A few years ago for my 40th birthday, I gave myself the gift of voice lessons. The first several weeks were a rude awakening. I, who had always loved to sing, couldn't open my mouth properly, articulate vowels correctly, or command my tongue to occupy its assigned position at the bottom of my mouth. Try as I might, I seemed unable to achieve the results I sought. I was sorely tempted to quit.

Fortunately I persisted, and that is how I began to penetrate the mystery of practice. I had always thought that practice connoted the repetition of something you were good at. My early learning and competitive endeavors were concentrated in areas in which I knew I could excel. (I once believed that I was not competitive, only to realize that I only competed when I knew I could win!) I practiced only those activities in which I already possessed some level of skill and could expect steady improvement.

"Freed from aspiration and achievement, practice becomes valuable in and of itself."

It is chastening to face one's limitations on a daily basis--chastening, but not fatal. I learned to detach my commitment to practice from its short term results. I gradually became more present when practicing, because there was no particular profit to looking at my past performance (which was not much different from the present) or anticipating future progress (which seemed theoretical at best). Practice became valuable in and of itself, freed from its ties to aspiration and achievement.

Eventually, my vowels emerged with clarity and-wonder of wonders-my tongue began to obey my commands. Although I know that these advances are the result of daily practice, they are the least of its fruits.

What are you practicing now?

Author's Bio: 

Hundreds of articles, quotes and exercises for self improvement are available free at molly's web site, http://www.mollygordon.com. For free e-newsletter, write newleaf@coachladybug.com.