The Art of Practicing Yourself

The Art of Practicing Yourself

I couldn’t believe that my editor deleted the phrase “practice yourself” from my last column. She said readers wouldn’t understand the concept. I balked, then remembered that in 2009 when I offered a course called The Art of Practicing You, I received no responses. Nada! Zippo!

So I ask: Do you know what it means to practice yourself?

Chances are, maybe not. The times are a-changing, though. As coaches influence both personal and corporate life, more people are learning the value of awareness and authenticity. They’re consciously choosing the qualities with which to infuse their living. They’re practicing living life with intention.

And living with intention takes practice. Even corporate super star and Chicago resident Janet Foutty, executive chair of the Deloitte US board of directors, recently offered three practices for thriving to a crowd of business leaders at the Executives’ Club of Chicago. The practices came from a book detailing seven practices, which Foutty wrote in collaboration with Susan MacKenty Brady and Lynn Perry Wooten, PhD. The three practices Foutty shared with the Executives’ Club? 

Be authentic. 

Be courageous. 

Invest in your best self.  

You likely recognize the concept of practice. We practice sports to improve our skills. We practice smiles, head tilts, and arm positions for photos. We practice speeches. And prowess in music comes with practice. 

Practice — the kind that allows you to evolve — is not about repeated repetition, expecting a different outcome. That would be insane, right? Practice is about bringing variation and nuance into each new iteration, to know the possibilities. 

In my late 20s, choreographer Jan Erkert said to me, “Kathleen, I know you can execute the movement correctly. What I want to see, though, is you in the movement. Dance beyond the choreography.”  

Me? Who was I if I wasn’t trying to meet others’ expectations of me or an image of who I thought I should be?

The courage to explore and discover me, according to and for me, began as I studied engineer and physicist Moshe Feldenkrais’s ideas about learning, unlearning, and relearning — all through awareness, movement, imagination, variation, differentiation, and imposed constraints. 

Yes, constraints. Whether imposed consciously or not, from the environment or within, constraints — such as those we faced collectively during Covid — can force us to change perspective, alter behavior, reassess values, and expand our capacity. 

This is all part of practicing yourself, figuring out what you value. I suggest coming up with five core values, compiled after a couple of weeks of noticing what is important to you, what is imperative. My core values currently: free, loving, innocence, curiosity, and truth. 

Once you have your values, take another two weeks to notice how often and when you live your values. Are they the truth of you? Feel free to tweak or change.

When you notice anxiety, hesitation, or pain, bring one or more of your core values into your practice of you. For instance, when I get together with certain people, I have an old pre-meeting habit of self-talk that belittles me and the people with whom I’m gathering. 

Values to the rescue! Through free, I remember that I have a choice to get together or not. I use my innocence, curiosity, and loving to imagine our engagement’s potential joy, playfulness, honoring, and fascination. Yes, it is just as easy to imagine enjoyment as it is to project yuckiness. Positivity will likely beget more positivity.

Remember not to bully yourself into living your values. Invite yourself. Allow for failure; it’s a great opportunity for realizing nuance and clarity. 

Know that we all practice different values. If, for example, free is an imperative for me, then I’m not free if I’m holding others to my perspectives. I use curiosity and innocence as go-tos for ensuring that I show up practicing my other values. 

The gift? Practicing awareness and living values lets our best self emerge and shine. Then, not only can we realize our immense individual capacity but that of humanity’s as well. 

Cheers to practicing yourself and living your best self, the foundation for true health.

Originally published in the Spring/Summer 2023 print issue.