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Habits and Practices

“I can’t teach you how to do it. You just have to do it enough times until you get it. Notice the things you are not good at, you do the least times. Repetition is your teacher. There is no substitute.” — Unknown

Realization of our dreams is achieved through our daily habits and our daily practices. So, what's the difference between habit and practice? Both play an essential role in creating happiness, so understanding the difference between a habit and a practice is important.

For this conversation, we will define a habit as a recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior or thought that is acquired through frequent repetition. A habit is a regular tendency or settled way of doing things or thinking about things.

Through repetition and effort, a physical routine becomes natural for us -- instinctive, such that the behavior is performed automatically, without thought. Tasks such as tying our shoes, brushing our teeth, typing, or backing out of our driveway no longer require our attention when we do them.

In general, we most often think of habits as the things we do, not so much as the things we think, but our thoughts go through a similar process to develop a pattern. Through repetition a thought becomes engrained in our thinking and is no longer questioned for validity. The thought becomes true for us -- regardless of whether or not it really is true.

With both habitual action or habitual thought, we no longer think about what we are doing or why. That is why good habits can yield huge boosts in our personal productivity. Our mind is freed to focus on other things. That is also why bad habits can be so difficult to break. We are no longer aware of what we are doing or thinking. We just do it. We are asleep -- unaware.

Practices, on the other hand, involve the same repetition and the same trial and error, however, the objective is to perform the act or behavior (or thought!) consciously so that we may improve or maintain our proficiency through observation and calibration. The trick, skill, or discipline is to see things newly (no matter how many times we have done something before) and to stay present -- in the Now. Developing a consistent practice can be every bit as challenging as establishing or breaking a habit!

Whether our goal is to reach mastery in either habit or practice, it takes time and repeated effort. At first, it will be cumbersome and unnatural. Therefore, the repetition! Eventually our repetition yields a habit we can do unconsciously or a practice we benefit from doing with attention and intention.

We work to free our mind so we can concentrate on other things through habit. With a practice, we focus on only one thing to free our mind from other things. One is by default, the other intentional, asleep vs. awake. A habit limits growth; a practice fosters it.

Excerpt from Journey Back to Me

“Eventually, thoughts can become habits or beliefs. Beliefs are no more than a persistent thought, slowly solidified over time, similar to how sediment accumulated over time becomes a rock. We think the thought so many times, it becomes solid, unmovable. Even though the thought may not be true, it becomes truth for us. Do you see those rocks in the Pit of the Past? Those are some of your beliefs.”

What? I scrutinize the rocks, hoping to understand which beliefs they represent.

“But, just as with all of us, most of our rocks, or beliefs, are hidden from view. Some lurk below the surface or hide in the background, and we bump up against them time and time again. Others are right in front of our faces, but we don’t’ see them.”

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