Seeing life as practice

We're talking about practice, not the game – Allen Iverson

In 2016, I surmised that life is about self-mastery — closing the gap between how one intends to act and how one actually acts.

I love this summation because it focuses on intentional action while sneaking in the important question of “How do I even determine how I intend to act?”. That said, the focus of this writing is the status of the gap in my life.

My candid self-assessment is my imagination is writing big, well-intentioned checks in moments of inspiration that my body cannot cash.

I notice that whenever I imagine my future self, I imagine a me that is great at a skill I don't currently possess (like playing the piano or being present in every conversation with my partner) or has achieved some great thing that my present self hasn't yet (like publishing a work of fiction). Most of all, I imagine my future self feeling as though I am living well and ultimately dying well. I am someone that I am proud of.

And yet, I generally lack the stick-to-itiveness to realize most of these visions in either body, action or creative work. Moments of inspiration inspire me to start acting but they are not enough to sustain action.

In the Netflix documentary, Stutz, therapist Phil Stutz shares that there are aspects of reality that no one can avoid: Pain, Uncertainty and Constant Work. Trying to avoid any one of these aspects leads to unhappiness. I realize I have been avoiding the Constant Work aspect of reality. Doing something without inspiration feels like work!

I am confronting the reality that life is primarily filled with uninspired stretches, a thick foundation of “I don't feel like it” sprinkled with dots of inspiration. I've been subconsciously expecting to live inspired all the time when the reality is I'm not always inspired. I'm not inspired when it's 5:45 in the morning. I'm not inspired after a long day at work. I'm not inspired when all I want to do is order junk food and watch video essays on YouTube. Living in head isn't of confronting the reality of my action.

The reality of my actions is long list of unpublished drafts, unshipped products and the pangs of envy I feel whenever I encounter someone living exactly as they imagined from themselves. They are living boldly, living unapologetically, living free. The reality is I think of myself as a person with a ton of ideas but I have nothing to show for it except great conversation. Not even a published blog.

This post itself is an example of me writing in a very inspired moment. I imagine a future in which I have an active blog containing collections of my personal writings that I can share with my loved ones, my friends and my children. At its best, my blog is a travel log of my journey through life. In it, I have wrestled with reality itself: the reality of my self, the reality of others, the reality of the universe. And most importantly, the reality of my practice — how I chose to act each day.

How can I close the gap and start acting? How do I prevent this blog post from being my last?

By thinking about life primarily as practice, instead of a concept. Life is constant work. I find it insightful (and fun) to use the sport of basketball as a metaphor for life. Professional basketball players practice the majority of the time. A practice session can last several hours, but an actual game is only 48 minutes!

Why practice so much?

Practice is becoming.

Practice is precisely about closing the gap between how you intend to act on the basketball court and how you actually act. You want to hit a three-pointer with a defender's hand in your face? Practice those situations. If not, you become the kind of player that takes those shots but misses hit them. Practice is about becoming the kind of player that has instinctively executes the set of actions required to win basketball games.

Practice is consciously deciding how you intend to act in various basketball situations, recreating those situations and executing the intended movement repeatedly so that during game time situations, you become the kind of player that instinctively executes the set of actions required to win basketball games.

What does practice look like for me to become the kind of person with an active blog? It should look like writing and publishing weekly.

Practice is always purposeful but not always fun.

Framing life as practice helps it removes any expectation that following a practice should be fun. I don't need to enjoy it. The motivation to practice comes from purpose. I must believe that my practice (if sustained) will close the gap between how I intend to act and how I actually act. If I'm struggling to show up to practice, that's a cue to interrogate my stated intention: do I still want (read: intend) to be an elite basketball player? If yes, show up to practice. If not, you realize your first love is baseball, quit basketball and go do baseball... like Michael Jordan did.

Practice is for mistakes.

Players can't practice without implicitly acknowledging that they are not perfect. Practice is to identify those mistakes by doing and fixing the mistakes through more doing. You will see mistakes in an NBA practice session. Life lesson for me is that I will make mistakes. My fear of mistakes forces me to retreat into my head where perfect work/act exists. But alas, I cannot live in my head. I intend to be a writer. So I need to write... even if it's not perfect. In this practice framework, I can see more clearly the need for self-compassion for my past and future mistakes. Mistakes are part of living. The soothing balm comes from maintaining a practice to close the gap, like a monk who returns each night on bended knee, praying “forgive us our debts.”

Practice never ends.

Steph Curry, unanimously regarded as the best shooter of all time, holds the all-time 3-pointers made record, and yet still takes a minimum of 250 a day, plus another 100 before every game. Remaining a top player means continuing to become a top player.

Curry will never arrive as a shooter until he retires from professional basketball. I will never arrive as a person. And yet paradoxically, the moment I let the despair of that knowledge seize my practice, I will never be who I intend to be.

I imagine the joy from practice is lived backwards. It will come from looking back upon the actions I have taken, including the practice itself, and realizing that I actually am the person I intended to be.

I captured this idea in short poem called Finding Voice:

i wrote to find my voice And in finding my voice i was using my voice all along