The act of practising something builds the neurological connections necessary to actualize intentions and goals. Through learning and repetition, you create pathways and circuits for neurons in you brain. To accomplish a task, or to think a thought, the neurons must have these connections available.
As you practice any behavior or thought, the pathways become stronger and more easily accessible. Through practice, your intentions become habits and the behaviors become easier to execute.
In this article, I will talk more about this science of practice and how it can create empowerment. Practice can be applied to so many different things: yoga, meditation, gratitude, studying, compassion, intimacy, work, the beliefs you hold, the way you talk to others, how you treat yourself - you name it!
Here, I discuss how starting new habits and initiating goals can be the most challenging, yet worthwhile, stage of practising a behavior, the habitual ease and automatic response that comes through consistent practice, and the sense of empowerment and self-efficacy that results from practice.
Fake It Until You Make It
This cliche is a popular one for good reason. Starting a new habit, pattern of thinking, behavior, hobby, job, or anything that is unfamiliar can be extremely challenging due to the inherent learning curve that comes along with it.
With this learning curve comes a myriad of feelings that could include insecurity, a sense of incapability, self-doubt, and uncertainty. It is important to remember during this phase that you are not unique or alone in experiencing these feelings!
Any person who achieves consistency or greatness has to start somewhere, and that starting point is often shaky and faltering.
To “fake it” means to believe in yourself, the process, and to believe that you can build a strong foundation with practice and consistency, despite your initial performance falling below some standard of hope or expectation. (Learn more in Building the Foundation: Strengthening Your Yoga Practice Through Consistency.)
This stage is often where many people give up.
As a musician, my practicing patterns tend to ebb and flow with the work or gigs that comes my way. When I pick up my instrument again after a long hiatus, I do not like the way I sound. Yet, I know from being around other musicians that hard work is more important than talent, so I am motivated to keep practicing until I sound better. This same lesson can be applied to any desirable change to your behaviors or ways of thinking.
The initial growing pains are well worth overcoming in order to “make it” in the end.
Practice Makes Perfect
Practice makes perfect is another cliche that has some legitimacy! While perfection itself may be a subjective and elusive concept, it can be defined here as your own desirable state of being. Not only does repetition of a behavior make it easier for you to execute desirable behaviors, it creates new automatic habit patterns in the brain.
For something like playing an instrument, this is obvious. As you practice a certain song, the brain makes physical changes that support you playing that song. It creates new pathways for neurons to electrically fire. Over time and consistent repetition, these pathways become stronger with more neurons and complexity. As a result you are able to play it faster, more dynamically, and maybe even without reading the sheet music.
You can apply this concept to anything, such as your yoga and meditation practice, or to your mental health.
For example, individuals who experience depression often feel trapped in their negative thinking patterns. Concrete tools and habits, such as setting daily time aside to focus on gratitude, through activities such as journalling, have been shown to actually change an individual’s experience of depression. This is because the practice, ideally done at least once a day, forms and strengthens those neural connections.
You can rewire your brain to be less depressed, and more grateful. You can rewire your brain to get out of bed in the morning and meditate instead of stay in bed until the afternoon feeling hopeless. This is not to minimize the experience of depression, especially severe episodes as the same logic can be applied to that experience or any other non-desirable behaviors and thought patterns. (Learn more in How Meditation Can Help Soother Your Stress and Anxiety.)
After months or years of practicing the same behaviors and thoughts that accompany things like depression, or addiction, the brain becomes hard-wired this way. The pathways that neurons follow become strengthened and the individual feels helpless to change.
However, neuroscience shows us that change is possible with practice. Through persistent repetition, the old pathways weaken and new ones can be formed. The brain can become hard wired to think and behave differently. For some people, this will require the support of family, friends, instructors, and professionals.
Empower Yourself Through Consistency
When a musician first started practicing that song, it was a definite “fake it until you make it” scenario. They cringed at each missed note. Then, they noticed themselves closer to a desirable idea of perfection through practice.
With consistency, you begin to feel motivated to practice daily to maintain and improve your skill. It becomes less like work and less like you’re “faking” anything at all. You actually start to feel really good about yourself. You are building a sense of self-efficacy through setting goals, working on them, and actualizing them into a reality. You also experience less neural resistance when the connections in your brain are established and new habits are more solidified.
This is how you empower yourself through practice - by seeing the progress and results of your consistent work. Even without desirable results, you build empowerment through the act of simply working hard. Doing any behavior consistently and faithfully builds those pathways that become automatic and this process can help your brain to build other consistent habits as well.
If you build a consistent practice of a morning routine, it will be easier for your brain to support you in building a nightly routine, or any other daily routine because in the new habits your brain will be using some of the same neural connections that have been built to establish your practice of consistency and overcoming beginners discomfort. (Learn more in Fill Your Mind, Body and Soul: A Morning Ritual to Start Your Days.)
You build trust with yourself to follow the path towards achieving your goals through having integrity. Through your own consistency, you empower yourself to believe that you can achieve whatever you set your mind to.
We Ebb and Flow
Behaviors, interests, habits, and thoughts ebb and flow in our lives. It does not take long to slip out of practice of something and feel completely disempowered. This could lead to avoidance and a low sense of self-efficacy when it comes to doing any one certain behavior or task.
Sometimes, the simple act of starting to practice something again can get you back on track quicker than you may think because those neural connections are still present, only weakened.
You may have to stumble through some brief discomfort again in the “fake it until you make it” stage, but with faith in the process you may find yourself quickly developing and mastering behaviors and thought patterns you thought you had lost forever, and new ones that you never thought possible for yourself.