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Practicing Your Craft

I remembering reading in some book-- maybe it was Mastery by George Leonard-- that experienced doctors generally aren't better than brand new doctors. The implication, the book explained, was that practice by itself wasn't enough for improvement. To actually get better, you need a specific type of practice: the kind of practice where you're actually consciously trying to improve.

That idea stuck with me. When you think about it, practice isn't really any different than just doing something and deciding it's practice. Practicing the violin is the same as just standing there and playing the violin. At the same time, this means that everything we doing throughout our normal days could be considered practice. But is it the kind of practice that hones our skills?

When I first had this idea, I decided that everything I did would be practice, and that I would always try to make sure that it was the practice that makes me better at things. When I ride my motorcycle, for example, I consciously try to make smoother shifts every time I ride. When I write a post, I try to write it better than I would have last week. Even when I slice bananas for my sandwiches, I try to make the slices more uniform each time.

Some of these improvements, like writing, are important. Others, like my enviable banana slicing abilities, are useless. That's not the point, though. If you practice practicing even the little things, when you start some new important thing you'll be trained to practice it in such a way that you'll get better at it.

Filling Your Glass and Fighting Hedonic Adaptation

There's a concept called hedonic adaptation, which says that we quickly adjust to any increased level of comfort or luxury and cease to appreciate it. Anything good that happens to us becomes our new normal, and we look higher up the ladder, not realizing that we'll quickly adjust to those rungs as well.

The trick, then, is to suppress your hedonic adaptation, while still climbing up that ladder. If you can manage to do that, you can fully appreciate everything you already have, and future accomplishments, acquisitions, etc., will also be fully appreciated.

I don't know if it's fully possible to suppress hedonic adaptation. There's some evidence that zen monks who meditate all the time can do it to a large degree. Even if we're not going to spend all day meditating and will never fully get rid of it, though, we can easily move in that direction.

One strategy I use is to occasionally ask myself, "What's amazing in my life?" For one reason or another, this tends to happen when I'm en route somewhere, either on the subway, walking, or on my motorcycle.

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