Practice What You Want To Be Good At

“If you really want to be world class – to be the best you can be – it comes down to preparation and practice.”

Robin S. Sharma

After 3+ years of writing a blog each day, I can officially say that my writing has improved. Am I the best writer in the world? Heeeeeeeell Nah. But I’m better than I was 3 years ago. I’ve also gotten better at knowing what’s good work versus bad. Reading helps, surround yourself with great prose and eventually you’ll absorb some of the magic.

What’s eye-opening is what consistent practice can give you. I have a long way to go before I can earn the title of “pretty great writer” but that’s part of the journey. Not to say that improvement is inevitable on its own. We have to work and challenge ourselves every day in order to discover mastery.

As long as we keep consistently practicing, then it’s inevitable that our skills will improve.

If something is important to you, be it a skill or something that brings you joy (like hiking or listening to music or staying connected with friends) then you need to make it into a practice. What your practice will look like is up to you. It doesn’t have to be daily. It just needs to be integrated into your life.

The same goes for things we want to change.

For example, there’s something I’ve noticed about myself that I’m not happy about—

I suck at talking about myself and articulating my ideas.

I know to get my ideas across with words on paper or a screen, but when it comes to words flopping out of my mouth, I’m a joke. Not always. But a noticeable amount. I’d like to blame it on being tired or stressed, but those are just excuses.

The reason for this is pretty obvious:

I’m not practicing speaking. I’m not practicing communicating.

We only get better at what we practice.

It’s a simple idea, but one that’s easily overlooked.

I don’t expect my golf swing to improve by working on my dance moves. Why should I expect otherwise with writing and talking?

Writing is to talking as learning the piano is to learning drums. They’re in the same category of skills, but they have their own unique sub-skills.

Writing has improved my thinking, but it hasn’t improved my articulation.

The only thing that can do that is practice.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1036

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Cats & Dogs

“My ‘fear’ is my substance, and probably the best part of me.”

Franz Kafka

There are many things in life that seem like one thing, but can actually the other. For example, exercise is fantastic for your health, but if you don’t know what you are doing, you can easily hurt yourself. Without depth and guidance, we can quickly become closed off (and sometimes clotheslined) by our assumptions and generalizations. As the Sociologist, Marshall McLuhan (1911 – 1980) once quipped, “Most of our assumptions have outlived their uselessness.”

1. Sometimes advantages are disadvantages and disadvantages are advantageous.

Think of talent. Talent can be a crutch just as it can be a benefit. Being naturally born gifted at sports or music can take us far, but only for a while. Sooner or later practice outraces talent and if we lean to heavy on our gifts without putting in the time, we’ll quickly be left in the dust of less-talented hardworking people. (I learned this from the book The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.)

Talent is a crutch. Consistent practice and drive lead to mastery.

It takes dedication and work to succeed in a skill. If you don’t have a knack for something (or perhaps even suck at it), but you are so passionate about it, then your “disadvantage” will drive you to seek mastery and achievement. (Nobody puts Baby in the corner.)

2. Fear is a guiding force.

It leads us away from danger, but it also can lead us toward challenge. Distinguishing which is straightforward when you ask the question: “Am I in danger? Is this going to kill me?”

If the answer is yes, then get the heck out of there. But if you’re not in danger, then perhaps your fear is telling you something. Fear of speaking in front of the crowd is understandable (it makes me sweat just thinking about it), but it won’t kill you. In fact, your fear of public speaking is a social fear that’s holding you back. Imagine what you could do in every aspect of your life if you had the confidence of someone who can get up on stage and be the center of attention for a moment. Things would certainly change. Social fears are challenges we can use to improve and become better versions of ourselves.

3. Pain is a (wretched) gift.

I would never wish pain on anyone, but it’s one of the great eye-openers of life. Pain humbles you, removes your ego, and shows you a world you didn’t know existed. Pain can isolate us if we let it, but it can also connect us—to others, to something bigger and to ourselves. It’s difficult to feel the pain someone else has experienced, without feeling the sting of it yourself. Anyone who has injured themselves—a back, neck, or foot injury for example—will know difficult it is to deal with.

We rarely realize how important something is until we’ve lost it.

Pain is a beginning, as much as it is an ending. Your pain may fade, but you’ve changed because of the experience. Or your pain may never go away, but it becomes part of your story and has woken you up to a world of others who have experienced something similar to you. Your story connects and heals us.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1008

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Find Out For Yourself

“Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.”

Leonardo da Vinci

One of the best ways to learn is to teach yourself. While having a personal coach or an online course can accelerate learning, it’s hard to beat hands-on experiences.

