UPDATE NOTE: Read my more recent post, “The Right Tools for the Job” before diving into Daily Practice. You’ll get more out of it. I’ll rewrite this post, soon to make it more effective.
I’m not going to bullshit you.
I’m terrified of growing old, alone, having contributed little to the world. And this kind of fear can be paralyzing — crippling even.
On this surreal, psychedelic rollercoaster we call life, I have figured out how to create lasting joy and fulfillment that is as un-sexy-sounding as it is effective.
The big, gnarly secret isn’t about the “ah-ha!” moments, the big breakthroughs, magic tricks, pump-ups, rousing speeches, bold moves, or sudden revelations. These are sexy and seductive and necessary — but not the most important or lasting.
The real secret magic is Daily Practice.
“Daily Practice” is more than a checklist of things you do every day, no matter what.
It does start with a checklist, but it’s so much more than that.
The oft-quoted and oft-paraphrased Miyamoto Musashi said something along the lines of “When you see the way in one thing, you see the way in all things.”
And that’s what the Daily Practice is about, once you spend time refining it.
Next, commit to living a life that fulfills you and makes you happy. By “commit”, I mean talk to the Cosmic Oneness and make a contract/oath/vow. Roll on the ground and cry your eyes dry if you have to. Whatever you do, commit to a life of inspired living.
Because once you are on the path of living a shining, happy, magical life, there’s no turning back to loserville (unless you wimp out and give up — but you can choose to stop cheating yourself at any time and get back on track).
What are the keys to an effective Daily Practice?
Understand that most of our behavior is us living on autopilot, waking ourselves up just enough to mush gravy into our mouths, find a way to not crash the car or fall in front of a train or burn the house down, and quietly fade into the background as survival needs are met and social obligations are kept.
Most people live on autopilot and, sadly, die on autopilot.
Key 1 is about taking responsibility for yourself and being proactive about living a fulfilling life.
Almost everything in life exists outside of your control, but, if you really want it, you can take control of three things: How you think and how you act — and why.
Everything else, you will have to release and let go of.
The past is a fantasy — we perceive less than 1% of what happens around us, remember less than 1% of that, and then those memories are only used to reinforce our thinking (or, for proactive types, to give us more to think about when we’re maintaining and repairing our subconscious). For the most part, we remember what we think about what happened — not what actually happened. A total fantasy.
The future is a delusion. Nobody on Earth knows if s/he will wake up tomorrow. You might not. I might not. Every plan we’ve ever made has played out differently than we imagined, even when it’s been darn close. Planning isn’t bad — in fact, it’s a useful tool when it’s used sparingly — but it’s important to keep in mind that the future is a total delusion. The more you live in the future, the more deluded you are. If you want to build a castle, you’ll have to do it in real time, in the real world.
Key 2 is the process of consciously claiming your habits and replacing habits that don’t work for you with habits that do.
Don’t feel guilty or beat yourself up for “bad” habits. Every unclaimed habit you have is an autopilot attempt at fulfilling a need you have, whether it’s physical, emotional, or spiritual. Pay attention to the needs your habits are trying to address and consciously choose habits that address those needs, but in a healthy, nourishing, inspiring way.
For example, if you eat cake every day because it reminds you of a time as a kid when you and your granny would bake cakes and it makes you feel warm and loved and happy, don’t get mad at yourself for eating too much cake. Instead, find out what needs cake is fulfilling and replace the cake habit with something that addresses the same needs. In this example, you might also feel warm and loved when you volunteer a few hours a week at a local homeless shelter. Or, if you can’t shake free from granny’s shadow, maybe you and granny also spent time knitting together. Daily knitting is better for your health than daily cake!
Some habits weave together with others as a web to address a blanket of overlapping needs. In these instances, create as many new habits as you need to. And if you have a hard time tracking down memories of how your habits (really, your “personality”) came to be, check out my Turn Your Life Around post and follow the steps outlined there.
