How do we recover from mistakes? I have been asking this question quite a lot lately as I observe all kinds of people- myself included- moving through their bodies and voices. The obvious answer is that when we fall, we get up and try again. Practice makes perfect, right? So we repeat over and over. Fall, get up, fall get up, fall get up… we come back again and again. But really, how effective is this? Does practice really make perfect? Well, yes and no.
There is tremendous value in practice. But often what I see is that the word practice implies and imbues a sense of mechanical routine. Yes, repetition is required in practice, but too often it is equated with something static. When we tell ourselves, “practice makes perfect,” and find ourselves habituated with the notion that trying the same thing again and again and again is going to result in a different outcome, our mind starts to go crazy with anticipation of changes that will probably not arrive.
When we come back the same mistake repeatedly and mindlessly this way, what actually happens is we start to make deeper habits out of actions that are counterproductive.
So how do we find life in the repetition? How do we find the pulse of the practice?
Stop. Pause. Take moments before the repetition to focus with our whole attention to every aspect of the situation, every aspect of the moment, before we pick up and try again. Empty our minds of the thoughts, ideas, stories, expectations, can’t’s, shouldn’t’s… remove the excuses, explanations… no decorations, no fluff. Simply feel into how things are working right now. Warts and all.
When we allow room for mistakes to breathe without the extra baggage our mind layers over them, their grip starts to loosen and slowly they become fluid and interchangeable with the exploration of new methods. And in this fluid dance we begin to discover habits that are natural and empowering to growth on all levels.
Over time, as mistakes start to dance more and more with exploration, we realize that they might not be mistakes at all; but rather a single aspect of burgeoning curiosity.
So does practice make perfect? When we’re misconceived with the idea that it is a static repetition of the same action, I’d say no.
But when we allow space for the ever-changing pulse of life to dance with repetition- with all its mistakes and triumphs… I’d say practice does more than make perfect.
That’s when practice is perfect.