(Not that these are mutually exclusive—stacking experience on top of mentorship is a fantastic way to learn if you have the opportunity to do so.)

One pattern I’ve noticed (in myself and in others) is how easy it is to watch someone do something, like woodworking, programming, or dancing, for example, or read a great book on a particular skill, but not actually practice the skill yourself. It’s like second-hand learning. We watch a YouTube video of someone making music or handmade pasta, but we never actually get around to doing it ourselves—even though we want too! We’re already on to the next video, next course, or next book.

Lately, I’ve been trying to avoiding doing it, but in the past, I’ve gone through many books back to back without actually testing and applying them in my own life. What’s the point of reading a business book, for example, if you aren’t going to use it or at least try parts of it out? So we can talk big and be more informed? As if.

Better to not read, then read not apply.

Finding things out for yourself is part of the joy that comes from learning new things. Without experience, you lose some of the passion and drive that comes with learning. It’s the classic phrase “Use it or lose it”. Without visceral experience, our new information isn’t all that important to our brains, and will quickly fade out of our noggin’s, replaced by newer and more exciting information.

All that being said, get dirty. Practice what you learn. Test things out yourself. Cut out some paper. Practice some scales. Make it your own.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #981

Recommended Reads:

Hell Yeah or No

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True Yes

“Saying no frees you up to say yes when it matters most.”

Adam Grant

It’s not that loose threads are inherently bad or good—like many things it depends on the context. On the road to success, there will be many opportunities we could say yes or no too.

The problem is, most opportunities look pretty great! How the heck do you know what’s a good opportunity versus a bad opportunity?

Simple (..but far from easy): compare the opportunity to yourself—who you are, what you value, and what kind of life you want to have.

The question is whether it’s leading you towards or against what you’re looking for.

Is this opportunity and/or obligation distracting me from what I actually want to do?

If someone is dangling money or fame In front of you, but it doesn’t align with who you want to be, will you take it or turn it down? Tough call. Knowing what you want, no—discovering what you want through experience and practice will make tough decisions much easier.

Is this yes a true yes or more like an easy/fun distraction?

Of course, in order to answer questions like these, you have to know who you are. And, equally important, you have to learn to act on self-interest. Self-interest isn’t selfish. You can be caring and compassionate about others AND have an opinion and say what you want your life to look like.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #980

Recommended Reads:

Hell Yeah or No

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Keep Practicing

“Practice is the best of all instructors.”

Publilius Syrus

There’s only one thing that’s between you and your dreams:

Practice.

Of course, everything will try to stop you from practicing.

Boredom. The Rain. School. Sleepiness. Newer and shinier dreams. Overtime. Bad internet. Family. Friends. Enemies. Frienemies. Anyone. Even yourself.

In fact, the biggest barrier we often face is ourselves. We may start with enthusiasm, but past a certain point, things start to get stale. We hit plateaus and have to keep going, despite it seeming like we aren’t making any progress at all. This is what stops most from their dreams—they give up. They hit a tough spot and talk themselves out of going forward.

Dips, obstacles, ruts, heartaches, pain, and failure happen to us all. But that doesn’t matter.

All we have to do is keep practicing and keep getting better. If it’s important to us, then continuous, consistent, and challenging practice will get us there. It’s the crazy ones that keep going, despite all odds.

I don’t know about you but I’d rather be crazy than complacent. I’d rather be crazy than always complaining about how things didn’t work out.

You can do it. Keep practicing. And if something stops you—well, pick it right back up and keep going.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #954

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The Struggle

“I really try to put myself in uncomfortable situations. Complacency is my enemy.”

Trent Reznor

Complacency can creep up on you at any stage of your journey. Beginning, middle, and end.

  • When you think you have nothing and feel hopeless—you can become complacent to the life you dislike but tolerate.
  • When you are finally starting to make progress—but then you let the fear of failure (or success) lead you to procrastinate and avoid what you need/want to do.
  • When you’ve succeeded beyond your wildest dreams (or your family has succeeded before you, and has accrued wealth and/or status) — you can become complacent to a life of luxury. Your immediate needs are fulfilled, but you can’t help but wonder, “Is this all there is?”

Complacency also lives somewhere in the middle of not failure and success. A not-not world. A negative space. That pesky in-between state where nothing seems to be happening to us. We are working harder than we ever have, but we’re not making progress towards our goals. Or we aren’t trying hard enough to tip over into something better, but we aren’t getting worse either.

The word ‘struggle’ gets a bad rap, but it’s through the continuous drive to learn and improve, and the love of the craft that we can find meaning within our lives.

