Practice, practice, practice

The famous Spartan warriors had a credo for their war – “Sweat more in practice, bleed less in war“. Practice is probably the greatest thing humans can do, yet people ridicule it.

For every new thing or an idea that has been brought into the world, people have laughed at it, criticized it, and ridiculed it at the beginning. As the famous quote wrongly misattributed to Mahatma Gandhi goes, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

This quote is a summary of Nichoas Klein, an American labor union advocate and attorney, who gave a speech to the Clothing Workers in May 1919, where he said the following:

[…] And my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you. And that is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. And I say, courage to the strikers, and courage to the delegates, because great times are coming, stressful days are here, and I hope your hearts will be strong, and I hope you will be one hundred per cent union when it comes!

This ridiculing of new thoughts and ideas goes way back in our human civilization. Back when we humans didn’t know earth revolves around the sun, the accepted norm was a geocentric approach – which states that our Earth is at the center of the Universe. Even great philosopher and thinker like Aristotle was in favor of geocentric approach.

When Aristarchus of Samos presented the first known heliocentric approach that placed the Sun at the center of the known universe, with the Earth revolving around the Sun once a year and rotating about its axis once a day, it was met with rejections in favor of geocentric theories of Aristotle and Ptolemy.

In the 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish mathematician and astronomer, formulated a model fo the Universe that placed the Sun rather than Earth at its center. However, he was not certain if he wanted to publish his book containing this fact because of his concerns about possible astronomical and philosophical objections and/or religious objections.

However, in the 17th century, Galileo Galilei presented supporting observations about Copernican heliocentrism (Earth rotating daily and revolving around the Sun) using a telescope. This was – again – met with opposition from within the Catholic Church. The Roman Inquisition concluded that heliocentrism was foolish, absurd, and heretical since it contradicted Holy Scripture. Later on, Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy” by the Inquisition, and thus had to spend the rest of his life under house arrest.

Long before the geocentric theories of Aristotle, the great philosopher Socrates was also executed by forced suicide by poisoning, because he was accused of corrupting the youth and failing to acknowledge the city’s official gods. In 399 BC, his trial lasted a day, and was sentenced to death for his radical thoughts and ideas.

In a world full of ridiculing, why should we practice?

Let us first go back to the time, when ancient humans discovered fire.

Although the direct evidence is scarce, claims for the earliest definitive evidence of control of fire by a member of Homo ranges from 1.7 to 2.0 million years ago. Evidence for the “microscopic traces of wood ash” as controlled use of fire by Homo-erectus, beginning some 1,000,000 years ago, has wide scholarly support [a].

A diorama depicting hominins igniting fire inside a cave from the National Museum of Mongolian History, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

In a review for the Royal Society Philosophical Transactions B, J.A.J. Gowlett hypothesizes that hominins took advantage of natural wildfires for foraging. It is difficult to follow the development of human control over fire because of what Gowlett calls its “disappearing act.” Fire isn’t as well preserved in the archeological record as, say, middens or flint tools. And progress was incremental, with fire control being learned in different places at different times. Certain archeological sites have proffered a bounty of stone tools, suggesting long-term quartering. Such occupancy could mean hominins learned to at least maintain fire as far back as 2.5 million years ago. But direct evidence is scarce [b].

So what happened after we discovered fire?

The cooking hypothesis, proposed by Richard Wrangham, Ruth B. Moore, Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard, claims that fire allowed us to cook our food – making cooked meats easier to chew and digest; and as a result, our bodies could extract more nutrients form the same amount of meat. Wrangham argues that the ability to create cooked foods shaped the brains and bodies of our Homo ancestors. Larger brains allowed us to process more information, create more dynamic social groups, and adjust to unfamiliar habitats. All of which benefited us evolutionarily [b].

Cooking can be thought of as “pre-digesting.” Because we’ve already broken down much of the food by cooking, the calorie absorption process becomes more efficient than if the food had been raw, and requires that we put in a significant amount of energy to just digest. The use of fire to prepare food paved the way for the evolution of organisms that could support significantly larger brains [c].

The expansion of the brain, seen in fossils from different branches of our family tree, may have been aided by fire, first used at least a million years ago. NMNH, SI

Thus, we are where we are now because of practice.


Imagine a scenario – one of the ancient homo species discovered fire and showed it to his close group. He may have been ridiculed, laughed at, or may even have been accused of creating something dangerous and potentially destroying weapon! But had that one homo species given up, and left the practice to discover fire and educate more species, we would probably not have evolved so much as we have now.

Practice enabled humans to discover fire. With fire, humans were able to consume cooked foods. This allowed our body and brain to gain valuable nutrients required for our continuous development. Darwin himself considered language and fire as the two most significant achievements of humanity [d].

So how do you build habit of practice?

Step 1: Shut up and show up.

As James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, say – shut up and show up. Showing up is the first step towards practice and building long term habits. No matter what, show up. Take that first step.