The point here is that habits can — and should — be a completely conscious choice. And how you act (including how you react) is one of the few things in life you can actually have total control over.
New habits need daily repetition before they “stick”. Scientists say that new habits can take as little as 9 days (!!!) or as much as 3 weeks of steady reinforcement before they leave the world of “faking it” and enter the world of “making it”.
You can try something for 3 weeks, right? If you live to be 90, 3 weeks isn’t a lot of time.
Trying to “pump yourself up” to do something you know is good for you will almost never work unless this new activity addresses a need — and it’s much more likely to stick if you actively eliminate an unwanted habit that clumsily addresses the same need.
Key 3 is about beliefs.
As with Habits, people tend to believe things on autopilot, without a lot of thought or reflection. A priest once told me that “the mightiest faith comes with the mightiest doubts.”
Whatever you believe, you are better off taking conscious control of what you think.
Why do you believe what you believe? Because you inherited it from your parents? Because a teacher drilled it into your head in school? Because of your favorite TV shows or books or video games?
There are 3 ways a belief can earn a spot in your brain:
1) Conditioned thinking.
This happens when you’re on autopilot and simply consuming the information you’re given every day and believing it.
It usually starts in childhood when personality is formed in order to deal with the dangers and challenges of being a child and continues as trusted loved ones push their religion(s), biases, and fears onto their still-malleable offspring (and sometimes as a rebellious lashing out against this pushing). These beliefs crystallize and set in motion a life of neurosis and disappointment — as long as you stay on autopilot.
If people who spend their lives studying a subject have overwhelming proof to support their positions, they are probably close to right — certainly closer than people who don’t understand the elementary basics.
The nice thing about facts is that they are flexible enough that they change when data supports alternative views. The only danger in factual thinking is that nobody can have all the answers to everything through hard data alone and people tend to be defensive about and biased toward/against their favorite facts.
It is our responsibility as people to consider that any fact today that seems set in stone could become a silly relic of antiquated thinking tomorrow (and sometimes those silly relics have a way of coming back around to becoming accepted facts again — ask Carl Jung’s ghost).
That said, it is important to acknowledge consensual reality because, whether we like it or not, other people do exist.
Experience is the most fun because it can thrash conditioned thinking (sometimes it is experience that wakes us up out of autopilot in the first place) and run completely counter to consensual reality.
If science says that leprechauns don’t exist, but a leprechaun shows up at my window every night to give me hot stock tips, should I pretend that my experience isn’t valid and ignore the leprechaun’s advice? Well, if his investment tips are terrible, I might want to ask him some probing questions, at least. Seriously, if you are a stock broker and a leprechaun tells you the right investments to make and he’s right 90% of the time, who’s to argue?
Experience is also the scariest because it involves taking the risk that comes with actually living instead of bumbling around as an extra in someone else’s movie. Being a hero isn’t an easy job, is it?
Remember, anything you believe today should be completely open for inspection, adjustment, and/or a good toss into the trash bin. Beliefs should never be anything more than “what I think might be true right now, but I’m open to suggestions.”
A nice belief (that, as far as I can tell, is absolutely true): “You can be almost anyone you want to be and do almost anything you want to do. It’s up to you.”
Key 4 is about patience and discipline.
Key 4 is where we start making lists and refining our process. This is the part where it starts to feel like gardening: you plant the seeds, nurture them, and gently guide the sproutlings toward full plant-hood.
It’s at this point that you should write out two lists:
1) Things I’m going to do five days per week, every day, no matter what.
For my own list, I include: Product Development (work on stuff I want to create or actually create it), Artistic Development (I paint, write, make music, design and a ton of other stuff — and do something to make myself better in some area), something social (with real people, not just “social media”), something physical (I’ve been a fan of push-ups lately), brainstorming (I suggest you always have a notebook and pen on you), correspondence and scheduling, meditation, at least one frog (an annoying or daunting task that makes me go “ugh”) before lunch, community development (because I seriously love you guys and gals), and a handful of other, more personal things.
