This post is part four of a series of posts on the psychological and practical benefits of daily practice to be found on my Psychology Today blog. In this series, I’ll explore the elements of daily practice, varieties of daily practice, challenges to daily practice, and strategies for meeting those challenges. Please join me in learning more about this important subject! Complete information can be found in The Power of Daily Practice.
Q. What is a daily practice?
A. A daily practice is the formal way that you pay daily attention to something that is important to you. You can have more than one daily practice, if several things are important to you, say writing your novel, maintaining your recovery from an alcohol addiction, and practicing yoga. It is a time carved out from the day where you pay real attention, it has a beginning and an end, and it is characterized by certain specific elements of practice.
Q. Well, then, isn’t a daily practice the same as “writing every day” or “meditating every day”?
A. Not exactly, though if you are writing every day or meditating every day you probably do have a daily practice in place. But “daily practice” is a different sort of idea and a different sort of thing. Daily practice is time you carve out independent of what you do with that time. It is the very idea of carving out time. It could have any sort of content, anything you find important. It is like having a drawer in your dresser that you dedicate to your important things and that always contains something worth keeping separate. What’s in the drawer may change but you don’t put junk in it. Maybe it’s even empty sometimes. But it’s still separate from all the other drawers, special, if you like that word, or sacred, if you like that word.
Q. But doesn’t that mean that the content of a daily practice might change every day? Where’s the consistency or power in that?
A. No, because this isn’t like changing hats or changing your mind. While theoretically the content could change frequently or daily, in practice it won’t. Your intention is to pursue something important, namely living your life purposes, and while your life purposes may and do change, they do not change daily. If one of your life purposes is to get your novel written, that life purpose doesn’t change daily. If one of your life purposes is maintain recovery from an alcohol addiction, that life purpose doesn’t change daily. If one of your life purposes is to defend liberty, that life purpose doesn’t change daily. So, you will not be constantly changing the content of your practice. You will be working on that novel month in and month out, paying attention to your recovery month in and month out, or being an activist in support of liberty month in and month out. That’s where the power and consistency come from, from your intention to live your life purposes.
Q. How long is a daily practice?
A. Any length under the sun. It might be as short as a certain breathing-and-thinking centering sequence that takes half-a-minute. It might be hours of writing or hours of piano practice. It could be three different daily practices of differing lengths. It could even be all of the time, if you live your life that intentionally and mindfully. Your life could be a series of daily practices, which would functionally mean that you were living your life purposes all the time.
Q. What exactly am I doing during my daily practice?
A. That is as varied and various as the things that human beings can do. You might sit there writing your novel. You might practice your musical instrument. You might visualize forgiving an enemy or practice loving kindness. You might do the chores associated with building your business. You might practice contentment through ritual and ceremony. You might go on an inner journey. You might go out every day and visit your elderly aunt. You might meditate or do yoga or tai-chi. You might engage in an hour of political activism. It might take two minutes or two hours. Whatever you deem important can be translated into a daily practice.
Q. Do I have to do it at home, in private?
A. Absolutely not. In fact, you might construct a daily practice that must be done out in the world, for example a personality upgrade practice that requires that you manifest your new personality in the world, in real time. Maybe your daily practice is to devote your lunch break to really relaxing, or to be of service at an emergency nursery, or to perform folk songs in a neighborhood park. Your daily practice can happen anywhere.
Q. Is a daily practice always about doing something?
A. That depends on whether or not you consider being calm, being content, being passionate, or being anything “doing” or “being.” If your daily practice centers around sending loving kindness energy into the world or practicing forgiveness, is that about “doing”? In whatever way that you hold the distinction between “doing” and “being,” your daily practice certainly need not be only about “doing” in the sense of running a mile, writing a thousand words, or making ten business calls.
Q. Is a daily practice more about repeating something, more about getting good at something, or more about making progress?
A. That will depend on your particular practice, your particular intentions, and your particular goals (including the goal of not having a goal). For example, your relationship-building practice, where you visit your elderly aunt every afternoon, may not be the sort of practice where your intention is to “get good at it” or “make progress with it.” Your evening practice, however, when you work on your screenplay for an hour, may well have built into it the hope that your screenplay moves forward. In both instances, the core concept is showing up.
Q. Is daily practice connected to Buddhism or to any other spiritual or religious practice?
A. No. It connects to the philosophy of life I’ve developed over the years that I’ve dubbed kirisim, but it is completely independent of any spiritual or religious practice and independent of kirism as well. It is a stand-alone beneficial practice. As an analogy, some philosophical, spiritual or religious tradition might make the demand that you meditate daily. But deciding to meditate daily is separate and distinct from that demand and, being your decision, would be up to you to devise, design, and execute.
Q. Should every day’s practice be identical in terms of time spent on it?
A. No. One day you might spend twenty minutes writing your novel. Another day you might spend four hours. One day you might attend an AA meeting far from your home, which takes you three hours roundtrip. Another day you might attend a nearby meeting and be home in an hour. One day you might do your full meditation practice or your full yoga practice and another day you might do a shortened version, either because of time constraints or because the shortened version feels right. For consistency sake and to keep the bar high, you might demand of yourself that you spend the same amount of time every day on your practice, but that is nothing like a requirement.
Q. Does it always happen exactly once a day or at exactly the same time each day?
A. No and no. It might; and there might be good reasons for it happening those ways. But, except for the great value of creating a sturdy habit by arriving at your practice the same time each day, there is no particular reason why, for example, you can’t write once on Monday, three times on Tuesday, twice on Wednesday, and so on; or write at 6 a.m. on Monday and 9 p.m. on Thursday. It can prove harder to maintain a daily practice if you don’t anchor it to a particular daily time, but if it works for you to vary its timing and to vary how many times a day that you engage in it, then that’s what serves you.
Q. Is there a “model practice”?
A. No. There is no model practice and there can be no model practice. To present one would be to present dogma, whether it’s dogma about sitting versus standing, an hour versus a minute, indoors versus outdoors, and so on. I can easily describe my daily writing practice but that ought to mean nothing in particular to you. What if I wrote for ten minutes or for ten hours? What if I started it with a ceremonial cup of tea or a war cry? All of that might be interesting to hear but nothing like a model. There is no single model to mimic or to emulate.
Q. Why bother creating a daily practice?
A. The reason to bother is that life is difficult. No one faces just one challenge or just the occasional challenge. We all face multiple challenges, from maintaining our health to maintaining our emotional wellbeing to getting our creative projects done to our satisfaction to making enough money to figuring out how to relax. Each challenge we face can be partially met and maybe best met by a daily practice that pays attention to exactly that challenge. Build your daily practice(s) and see!
In this series, I intend to explain the elements of daily practice, the varieties of daily practice available to you, and what to can deal with the challenges to daily practice that inevitably arise. If you’d like to learn more about the psychological and practical benefits of daily practice and better understand the great power of daily practice, I invite you to get acquainted with The Power of Daily Practice. It is available now.
Eric Maisel is the author of 50+ books, including The Power of Daily Practice. You can visit him at ericmaisel.com and contact him at email@example.com.