Practice yourself, for heaven’s sake in little things, and then proceed to greater. – Epictetus
What does that mean?
This quote is also stated in a slightly older English, but with better punctuation (see 2nd link at bottom of this post): “Practice yourself, for heaven’s sake, in little things; and thence proceed to greater.”
Let’s start in the middle and work our way out of this quote. The “for heaven’s sake” is an attempt to let us know that this is important enough that he is begging us to pay close attention to the advice.
Surrounding that phrase is the premise, “Practice yourself in little things”. In other words, we are being asked to start small. In other words, we should learn to walk before we run.
The quote finishes by saying that we can then go on to greater things. In other words, once we have mastered the fundamentals, we can then move on to the more complicated things. Simple enough?
Why is mastering the fundamentals important?
There are plenty of examples in sports and industry. Whether it’s the wood cutter who spends their first hour sharpening their tools, the basketball player spending extra hours dribbling, or the running back going up and down a local hill until they can’t stand, you have to master the basics.
Can you imagine how much worse this blog would be if I didn’t know (and follow) the basic rules of the English language? The fundamentals are the foundation on which the more advanced skills are built.
How would you like to be the coach trying to teach advanced techniques to someone who hadn’t yet managed to master the fundamentals? On what could you possibly build? Yet there are people who insist that they’re ‘ready’ for the advanced stuff anyway.
It’s no fun, mastering the basics. But that’s kind of the point. When you do and do and do until you can do it, you’re just getting started. Keep at it until it is so automatic you can’t miss. At that point, you have it mastered.
Where can I apply this in my life?
One of my favorite examples of this was from when I was a motorcycle rider coach for a Safety group. There were actually people who signed up for the course who had never ridden a bicycle. What do you do with a person with no real sense of balance while riding? In my experience, it never ended well.
We also had a lot of people who had never shifted gears in a car (manual transmission). We could work with them, but for those with no sense of balance, well that’s another story, right? Fundamentals, you have to at least be acquainted with the concepts, right?
I’ve also spent no small amount of time practicing the fundamentals in my martial arts classes. The Japanese call them keihons or fundamentals. Block, punch. Block, kick. Repeat until your arms and legs hurt. At that point, you start to build strength, and build muscle memory. Not fun, but effective.
What do you do in your life where your fundamentals are not as solid as they could be? When I ask a question in that manner, it almost sounds rhetorical, doesn’t it? The answer is pretty much everywhere. The aspects of your life where you are heavily invested may be solid, but the rest, probably less so.
Hopefully your fundamentals are solid for whatever you do as employment. If not, what can you do (and re-do) to get better at it? What about the other areas of your life? Are there some skills you wish you were better at, or some old skills you need to dust off and get sharpened?
Everyone will answer these questions differently, so you’re on your own to find, and to correct, any deficiencies in your fundamentals. Yes, you can pretend, you can fake, you can rely on luck. But, like a house with a faulty foundation, eventually it will all come down. And that’s never good.
What can you work on, today? What part of your life can you improve? Do you even know what the fundamentals of a relationship are? Have you checked with anyone to see if they agree? Can things possibly go well if you don’t agree?
I hope you take some time to think about these things and find at least one thing to work on this week. Keep at it all month long, and then try to find another one for next month. I wonder what your life will be like next year?
From: Twitter, @philo_quotes
confirmed at : http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/e/epictetus149123.html also at GoogleBooks-> http://books.google.com/books…
Photo by PKA Karate