Practice Makes Perfect – and Permanent – Only if Practice is Perfect

March 20, 2019

by Alden Mills

We all know that practice, or repetition, is the “mother of perfection,” but the old adage that “practice makes perfect” holds true only if that practice is perfect. The fact is that practice builds a habit, and a habit can be helpful or harmful when it comes to pursuing your goal. If you don’t pay close attention and give proper care to each practice opportunity, then you might very well find yourself going backwards, because the habit you build is hurting your forward progress. In SEAL Team, they overwhelmingly prefer candidates who never have shot a gun over those who have—in most cases (but not all), the candidates arrive with bad shooting habits. Starting from scratch to teach someone a new habit is easier than breaking an old habit before building a new one.

The “Practice Makes Permanent” Principle

The “practice makes permanent” principle applies to your success habits. Do you start off strong, but falter, only to flail and eventually fail to achieve your goal? How many times have you set New Year’s Resolutions, only to find yourself forgetting about them by the end of January? We’ve all done this—you’re not alone, so don’t beat yourself up. Instead, build yourself a new habit—the habit of practicing commitment. We lose energy toward a goal only because we lose our focus—It’s like we don’t have any more energy. In reality, however, we have more energy than we even know is possible. Your brain will try to convince you that you’re tired—that you need to take it easy—but that’s a lie. You can always rally and muster more energy, even if it’s just for a minute.

One Minute Each Day to Focus on Your Goal

In fact, a minute is all I want you to take. One minute each day to focus on your goal—what it means to you and why it’s important. Ask yourself, “Why does this goal deserve my energy?” “What do I stand to gain from achieving it?” “How will I feel when I succeed?” And equally important, “How will my success impact those I care most about, such as family, teammates or co-workers?” Practice your commitment before you pour your energy into taking action. Find something or create something that comes to represent the importance of this goal.

The Japanese use Daruma figures as constant reminders of their goal. It’s a wonderful symbol—a paper-mache red-and-white eyeless Buddha-like head of Bodhidharma, a sage from the 5th-6th century. You fill in one white eye socket with a black marker and the fat little head stares at you with one eye—When your goal is achieved, you fill in the other eye. I write my goal (and date it) underneath and place the Daruma on my bedside table, where I’ll see it first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Sometimes, the Daruma comes with me and keeps me company at my desk while I do battle with myself when writing a book. It represents my commitment and my “why”—it’s my reminder of why I’m taking action. I especially find it useful when I’ve taken several actions only to learn that those actions weren’t the ones that moved me as far forward as I had hoped.

Whether you purchase yourself a Daruma, make a note, create code word or knight a stuffed animal with your commitment, it doesn’t matter the object; what matters is your practice of committing yourself daily to going All-in, Moving forward.

Alden Mills

Against all odds, leadership speaker Alden Mills conquered asthma in his youth then persisted to accomplish extraordinary things. Alden became a nationally-ranked rower, a 3-time Navy SEAL platoon commander, CEO of one of the fastest growing companies in America, and author of Be Unstoppable and Unstoppable Teams. In doing it all, Alden failed more times than he succeeded. He brings his remarkable lessons learned and true-life stories to audiences everywhere — to inspire and equip them to achieve more than they ever thought possible.