Everybody should do at least two things each day that he hates to do, just for practice. – William James
What does that mean?
This is a paraphrasing of a longer quote, wherein we are urged to practice doing things we would rather not do, so that in an emergency, we are better prepared to deal with unpleasant or difficult tasks.
While the actual passage doesn’t use the word ‘hate’, but uses instead ‘would rather not do’ which encompasses so much larger a variety of tasks.
What he has posited is that by doing things we don’t really want to do, we practice doing unpleasant tasks in general, which could become critical when things take a sudden turn for the worst.
This is the practice referenced in the quote, and whether it’s cleaning the bathroom or doing chores quickly and efficiently, you get good at doing what is necessary, even if it is unpleasant.
Why is practice important?
How does one get better at anything? By trying it, learning from the experience, and trying again. And again. And again. I’ve heard that doing something 10 times gives you an idea what you’re doing. At 100 times, you’re getting the hang of it. At 1000 times, you’re getting good. At 10,000 times, you have begun to master it.
Whether it is committing some action to muscle memory or remembering a complex set of instruction by committing them to mental memory, you start to get better. As you get better at doing something, you get better at understanding the feedback your experiences are giving you. That allows you to get better at getting better, and mastery isn’t far behind.
Consider the opposite. Without practice, how does one get better? That’s down to statistically improbable luck. And mere luck will never get you to mastery. So what is the plan, besides hard work and repetition, coupled with close inspection of the results of your action? Nothing can replace practice.
Consider professionals in any field. How do they get there? For sports, it’s practice after practice, starting as early as grade school, and continuing for as long as they plan to play. Same for dancers, singers, and musicians. Same for everyone else. It only looks easy when they do it because they’ve practiced. A lot.
Where can I apply this in my life?
Having done my time on the diaper changing front, I can say it’s never a fun thing to do. I’d rather not do it, given the choice. But then, babies don’t often give you that option. When they want to be changed, it needs to happen and happen soon. Sometimes you can get someone else to do it, but usually, it’s up to you to do the task you would rather not do.
Doing it once, you probably get it done fairly well, but to do it quickly and in awkward situations, like a quick-change on the side of the road while driving cross country. Yep, had to do that on a couple different vacations. But the practice of doing it the comfort of my home gave me the confidence to do what needed to be done on the side of the road.
But not everyone changes diapers. I referred to other professions in the prior section, and I’d like you to consider some of the things you do. While some tasks are more difficult to get the hang of (like the Butterfly swimming stroke, which I have still yet to figure out), some may be beyond you. But others are not.
Take a moment and consider what you do, and do well. How many times did you have to do it before you got good? How many times did you have to try before you could even do it well once? How many hundreds or even thousands of times was that? How important do you consider practice at this point, considering how much of it you have done?
This quote is specifically about emergency situations, and how we would respond. To me, this is beyond that first moment of panic, and on to doing the things which must subsequently be done. After any emergency there are many things to do, including keeping your calm and then doing the things you would rather not do.
If you have practiced washing dishes and taking out garbage at a restaurant, you probably have had your hands in some pretty icky stuff. If you saw a car crash, and you went to help, would practice with handling icky stuff help you deal with putting your hands on a person who is bleeding and help stop them from bleeding to death?
Life is full of unpleasant things. By practicing doing some of the things you would rather not do, you can help prepare yourself for the time, if it ever comes, you will be ready. If you have not practiced doing the uncomfortable or unpleasant, it will already be too late.