Practice Sustains Passion | Whiteboard

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Insight 07 | February 28, 2016

Practice Sustains Passion

by Nick Blackmon
What we practice, forms us. What we practice shapes our affections.

Liturgy is defined as, “a fixed set of ceremonies, words, etc., that are used during public worship in a religion” , I often have heard it described as the ebb and flow, the rhythm of a service. As some of you may know, I go to an Anglican church, meaning that a lot of our service finds its rhythm in ancient church tradition. Many people who are of a Protestant tradition either find liturgy to be odd as I once did, or they think that it will suck worship of all of its life and vitality. We often make the wrong assumption that affections cannot be genuine unless they are spontaneous. That trained affections, are lesser affections. I too made this wrong assumption when I first began going to the Mission. I have found the opposite to be true.

“The liturgy is of comfort to the disarrayed mind. We need not choose our thoughts; the words are aligned, like a rope for us to cling to.”

Rather than draining the life or passion out of a service, my heart feels and matches the rhythm of the liturgy, waiting with eager expectation to be reminded of the thing that it had forgotten that it knew. I finding myself looking forward to the next line, the next truth, the next movement.

It’s like watching a favorite movie you have seen a thousand times. You know exactly what is coming, but your heart still quickens its pace as it happens. It is exactly because we were expecting it, that our heart responds this way.

Key Messages


What we practice, forms us. What we practice shapes our affections.

Most of you know that I love climbing, and and some of you know that last August I set a goal for myself to finish a V6 boulder problem, which would move me from intermediate climbing status, into the widely accepted range of advanced climbers. Many of you don’t know that I use to climb a lot. I mean, a lot. I had friends who would joke with me and say that I was paying $15,000 a year to climb. Because I was going to UTK and I would climb at their wall for 15 hours a week. I loved it and I couldn’t get enough of it.

Well even with that much climbing each week, I had never succeeded in doing a even V5 problem completely, let alone a V6. So you might say that I was in fact, an average climber. Or at least an average boulderer. When it came to route climbing, I was still a head above many of my stronger climbing friends, because I had great technique and endurance. But when it came down to it, I was weak compared to many, and could not pull off the more dynamic moves or maintain the body tension needed on over hanging routes.

Often, what this meant is that I would make excuses for myself, “If only I were 3 inches taller…” or “Man, who set this route? Must have been a really tall person.” or “Hmmm, Tom must have set this one, he’s really tall. I can’t reach that next move.” Well, when I got back into climbing recently, it was not the first time that I had climbed in 7 years, I had gone every once in a while, but because I wasn’t going consistently and wasn’t good at it, it would just frustrate me because I would remember how good…I mean how intermediate… I had been at one point and it would frustrate me to not be able to climb at that level again, and I knew that without the time or opportunity to keep at it, I would not be able to get there.

So often, when invited to climb, I would opt out, saying “What is the point of going just once, if I can’t keep going it isn’t going to be any fun because I won’t be any good.” And so, I climbed maybe 3 times in a 6 year period. And came home frustrated during those times, slowly losing my love for climbing and getting more and more out of shape and unmotivated to stay in shape, because I lacked a reason.

So, this past August when I decided, by jove I am going to start climbing again and stop not doing it because it is expensive or because I don’t have anyone to climb with, I knew that I wouldn’t have 15 hours a week to devote to it and I knew that I wanted to be better at it than I ever had been. And I knew I wasn’t going to be able to use the excuse about my height anymore. And so, my predetermined response, or liturgy if you will, was that if it seemed like a move was too reachy for me or if it seemed like someone taller would have had an easier time with the problem, I would say to myself, “I just have to get stronger and approach this route differently.”


Disciplined results, require a disciplined approach.

Often this meant that after failing enough times at a certain boulder problem, I would pack up and go to the training rooms and begin training rather than climbing. I would do some cross training and weight exercises or hang board work outs, etc. All of the things that many casual climbers will say are not effective for getting better. Which I have learned is actually code for, “I don’t feel like it.”

Okay, so let’s fast forward, because this isn’t a talk about climbing. As some of you know I hit my goal at the beginning of last December, kinda out of nowhere. I found myself at the top of a problem that I had worked on all week, and constantly fallen off again, and again. I kept approaching it differently, until finally I hit my goal, at first I had hardly realized I had even finished it. And similarly, my reward was rather anti-climactic, a friend from the gym said unenthusiastically, “Nice job, dude.” Nice job dude?! Buddy, pal.

