to become the person who you want to be and live the life that you want to live. That, too, is a practice.
Whether your goal is quantifiable like a test prep score or qualitative like a feeling, it will require practice. It is a practice. You don't fail when you fall short of your goal. You succeed by practicing, one day at a time.
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