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Time to Practice Practicing

During our summer holiday to Greece, our family drove to Mount Olympus for an outdoor activity. We began our canyoning adventure by hiking up the steep mountain, then swimming, rappelling down mountainsides, and sliding and jumping off cliffs into the river.

The nine of us who embarked on this adventure were decked out in gear to protect us from the chilly water, sharp rocks, and other potential hazards. With only a brief introduction and a few minor simulations of what to expect when we reached the “Birthplace of Zeus”, we were harnessed into ropes and thrust into our journey down the mountain. One of the first tasks we faced was repelling down a steep cliff. With four family members down and five to go, my nephew stepped up to the edge. Comforted by the protection offered by the rope attached to his harness, he began his descent. But, after two steps down, he was filled with an overwhelming amount of discomfort doing something nerve wracking and new. This uncertainty of what to expect and the lack of control that he felt stopped him in his tracks. Like most people, he was overcome by many buzzing thoughts: Should I lean forward or back? Should my foot go here or is there a better place to put it? How do I balance?

Along with his internal conversation, external voices now flooded into his mind from every direction, yelling and cheering: Lean back! Go more to the right. No, that’s too much! You got this! Trust yourself. You can do this. Loosen up. Come on, just do it!

After a few more seconds of uneasiness, encouragements, and criticisms, I asked the guide what he suggested. Calmly, he replied. “All he needs is a few seconds and a bit of experience”. Blown away by his words, now I was stopped in my tracks. I remembered in that moment that my 20-year-old nephew had never repelled once in his life. Yet, we all expected him to just know what to do and do it well the very first time. I could see the disappointment in his eyes, knowing that he wasn’t doing it perfectly right, and feeling the weight of our expectations on his shoulders.

Once all nine of us had completed the task, I asked the guide if he could elaborate on his earlier statement. His response was that after practicing a couple more times, his body would naturally begin to recognize what to do to lead him step-by-step down the cliff.

In this moment, I was reminded of my own first couple of coaching sessions with clients. I really wanted to be a good coach and to make a difference with people. But, like we expected my nephew to know all the tricks of the trade his first time around, I also expected myself to be like a professional from the beginning. My trainers quickly reminded me that the only way to be good is through practicing. Although this made sense, I realized that my relationship with “practice” was not what practice actually meant. Google defines practice as performing or working regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency. But to me, the act of practicing didn’t exist on the track between starting and succeeding. I didn’t want to practice getting good, I wanted to be perfectly good already.

My new perspective about this crucial in-between step, practice, allowed me to be comfortable with not being perfect from the beginning.

Where in your life do you expect perfection without giving yourself time to learn and develop through practice?

“This is me jumping from a water fall on our trip!”

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