There’s a paradox here though— momentum creates both meaning and struggle. In fact, the struggle to be someone, or the struggle to create something worthwhile gives us the energy to stand out and make an impact.

Joy is found in motion. Work. Rest. Work Rest. Forward. Change. Towards somethings. Without that things can feel lost and distant. Luckily, there’s purpose waiting around every corner, you just have to put one foot in front of the other to see it.

The struggle isn’t the problem. The struggle is the solution. Let go of trying to rid yourself of struggle and embrace what comes, no matter if you like it or not.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #933

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Practice #1: Do The Verb

Note: This is a post pulled from my premium monthly email publication, Practices. Practices the sister publication to Considerations. Where Considerations is about creative inputs, Practices is about creative output. If you are looking to up your game, sign up for Practices.


A few years ago, I was fed up with myself. I was constantly droning on and on about wanting to be a writer (likely to the annoyance of everyone around me). My heart was in the right place, but I just wasn’t doing it.

I had recently started a blog, Renaissance Man Life (which is now Renaissance Life) around the goal of writing more and my main goal of being multidisciplinary. The problem was I wasn’t writing.

I would tell myself that once inspiration struck, I would write something worthwhile and post it. But inspiration rarely came—if at all.

I was doing a lot of dreaming, but not a whole lot of doing.

I finally had an epiphany on how to resolve this after I started my podcast around creativity and mastery, and noticed a pattern between some early guests on the show.

Josh Green (@permanentrecorddrums) a musician, mentioned how he improved his skills by creating and filming a daily drum groove for a year.

Travis Knight (@travisknight), illustrator and designer, did something similar by drawing a “creep” monster every day for years.

After hearing their stories (and also being influenced by Seth Godin’s work) I decided to start writing a blog post every day.

Today, I’ve written 900+ consecutive blog posts and counting. Not only am I writing more and honing my writing skills every day, but I also feel like a writer.

Have I written a best-selling book yet? No. But each blog post is a step towards achieving that goal.

It’s impossible to be a writer if you never write.

That goes not just for writing, but for any craft you want to become great at.

Are you a musician if you don’t practice?

Are you a potter if you don’t sculpt clay?

Recently I came across this quote from Austin Kleon that summarizes the essence at what I’m driving at:

“If you want to be the noun, first do the verb”

The noun and the verb – Austin Kleon

Or in other words, if you want to be something, you have to go do it.

Of course, you don’t have to go out and start a daily habit like me. Writing daily is just what works for me personally and helps build momentum. You can just as easily work on your craft on the weekend, or weekdays after hours.

The key is to start.

If you want to be something, go do it.

Reflection: What’s one thing you want to do that you can start doing today?

“Practice yourself, for heaven’s sake in little things, and then proceed to greater.”

Epictetus

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #904

Note: This is a post pulled from my premium monthly email publication, Practices. Practices the sister publication to Considerations. Where Considerations is about creative inputs, Practices is about creative output. If you are looking to up your game, sign up for Practices.

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Practicing Character

“Character is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that’s right is to get by, and the only thing that’s wrong is to get caught.”

J. C. Watts

When you do something nice for others, like donating money to medical causes or treating the checkout clerk like a human being, you’re doing it out of kindness, but you are also doing it for yourself. And I don’t mean selfishly. Rather, our actions are a byproduct of our character. And the same is true said in reverse— our character is spoken through our actions.

Character and action are two way streets. What you do is a reflection of who you are. Not just what you do for a living (although that’s a piece of it) but everything you do (or don’t do).

Which means every decision is an opportunity to practice building our character.

Patience, generosity, sincerity, persistence, optimism, ambition, courage, charm, humility, encouragement— these are all things we can practice in our daily lives.

If we don’t practice them, how else would we except to get good at them? Magic beans?

One simple practice I like to do is whenever I’m leaving the grocery store, I take my cart back to the store’s entrance. It’s so tempting to unload your groceries in your car, and they peel out of the parking lot, leaving your buggy next to where you parked. What the big deal anyway? I don’t have time to bring it back. It’s someones job to gather up all the loose carts anyway. Why should I do their job for them?

Because you are doing it for youself as much as you are doing it for them.

Everything we do not only sends a message about who we are to those around us, but also ourselves.

By leaving your empty cart where you parked and driving away, you are telling yourself that you are lazy. Alternatvely, by taking the cart back to the store’s queue, you are telling yourself you are hard-working and not to mention caring to boot.