Some items are vague (so that I feel flexible enough to do the specific thing I am most passionate about or have the toughest deadline for) and some are specific (why make “meditation” more abstract than it needs to be?).
But the most important thing is to hold yourself accountable. Get every thing on the list done, no matter what (unless you are seriously ill or on vacation). If you mess up a day, then you have to add a day that’s normally a day “off”.
By doing the work every day, the goal isn’t to revolutionize yourself completely every time.
The goal is to evolve yourself by at least 1%. Every day. No matter what. This is surprisingly easy to do.
I say 5 days a week, because I need a day to rest and a day to completely bliss out. Otherwise, I burn out and quickly. Most days, I spend 12-18 hours on my list. Because I love my life and I love my purpose.
Like everyone, I have bad days and tough weeks. When I have an ugly day, I knock out a minimalist version of my list that only takes a couple of hours and spend some time airing out the ugly.
Some weeks require more rest, more silly bliss time, or both. But I don’t cut my list, hyphenate it, or cheat myself. I do everything on it — just a quick version of the time-consuming tasks (I might spend 10 minutes on product development instead of 10 hours, for example).
2) Things I’m going to do at regular intervals.
There are certain activities that don’t require daily repetition.
For example, I go to the gym 2-3 days per week (aiming for 3). To make sure I force myself to go, I pay for a membership I can just barely afford and I set aside specific days and times. If something urgent comes up and I have to skip a day, I never allow myself to skip 2 (unless I’m sick, hurt, or on vacation).
I advise you to do a personality check-up (“Are stuck personality traits getting in my way?”) and to have a regular schedule where you do some house cleaning in your subconscious and knock out those pesky personality gremlins. I schedule a psychedelic experience every now and then, but your methods should reflect your “you”.
Most importantly, you need to regularly evaluate and revise your Daily Practice. Spending too much time playing the violin and no time learning to train cats? Tinker with your list a bit. Also, take time to refine and revitalize your purpose (“Why am I training cats?”). If your ‘why’ feels off, tinker with it.
Another thing I do on the regular is read. I soak up 1-3 books per week. I advise you to do the same. Read about things that excite your imagination, inspire you, and/or nurture your growth.
Spend quiet time in nature. Everyone’s circumstances are different, but be sure to do this as much as you can. I’m in NYC at the moment, so this is a challenge for me; but I’m working on it!
There are tons of other things to consider here. So… consider them.
Make it part of your Practice.
Key 5 is about passion and pleasure.
If your path isn’t fun, you’re either doing it wrong or you’re on the wrong path.
I don’t mean that everything you do is going to be a garden of singing gnomes granting wishes. Sometimes life is painful or frightening or disgusting or worse. Everybody’s life sucks sometimes. That’s just part of being an animal. It’s probably part of being a plant, too, but they don’t like to talk about it.
I mean that your life should be fun. The activities you choose should bring you pleasure more often than not.
I paint because I love painting. I write because I love writing. I box because I love boxing. Et cetera.
Sure, sometimes I waste paint and make a mess. Sometimes I make tipe-oze and don’t notice them until it’s too late or send broken links to my social media. Sometimes I jam my thumb on the heavy bag or break a toenail doing burpees. Some days, I’m a klutz and a bungler. It happens.
Passion is what gets you through the hard parts of building and living an awesome life. Pleasure is why we keep doing it even as the failures and rejections pile up and overflow (failure and rejection are amazingly valuable opportunities for learning and growth, by the way — don’t shrink from either).
There’s so much more I can say as this is a rich topic that I literally think about every day.
Daily Practice is the secret way to live a happy, fulfilling, and, often times, thrilling life. It isn’t the sexiest answer. It’s not a magic pill or an easy fix. But it WORKS.
It f-ing works!
I apologize for writing a book here. Maybe this will turn into an actual book. I have enough notes and materials… If you need it, I’ll write it.