Only So Many Times

I have two great kids – Katie and Spencer. I was chatting with my son, and he reminded me of a life lesson I shared with my children when they were just little kids. Funny thing is, it took twenty years for me to realize the full teaching myself.

Little kids love repetition. Once something is familiar and recognizable, it’s easy for them to digest. Think about how much of what we learn in kindergarten is taught in a song or rhyme. Kids like to feel included and participate in patterns.

And there are tons of toys that take advantage of this. Toys have buttons a child can press to get the same character’s catch phrase thrown back to them, which the child, much to their joy, can repeat out loud. Satisfied with themselves, they press the button again. Same catchphrase, repeated again by the child. And again. And again, and again…

… You’d think with the way my kids played with the same toys over and over, I’d remember the character and the sounds that haunted my early days as a dad. Maybe I had to block them out. Either way, my children loved to do the same things, make the same sounds, and repeat the same processes with their toys. And while they loved the repetition, it got to be too much on Dad’s ears.

But you can’t just ask your child to stop playing with their favorite toy. Not only does that make you a Grinch, it puts you at odds with your kids over something small. So, what was I to do about my kids and their toys? Suck it up and deal with the annoying sounds?

Oh no, clever as I could be, I disguised my dismay in this bit of wisdom: “You know,” I told Katie and Spencer, “you can only do that with your toy so many times until it breaks.”

I thought I had them. It’s logical – you don’t want your toy to break because you love playing with it. So, maybe if you don’t press the same button 47 times in ten minutes, then your toy will last longer. A perfectly sound argument.

Well, my kids hated that, and they kept on playing. But, I have to give it to them, I’m pretty sure they still enjoyed those toys long after the sound features wore out.

Now, both my children are grown, and the lesson grew up with them. Just the other day, I saw my son working on his laptop. It’s an older machine – one he just uses for particular applications. He’s got a desktop and a tablet, but still loves this laptop for certain things. Seeing him clicking away, I joked “You know you can only do that so many times until it breaks, right?”

We laughed and reminisced about him and his sister playing together and whether they intended on annoying dear old dad or not. It was during that trip down memory lane that I started to think more about those words. While this statement was true on the material level, it’s actually the exact opposite for the intangible.

All inanimate objects will eventually fail. Even the best made products have a life cycle. When you use something frequently – especially an object with a repetitious function or a mechanical element – the product life cycle speeds up.

It’s not just objects, either. All things will eventually stop working or die. In most cases, exhaustive usage will lead to faster depletion. For example, think about picking wild flowers. Take one or two from the field for yourself and that’s okay. They will live and wilt for your personal pleasure. Pick an entire field dry, and there will be nothing to pollinate and proliferate in the springtime.

So, while this statement makes sense for anything physical, the paradox is true for the things you can’t touch. Your ideas become stronger with more research, debate and challenge. Habits are formed as the result of repeating the same thing until it’s second nature. All things ethereal and undefined – like the way you solve problems or mentally navigate stress – only get better with practice. They won’t break the more you use them.

Think about the last new thing you learned. This can be anything from programming to cooking. At first, you probably had to do a lot of research. Constantly double checking your process and second guessing yourself, you wanted to be sure you were doing things right.

Now, think about how well you execute this new activity. If you’ve continued to practice this thing, chances are you no longer check cookbooks or coding hot sheets – you just know your process. The knowledge is engrained in you. Your understanding is deeper and better because you practiced.

Mental habits can only be created with repetition. Don’t run from the upfront pains you will face. It’s okay to be intimidated by a new challenge, but that’s not a reason to run away. Too many people don’t try something new because they are afraid to fail. Let me tell you something that will make you feel better – you’re going to fail. A bunch. And that’s okay! You can’t learn something new if you’re not ready to make mistakes. Your errors are what allow you to evolve.

To achieve perfection in any personal or business process, it takes repetition. It takes legwork, effort and failure. But unlike the temporary material objects in our world, your repeated efforts won’t make you break. They will make you stronger.

Seek out experiences that bring you closer to what you desire. With practice, you will form habits. With tenacity, you will continue to improve your mental and business game.

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