The same is true for anything we do. Holding the door for others. Not letting our angry control us when someone cuts us off or someone loses their temper. Cleaning up after ourselves. Following through with a promise or conversation. Staying true to what we value.

It’s like the old saying goes, “How we do anything is how we do everything.” Especially when no one’s around to keep us accountable.

That’s why I adopted a “Do it Now” mentality. Not everything has the same amount of importance and priority, but taking care of things when they need taken care of is a great way to practice character. If there’s a pile of dirty dishes in the sink, I’m going to clean them now, instead of later. Even if that means I have to unload the clean dishes from the dishwasher first before I can put the dirty ones in. If there’s a thing around the house that needs to be taken care of, I jump on it. If I’m in the middle of something, I’ll focus all my efforts on that one thing, before I jump to the next.

These are tiny things, but they make all the difference.

Because your actions are telling yourself that “I’m the type of person that get’s things done.” This isn’t a blame game. Just because someone else isn’t doing it doesn’t mean I get to point a finger at them for being lazy. Because if I did I would only be practicing characteristics I don’t want to be.

I’m far from perfect, of course. Some days I can barely manage to do my nightly routine and don’t have the energy to clean up the house or put away my fresh laundry. So then I double down the next day. But if I do manage to put away my clothes when I don’t feel like it, I know I’m working my character mental muscles and showing myself what I’m made of.

Remember, It matters less what you’ve done and more what you do.

If you want to be strong, practice strength. If you want to be resilient, learn everything you can about how to persevere in chaos and get back up when you fail.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #902

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Little Advantages

“Some may think these trifling matters not worth minding or relating; but when they consider that though dust blown into the eyes of a single person, or into a single shop on a windy day, is but of small importance, yet the great number of the instances in a populous city and its frequent repetitions give it weight and consequence, perhaps they will not censure very severely those who bestow some attention to affairs of this seemingly low nature. Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.”

from “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life” by Walter Isaacson

Over time, things naturally accumulate. Grass grows tall and thick. Humans multiply. Dust piles. 401K’s compound.

From a quick glance, practicing your creative skills every day doesn’t seem like much, On a day to day basis, it doesn’t look like you’re making much progress. Sometime it might even feel like you are regressing.

Even a hard day of deliberate work can often only come across as incremental improvement. However, what we are seeing is from the perspective of one day — one click of the camera shutter. Now let’s speed things up a bit. click click click. ten days in a row of practicing. click click click. Fifty days. click. a hundred days. Our tiny number of days of practice is suddenly adding up. We’re no longer looking at a single photo, but a time-lapse of a hundred photos.

With each daily repetition, we are gaining progress and building momentum.

  • Small ten-minute meditation each day has added to hours and hours of practice.
  • Thirty minutes of practicing guitar every day will turn inexperience into prowess.
  • A page of words has grown into a book.

Of course, we want to make sure our efforts are aimed towards something. Otherwise, our daily work isn’t collecting into anything meaningful.

By giving a little bit of our time each day towards practicing (what’s important to us), we can take advantage of how time compounds.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #894

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You Need A Practice

It took me a long time to realize how very little of life is in our control. We go through life feeling like we are in control—until we aren’t. Something happens that shakes us. A broken arm or health issue that shows us we are not invincible. A random circumstance that knocks the wind out of us. A realization that changes how we think about the world. These are turning points that can either keep us scared or lift us to a new level of understanding.

At its fundamental level, control means having power or influence over something. With just one hand, I could count how many things I have controller over:

  1. My thoughts.
  2. My actions and reactions.
  3. What I prioritize, focus on and/or value.
  4. Where I spend my time (and other resources).

In a way, what’s in our control are all related to one another. Thoughts lead to actions, and actions show what we prioritize our time on. These give us a credible amount of agency over our lives, but at the same time we are are in the midst of things outside of our control—an island in the middle of an untamable sea. But chaos doesn’t mean we are powerless. By focusing and honing what we do control, we can handle any life circumstances that come our way.

One great way to channel what’s in our control is to start a practice. Having a practice grounds you when everything else is up in the air.

Having a practice grounds you when everything else is up in the air.

What practice(s) you do is up to you. It could be something creative, like writing, dance, pottery, painting, drawing, making youtube videos, calligraphy, guitar, etc. It could be something nourishing, like yoga, mediation, cooking, running, swimming, etc.

What matters is making it intentional. And, ideally, it’s something you put into practice daily. But I’m not yo mama. I’m not going to tell you how you should live your life. We each have our own choice here. We could go about life rocking with the ship and whatever wave hits us. Or we could learn how to sail.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #876

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Related:

Having A Practice – Steven Pressfield