“That was 5 months of determined training and effort culminating right there, bucko.” Nice job, dude. This was a little dissatisfying, but I was still pumped. I jogged back to the office and the developers were working late on Whiteboard 5 when I came in and greeted them. I told them how I had set that goal and achieved it. They were good sports and clapped for me, Taylor even said, “Booyah!”, and then Patrick, who has climbed before, and so understands the victory there said, “That’s awesome man. So what’s next? Just do it again, or what?”


"What's next?"

Well this past Friday when I was climbing, I was falling on a new V6 again and again and a guy from the gym who is a much better climber than me walked over and asked me how it was going. I rattled off something about trying to improve but sucking and needing to train more. He nodded knowingly and said “I hear ya.” to which I asked, “So do you see much gain from training?” to which he replied, “Nah man, I really don’t train. I just climb more. Like 15-20 hours a week.” To which I said, “Yeah man, I wish. I just don’t have time for that. So if I wanna get better I gotta train.” He nodded, shrugged, and walked away.

A bit later another friend came over and we had a similar conversation, “I just hate training, I don’t want to come to the gym and train. I want to come to the gym and climb.” he said. To which I replied, “Yeah, I feel ya, but it is more fun when you are actually good at it, and to get better you have to train.” to which he nodded, and began climbing again, and I walked away to go train, as he likely fell off the same problem again.

You’re all probably onto the point that I am trying to get at right now, which is this: disciplined results require a disciplined approach. What I had never accomplished in 2 years of climbing 15 hours a week, I accomplished in 5 months climbing only 3 hours a week and training for one hour. There are many things in life that this is true of. I have experienced the same thing with guitar, with writing, with public speaking, with long boarding and with cooking even.

You can’t just keep doing the same things again and again and expect to get different results, and you can’t keep avoiding to train your weaknesses and expect to get better. If there is something that you want to get better at, you have to intentionally choose to practice for those things. And this is going to require discipline. But the only way that you will have the motivation to keep the discipline going and to keep upping the ante is to love the thing that you are doing and that you are training for.

I read on a blog while I was looking for training tips one time where a guy said, “I had to begin seeing every extra doughnut I ate, as another hold I wouldn’t reach, or another time that my foot would slip off the wall, or another time that I would not finish a route.” I have wanted to lose weight for a while, I have wanted to get in shape for a while, but it took me having a motivation of passion and enthusiasm for something that I love to bring about those desired results. They were secondary and subordinate to the passion itself. But to sustain that passion and to sustain those results, we must have discipline or our craft will just fizzle.


What we practice, forms our hearts.

As we practice, or train we find that we don’t mind it as much anymore, we actually begin to enjoy it. We start to feel off if we aren’t doing it, we start to regret it or regret other decisions that we make that keep us from doing the thing, from training. Practice…this is how passion is sustained. Or else, we will be the guy who sets down the guitar and sees someone else playing some day and says, “Man…I don’t know the last time I… picked up my guitar.” or went for a run, or went to the gym, or wrote an article, or read a book, or…you get the point.

Your enthusiasm often only gets you so far. If you don’t keep learning, improving and challenging yourself, then you will not continue to improve and you will likely lose the enthusiasm you once had. But without the enjoyment of your craft, you will lack the motivation to keep it up, and when it gets hard again or you are not readily seeing improvement you will grow bored with it and set it down only to lament months later that you had not picked the thing up again.

Like liturgy, what we practice forms us. But often we act as though training drains the life or enjoyment out of something. As though practicing your scales will cause you to no longer enjoy playing guitar, when really it deepens your playing, allowing you to play beautiful compositions you had only once dreamed of, or better yet, you learn your way around the instrument to the point that you actually graduate to writing your own music.

“But man, I don’t want to come to the gym to train, I want to climb”, as though this reveals a deeper love for the craft. As though you would forget your love for climbing from the sheer drudgery of training.  As if someone trying to lose weight forgets that they love tacos. I can tell you for a fact, that is not the case. But disciplined results require a disciplined approach, and sometimes this means foregoing tacos, or doughnuts, or hours of climbing or just casually doing the thing you love.

Final Thoughts

Instead, we work harder, and not longer. We train to our weaknesses and challenge ourselves so that we truly become masters of our craft. We avoid being people who make excuses for why we have not improved, saying “If only I were 3 inches taller.” or “I hate training…” or “I just wanna climb…”.

We sustain our love for the craft through our discipline. We are formed by what we practice, and we miss the pitfall of setting the thing we love aside and never picking it up again.

Growth Strategist

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