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Unleash Your Artistic Optimist, Part VII: Practice Makes Progress

It’s the last minute of the big basketball game. I watch a player set up for a 3-point shot. He misses. His face crumples, and he slumps onto the floor. I’ve seen him miss that shot in practice, but that time he fought for the rebound. Why did he bounce back in practice, but assume defeat in the game?

When you view something as a one-shot opportunity, you’re prone to pigeonhole your performance as a success or failure, leaving no room to grow.

The smart way to reflect on your actions is to consider what you can do better next time. Think about the basketball player. Is it useful if he labels himself a loser forevermore, just because he missed one shot? No! It is useful to look back at the factors that impacted that situation and see what he can tweak so that next time he’s more likely to sink the basket. This strategy applies to you even if you don’t play sports: Focus on learning from rather than judging your past (or yourself).

Your next challenge as an Artistic Optimist is to see your actions as practice rather than one-time-only performances. They say life isn’t a dress rehearsal. Well, it’s not opening night, either. It’s more helpful to think of working towards your goals as practice. This is because when you’re practicing, there’s no need to be arrogant nor self-critical. If you think of your actions as practice, then there’s always hope for you to improve and incentive for you to grow. That’s optimism in action!

How can you keep your eyes off the prize and on the practice?

  1. Get curious. When you’re practicing, you ask yourself, “What can I learn here that might help me do better?” Look for the experiences and people who might teach you something.
  2. Experiment (and make mistakes). In the context of practice, mistakes are no sweat. It’s just what happens when you try something and it doesn’t work the way you thought it would. If you never make mistakes, challenge yourself to take reasonable risks that could elevate your learning and growth to a higher level.
  3. Act humble. Humility is taking up as much space as you need, and no more. If you tend to think you can do no wrong, create space for the possibility of someone else being right. If you’re convinced you can’t do anything right, allow yourself to be imperfect and encourage yourself to keep trying.
  4. (Re)gain perspective. Is any one decision, one action, one moment, or one basketball really your only chance to do something worthwhile? Of course not! Every drop in the ocean matters, but it’s only one drop.

As a practicing Artistic Optimist, you learn to experience the moment, learn from it, and then apply what you’ve learned to future practice. If you treat your life like practice, you’ll maintain your motivation to work hard towards your goals without being sidelined by self-judgments. Keep calm and practice on!

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