What Are You Practicing?

If only I still looked like that!

I was gymnast for many years growing up.

And in gymnastics, like many other sports, when you are training to learn a new skill, you can’t just simply get up and do it. First you must break down the skill into components – simpler, smaller movements we called “drills”.

Each day we would consciously practice those specific movements in a very deliberate way, and we would repeat those movements over and over again – sometimes thousands of times. But eventually, through sheer repetition, we would become good at those movements. And once you had mastered the various “drills”, you could link them together and be able to pull off the skill.

I think our entire lives are a bit like that…

Each day we repeat movements – thought patterns, ways of interacting with others. And in this repeated practice, we are becoming (or have already become) good at these things.

And so if you constantly swear or use bad language, that is a practice, and you are forming that habit. When you gossip, or speak rudely to others, or lose your temper, this is something you are practicing to be good at.

You may already be good at these things. I know I am.

And so of course the big question is, WHAT ARE YOU PRACTICING?

Because we might have all the good intentions to be or look a certain way, or to end up in a certain place, but the harsh reality is that we become good at what we repeatedly do.

In other words, we become the sum of our daily habits.

And so, what if, instead of practicing the bad stuff that holds us back, we consciously and intentionally started to practice the things we really want to be good at? Things like self-control, patience, kindness, peace, forgiveness…

Then, as we link those “movements” together, we will be able to pull off the greatest skill of all: To live well.


This post was inspired by an article I read at Zen Habits.

24 Replies to “What Are You Practicing?”

  1. This is what the idea/thought/understanding I feel people forget about from day to day. It’s only when we’re struck by our bad habit that we might again remember “Wait, how did I get here? Oh right. I’ve been doing this for a while.”

    Most of what we do is habit or, as you say here, practice. 🙂

    Thanks for the gentle and positive reminder!


  2. A good way to see how you are thinking and acting is to see what is happening in your life and directly around you. If you always seem to be around people that complain all the time, chances are that you also complain a lot, same with if you seem to be around people who laugh a lot, it is very likely that you also laugh a lot. As you suggested focus on the good things and you will find more good things will happen.


  3. I like the comparison of gymnastics to real life. I totally know what you mean, I remember the days of drills and drills and drills, until you finally had them down enough to attempt the actual skill. Vaults ring a bell most for me 🙂 I think I need to start reminding myself of all of this daily…oh the things gymnastics can teach us!


  4. Hi Tom,

    In this blog you speak about things which are issues of the heart (anger, forgiveness, etc). Jesus said that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). I am interested to know how you see the role of these practices in addressing the deeper issues of the heart?


    1. Well, ultimately, my opinion is that we need Jesus to truly transform our hearts. But I believe we can fight this process, or aid it – by practicing the things Jesus teaches us to practice. Forgiveness, and letting go of prejudice, and generosity, and and and… are practices. We may not always feel like doing them, but as we seek to be obedient and do them anyway, we create space for God to do a work in our hearts, and in a way we expand our ability to reflect God in our generosity/forgiveness etc…

      Phil 4:8 jumps to mind:

      And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into PRACTICE all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

      hope that answers your question


      1. Wow, great Scripture Tom. I have never read it in the way that you pointed out, thanks for that.

        So, the way that I understand what you are saying is that Jesus is the primary agent in transformation as He works on our heart, and we fight or aid this process through our practice (as the secondary agent). Have I understood you correctly, or am I letting my own beliefs shape my interpretation of what you have said?


  5. Hi, pastor! I took the liberty of posting one of your texts on my blog. It’s the one called The First Thing You Should Do In 2012. My blog is in Portuguese, so I translated what you wrote into my language. I think that may help some readers, just like it inspired me. But I thought… If it is not okay to you that I do that, please let me know. I don’t wanna violate any right or something like that. Of course, I mention on my blog that you are the author of the text, and I give people the link to your blog and I also respected the links you chose to set on your original post. Thank you for your atention! Blessings.


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