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The Difference Between Practice and Habit and Why We Need Both

When I was growing up, it was important in my family that we tried as many things as possible. New foods, new skills, new sports, and new instruments. My parents were big believers in being OK at a lot of things rather than great at one; a jack of many trades.  After all, at 6-years-old, there were too many things to try before choosing one to excel at, right?  

The first instrument I tried was the piano. I remember hour after hour sitting at the piano working at chopsticks, then twinkle twinkle little star, and so on. I was always told “practice makes perfect” and now, years later, I’m learning that practice isn’t enough. 

While practice is essential, it only occurs once I’m sitting at the piano with my hands on the keys. 


Habit is what gets me on the piano bench in the first place. 

To get better at anything we must realize that habit doesn’t get us better; practice does. But practice doesn’t put us in a position to get better; habit does.

This really hit home for me a few years ago when I had the incredible honor of sharing a stage with the late Kobe Bryant. Kobe, of course, stands as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. During his career, he won 2 Olympic Gold Medal and 5 NBA championships, and his net worth rose to over $200 million

What was his secret?

Among many things, he understood that greatness required both habit and practice. 

One of the trainers from Team USA who worked with Kobe said that he developed the habit of taking 400 shots a day. In other words, he showed up consistently every single day. However, even if he took 400 of the same shots, he wouldn’t be getting any better, he’d just be doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Last I checked, that is the literal definition of insanity. 

So, after each of the 400 shots, Kobe would learn from the previous shot, make a slight change, and try again. He’d practice. Practice requires slight shifts with the hope and expectation of a different result. 

Kobe combined the habit of showing up every morning and the intentional practice of shooting the ball to develop his skill.

Consider this; habit is showing up time after time and putting in the work. Practice is doing things differently than before and intending to get better. 

Habit is going to the gym every morning, and practice is what happens when you get there. We need both. 

Where do Habit and Practice Show Up?

How much habit and practice show up in other places?

When it comes to leadership, habit is consistently showing up for your team while practice may be showing up for them in slightly different ways to see if the reception is better. 

When it comes to a diet, habit is not buying that junk food we may have in the past, practice is taking different actions when we have a craving for junk food.

When it comes to physical training, habit is getting up in the morning, practice is working on better form, body position, follow-throughs, etc.

When it comes to relationships, habit is being there for your partner, practice is finding newer, better ways of being there. 

Like anything, practice does indeed make perfect. That said, unless we build the habits that have us showing up in the first place, we may never have the chance to get better. 

What habits have you built to show up and how are you practicing once you arrive?

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