The Function, Form, Feeling and ‘Futz’ of Practice

My work as a coach is to help people increase their capacity in an area that really matters to them. For some, it’s the capacity to connect more strongly with others. Or to become more self-aware. To get a grip on their time. To take a stand, or to stand down. What capacity-building is calling you these days?

Most people understand that capacities aren’t built without practice, without the regular repetition of new ‘moves.’ So if we accept that practice is essential to growth, why do we wriggle out from under the very effort that will help us fulfill our most ardent intentions? How do we become more consistent in practice… without activating our inner terrorist to beat us into compliance?

Here are a few thoughts.

Focus on function

Let’s face it; practice can be kind of a drag. It’s often not all that interesting and sometimes it’s downright uncomfortable. It’s often hard to see an immediate pay-off. To make matters worse, many of us relate to practice as a ‘should,’ an obligation meted out by some cosmic schoolmarm. Few of us relate to practice as what it actually is: the engine of our own fulfillment, created on our behalf toward the accomplishment of our own aspiration.

Let me offer myself up as an example. I tend to resist meditating, despite the overwhelming proof of its all-around-awesomeness. I get why other people do it, but I’m not that connected to why I do it. However virtuous a practice may be, it won’t be effective unless it links to something you care about. So to fan the flames of commitment, make sure that your practice serves a function that is meaningful to you.

[blockquote]Few of us relate to practice as what it actually is: the engine of our own fulfillment, created on our behalf toward the accomplishment of our own aspiration.[/blockquote]

Focus on form

Getting clear on the function of a practice helps you discern an appropriate form. Continuing the meditation example… When I looked at my motivation for meditation, I realized that my strongest intention is to be kind, useful and skillful with others. If sitting on a cushion doesn’t help me do that, maybe it’s not the right form of practice for me right now. Maybe a more potent exercise would be something more relational, like noticing when I’m impatient, slowing my breathing and sending a kind thought to the other person. It’s still a kind of meditation, but it connects more directly to my aspiration. Since form is following function, I’m more likely to engage.

Focus on feeling

There is something existentially big about carrying out a practice, even if it’s a really small one. The mere doing of it is a powerful gesture of self-befriending and self respect. You are telling yourself, “You matter enough to show up for.” I find that it’s often the satisfaction of being trustworthy toward myself that propels me into practice.

Focus on the ‘futz’

If a practice is doing its job, it’s going to mess with your head. It’s futzing with your normal patterns of thought and behavior, putting your treasured equilibrium at risk. And that’s good news, because discomfort indicates growth. If you can stay with that discomfort and relax into it, you are making yourself available for change.

What about you?

What practices do you engage in consistently?

  • What makes your consistent engagement possible?
  • In what ways are those practices connect to a clear purpose that you care about?
  • What does it feel like to engage in the practice? To what degree do those feelings sustain you in practice?

Is there any practice that you regularly wriggle out of?

  • Does it clearly support a strong and true aspiration? Is there a clear and compelling function that that practice supports?
  • Is there a way in which the form of the practice could be changed, so that it more directly supports your aspiration?
  • Whether or not you enjoy the practice itself, can you connect to a positive feeling you get when you actually do it? Can you leverage that feeling to sustain you in practice?
  • What internal value, belief or habit does the practice “futz” with? What small thing can you do to stay present in the discomfort?