Step 2: Know the environment.

Our environment also plays a vital role in building any habit of practice. If the people around us talk about football all the time, we are bound to watch football – because as humans, we are wired to comply with social groups. If people around us are appreciative and supportive enough, we tend to take the step we never thought we could take. The safety net from our environment really helps in taking new strides. If people around us aren’t supportive, maybe we need to change our environment around us.

Step 3: Use visual cues.

Small wins are massive motivators, but we rarely recognize them. Having a small win, and assigning a visual cue to it is important in any practice. Visual stimulus is important. It makes us stick with good habits. The visual cues act as a reward system for us to continue practicing. A small ‘tick’ on our calendar or marking done in our to-do list are all examples of visual cues working with our brain to reinforce our habit of practicing.

A constant reminder for myself to practice comes from my name itself – Prayas, meaning ‘try’. Let’s give it a try. Let’s take the first step.

And let’s keep practicing.

Also read: Awareness & Courage – And how to “Practice” it

Recipe for Content Life: Awareness and Courage

I first saw the combination of awareness and courage in Tim Urban’s tweet. Tim called it the ingredients for the recipe of “good future for humanity”. I wouldn’t be far-fetched to call it a good future for “humanity”, but let’s just focus on us “humans”.

Upon reflecting on this tweet for nearly about a year, I have had epiphanies of this piece of insight being more and more relatable. I have come to realize that when people’s lives are in trouble, it has to do with these two factors – they are either unaware of their own selves, or lack courage to take the step that they deep down want to take, or lack both.

Take a moment to think about the troubles you currently have in your life and try reflecting where your efforts have been lacking – it boils down to lack of either one of awareness or courage, or both of them. Let’s look at following examples:

In a financial crisis (either from loss of job or multiple debts) – You now probably need to be more consciously aware to save, invest, or sell some of your dearest possession(s), or need to be courageous enough to be vulnerable in front of your friends and seek for help.

In a health crisis – You weren’t aware of your eating habits, or weren’t courageous enough to maintain discipline for your routine exercise. Of course health problems could be genetic and you could consider yourself helpless, but in order to resolve it you will once again need to be aware of what you can/can’t do or eat, and courage to follow the task religiously.

In a relationship crisis – You’ll again need to be aware of where the problems are arising from and be courageous enough to take actions. You, yourself, could be the root of the problem – and if you don’t see it, you aren’t being aware. Even if you are aware and you see the problem is within you, you will need to draw courage to change yourself so that the relationship thrives.

There could be a lot of crisis, troubles, and problems that could be well beyond your span of control. What about that? Again, be aware of what could be within your boundaries, and have the courage to act.

Awareness and Courage - Recipe for Content Life

For leading a content life, we will need to have BOTH awareness and courage. Being aware, but not having enough courage to act would make us feeble and helpless. We’ll need to depend on other people to take us out from our distress. Being courageous, but lacking awareness will eventually lead to a disaster because our over-confidence skyrockets. We will be doing things bravely, but without knowing and understanding why are we doing so, and what consequences are we facing as a byproduct of our choices. And finally, having neither awareness nor courage is completely useless.

So, awareness and courage – that’s it?

No. That’s still not it.

Awareness and courage are interlinked – you will need courage to be more aware, and you will need to be aware to be more courageous. It’s a loop. But where do you start? You start with a simple word called – PRACTICE.

But practice what?

Practice asking questions to yourself. Especially those difficult questions that you have been trying to run away from. Questions like these:

  • Who am I, really?
  • If I were to introduce myself without the use of any other person or institution I’m associated with, how would I introduce myself?
  • What worries me most about future?
  • What matters the most in my life?
  • Why do I matter?
  • What are the words I’d like to live by?
  • What is my idea of fun?

You can find more self-introspection and reflection questions here.

And how do you find courage? Turns out, more you become aware, more you will find courage to take any action.

Also read: Don’t be yourself; consider adaptive authenticity

To live a happy and content life, you will need to discard a lot of things that goes against your personal values and your comfort zones. If you need to look for growth in your professional life, you probably need to quit hanging out with friends who would drag you down and focus on self-improvement. Cutting those ties would require a huge deal of courage.

The same goes with cutting toxic ties with family, relatives, friends, colleagues, or even institutions. All of these require huge courage, but prior to that, you will need to be aware of what is going on with you, your surroundings, the consequences of your actions, and so on. To begin the process of awareness, you will again need the courage to question yourself. The damned loop.

You think you fear giving presentations? Being aware of your content will help you reducing your fear. You need courage to say ‘no’ to your boss? Being aware of your personal values might help. You need courage to stand up for injustice? Being aware of our actions and consequences could help. Need to embrace your fear? Start with being aware of your fears first!

Taking small steps and celebrating the small wins could help in overcoming your fears. But do remember, everything starts with PRACTICE, a small first step.

Then after, it’s the duo – Awareness and Courage into the play.