Someone said to me the other day: “Practice makes perfect” and it made me reflect on an argument I was having with my wife recently (just for the record, she was right, but you didn’t need an encyclopaedia to tell you that).

It was not the content of the argument that I thought about, but the process we went through. We had become expert enough to recreate the end result almost perfectly. Both of us were not satisfied with the outcome and applied the same tactics we had used previously.

Practice makes perfect… no, it doesn’t. Practice makes permanent. Practice reinforces behaviour, whether it works or not.

Now, this led me onto two separate but complementary thoughts:

First, if we act in the same way as we did in the past and expect to get a different outcome this time around, that’s clinical madness, but I think I am not the only person who does this, so perhaps the line between sanity and madness is not that long (on the basis that I am sane). Most of us write off the experience by blaming the other person for not changing, when in reality we should look inside, rather than outside.

The second thought, though, relates more to practice. It was Arnold Palmer (the great golfer) who said: “The more I practise, the luckier I get” – and this redefines the ‘practice makes perfect’ saying. Only perfect practice makes perfect. It’s no good doing it wrong time after time and expecting to get a good result – you need to get it right while practising time after time, so that when you do it for real, you get it right.

It reminds me of another saying: “Amateurs practise until they get it right and professionals practise until they never get it wrong”. This explains why even those professional sportspeople at the top of their game have a coach, because even though they are the best in the world, they have to keep on reinforcing good behaviours and require someone to help them.

Of course, we can’t all be professional sportspeople – most of us would simply not pay the bills if we did. However, we can be professional in our own lives – at work, at home, as parents, as children – we can practise until we never get it wrong. Practising is all about forming good habits – habits that work, rather than habits that don’t. For example, my mother said to me when I was a child: “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper”. It’s a piece of North London common sense.

Over the past year, I have changed my behaviour to follow this advice (I’m only 61 years old, so it has not taken that long to listen to my mum) and the outcome is amazing. I have lost weight, I feel fit, I sleep better, I can work longer and my clothes don’t bulge in all wrong places.

Our life is formed around our habits – they are the routines through which we seek to achieve our goals, but I know for a fact that many of us believe one thing and act in direct contradiction to that belief. We value health, but overeat and don’t exercise. We value wealth, but live with debt and fail to save. We want to be happy, but don’t enjoy our jobs and feel stressed at work.

Habits are really important and equally difficult to change. Most people require help and support to make the change. If you’re one of the people who want to change a bad habit but can’t, look for someone to help you – your partner, a personal trainer, financial adviser or doctor. Whatever you do, don’t blame anyone else for your current or future situation – look in the mirror – it’s down to you…

Remember, only perfect practice makes perfect.

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