Some years ago, a friend of mine found herself in a ditch of depression. In a burst of insight, she wrote down all the things that made her feel good. Leaning back in her chair, staring at the list, she realized she wasn’t taking part in any of them.
Reflecting on what made her feel good – exercising on the treadmill, cooking a healthy dinner, hiking with a friend, or reading a good book – helped my friend create a plan to move forward.
It also made her realize that her happiness was founded on many small things that added up to the big thing of well-being.
In other words, her well-being was a practice of engaging in activities, skills, habits, and routines, which when done consistently, created a desirable outcome.
For many of us, practicing anything is akin to cleaning the kitchen grout with a toothbrush. We want to get to the end but don’t enjoy the journey. As a result, practice gets a bad rap. Images of seven-year-olds playing eardrum-splitting notes on the piano come to mind.
Several years ago, though, it occurred to me that everything worthwhile in life is a practice that doesn’t result in an end but instead is an ongoing process of engagement, struggle, and reward.
Rather than being a dreaded chore, framing things within the context of a practice is a way to live a rich, meaningful life and discover yourself on a deeper level.
“Practice immerses you in your daily self – this body, these moods,” wrote author Glenn Kurtz in his book Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music. “Practicing is the truth of who you are, today, as you strive to change, to make yourself better, to become someone new.”
Kurtz was writing about musicianship. But we can construe almost any endeavor as a practice.
A good marriage is a practice built upon habits of care, interest, and connection with your spouse. Optimal nutrition is the practice of eating your broccoli and avoiding Twinkies, and learning a few things about the science behind healthy eating. Meditation is something that we can master but are continually in the process of practicing. We can make well-being a practice, too.
Often when we’re down in the dumps, lonely, or out of shape, we have only a dim awareness of how we got there. Certainly not always, but sometimes the states we’d prefer not to be in result from not practicing the behaviors that keep them at bay.
Loneliness, for example, has a way of creeping up on us. But often we become lonely because we haven’t practiced the social skills – talking with friends or neighbors, planning gatherings, or prioritizing time with others – to create a reliable web of social support.
Whenever you find yourself in a psychological, emotional, or physical state you’d prefer not to be in, take stock of what wholesome habits you haven’t practiced and what deleterious ones you have. Maybe like my friend, you can create a list of the activities, skills, etc. that make up your unique brand of well-being.
It also helps to think of practicing anything as a worthwhile endeavor in and of itself rather than a means to an end. Doing so gives you permission to stumble and pick yourself up again, and endure the ups and downs that are part of learning, mastery, and maintaining the skills of whatever it is we’re practicing.
The famed cellist Pablo Casals said that practicing his cello filled him with an awareness of the wonder of life and with the feeling of what an incredible marvel it is to be human. Making a practice of well-being will likely do the same.
On My Mind
Sometimes, pausing and asking ourselves some pointed questions can help us make our well-being a dedicated practice.
Photojournalist Brooke Adams created a handy list of questions to keep herself grounded during the early days of lockdowns and quarantines at the beginning of the COVID-19.
And they still serve as a valuable guide in fostering healthy habits as we begin to see light at the end of what’s been a long pandemic tunnel.
To make a practice of well-being ask yourself the following:
What am I grateful for today?
Who am I checking in on or connecting with today?
What expectations of “normal” am I letting go of today?
How am I getting outside today?
How am I moving my body today?
What beauty am I creating, cultivating, or inviting in today?