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practice makes sufficient

The Olympic Games have been on for almost two weeks now, and my most frequent reaction has been, "How do they DO that?!" Like most interested viewers, I watched Michael Phelps swim -- and almost win -- every race. He's an amazing athlete, and arguably the greatest Olympian in history. Even among other world-class swimmers, no one comes close to his legendary performances.

Except for the 400m individual medley last week. Not only did he not win the race, he came in 4th place. The 400 IM is the most difficult race for swimmers, one that requires passion, endurance, and training 365 days a year to master four different strokes.

In an interview shortly after the race, Phelps' candor about his performance surprised me. He said the reason he lost the race is because he didn't train hard enough to win it.

This reminded me of the word "practice" and how often I use it in therapy. Everything is practice. For the client struggling with anxiety, we practice deep breathing, positive self-talk, and meditation. We don't get it perfect every time, and the anxiety isn't always cured, but we practice until we get better.

For the couple who ends up in a fight every time they try to make a decision, we practice new communication techniques, thinking before we speak, and deep listening. They still fight from time to time, but they continue practicing until they get better.

A client grieving the loss of her husband is overwhelmed by the simple tasks of each day and can't imagine how to go on with her life. So she practices just getting out of bed, showering, and getting dressed. A few days later she practices going to the grocery store and the mailbox. Next she practices meeting with a friend for dinner. Her life is forever changed by the loss, and her sadness doesn't end, but she practices a little bit each day until she forgets she's practicing.

Everything is practice. Every fear overcome and every successful connection between spouses is achieved through the frequent, consistent, and intentional act of practicing. Recovering from addiction takes practice. Restoring a marriage takes practice. Forgiving takes practice. Managing anger takes practice. And on and on.

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