Practice can elevate our performance.  But WHAT IS PRACTICE? Dr. Nadine Kelly shares how practice does not make perfect, how to practice effectively by setting intentions (WHY am I doing this and WHO do I need to be?) and the benefits of practice, including being less reactive.


Dr. Nadine Kelly

Yogi MD podcast

Talk About Talk & Dr. Andrea Wojnicki



Andrea Wojnicki: Thank you so much for joining us to talk about practice.

Dr. Nadine Kelly: Thank you for having me, Andrea, I am thrilled to be here.

AW: Me too. Me too. My first question for you is, what does practice mean to you?

NK: I detest the notion that practice makes perfect, because there’s no such thing and it sets people up for failure, in my opinion. And so for me, practicing means that you’re simply attempting to put your best foot forward in a safe situation. I’ll give you two examples, my yoga mat and my drum kit. So with my yoga mat, it’s a non-judgmental way to come to this medium, to show up and do my best. So it can be a positive mindset that I’m practicing, because I’m having a hard time doing that, or it can be a physical challenge. The yoga mat can be a place where I can come safely. And I’ll repeat it again without judgment. So that when I am in a real life, stressful situation, or when I want to have that tough conversation, or if I catch myself in a habit of a negative thought pattern that sets me up for failure, then I have the tools to do that, because I’ve practiced before coming to that situation. The yoga mat also gives me the opportunity while I’m practicing to find that pause between trigger and response. Practicing allows me to be less of a reactive person, and more of a responsive person. My drum kit – I’ve approached that with the very similar type “A” perfectionism. Which is why I hate “practice makes perfect” because there’s no such thing. But perfectionism is a thing. So if I’m approaching my drum kit with the same rigor and lack of joy, and I must sound like this, and I’m not achieving something that I want to achieve, then I’m taking the joy out of it. So for me personally, my drum kit has been about having a little bit of a reckoning, a discussion with myself about why I need to push myself to perfection, to show everyone… What am I proving to other people? What am I proving to myself? It’s been an opportunity for me to practice acceptance, and loving my voice, and also loving a process and a journey, and not having it always be about an outcome.

AW: Okay, well, I love your point that you made right out of the gate about doing your best in a safe environment. So one of the questions that I have is, is there a difference? Really? Or should there be a difference between practicing something privately and publicly?

NK: I don’t think there should be. I think that’s what the practice is about. I think that you set an intention, how you want to show up, whether you’re practicing privately, or whether you’re practicing in a group, and it may be more challenging in a group to practice self-acceptance, and not be comparing yourself to the other people. That’s what I encounter a lot with my students, this tendency to feel less worthy, or to feel like it’s a place to judge; “I can’t.” And to emphasize that. Because we’re choosing an intention. Whether we think we are or not, we are choosing to repeat that narrative, and not challenge it.

AW: So would you agree that a significant part of practicing effectively is to be very conscious of our goals? You use the word intention. So it could be goals, right?

NK: Sure. You’re doing something with purpose. I am a very practical person. So I believe that we can exercise choice, and we can seek clarity and purpose. So why am I coming to this yoga practice today? Why am I engaging in this practice?

AW: So I love that question. I’m obsessed actually with thinking about people’s motivations. And often it’s why people say what they say and why they choose to speak or not, right? I encourage my clients to think about why am I in this meeting, for example, like what are my goals? What are our team’s goals, and it’s kind of the same thing, as we were was talking before about intentions and goal-setting. Sometimes the default for our goals and aspirations. is to compare ourselves against others. When I was growing up, I was a competitive figure skater. And we didn’t even talk about personal bests back then. It was how are you ranked in your province or your state. So by default, it was always comparing you to others. And there’s a change now, right? You even see if you’re watching a lot of sports on, you know, whether it’s track and field or figure skating or whatever it is, they show personal best scores. That’s a personal best for so and so. And they’ll be thrilled this season here that so maybe there’s a bit of a context change in terms of the mindset for where our goals or intentions are grounded.

NK: I do think there’s a subtle difference. There’s a nuanced way of looking at intention and goals to me. The goal might be the outcome, and I don’t necessarily want to focus on the outcome. The intention to me is the why. And that’s a question that we don’t ask ourselves often enough, I’m going to share a quick story. Recently, my family got a Peloton bike, and therefore of us, three of us are type A personalities in this household. Me, my husband and my eldest daughter, my youngest has just been looking at us like, okay, you crazy people. But it was interesting, we had this discussion the other day, my husband, I think had just gotten off the bike, my eldest was going to exercise, we got into this discussion about the way the board the screen is set up. And so the screen is set up automatically when you log in to have your class in front of you. So you have the instructor in front of you. At the top, you have the timer. On the left-hand side of the screen, you have your heart rates, but also there’s a high five board on that side. And then on the right side is a leaderboard. Of course, the three of us use the screen very differently.

AW: Interesting.

NK: Yeah, it was very interesting. My husband wants all of those numbers, he finds that motivating. He wants to see where he is in the pack, and can you push himself to get farther and farther ahead. So that leaderboard is up for him. My daughter doesn’t necessarily pay much attention to that aspect of the leaderboard. She likes to see her personal best. So on the leaderboard, you’ll see your position, but you’d also see I had a five-minute personal best at this thing or whatever. Okay, so it’s a little bit more internally focused for her. Not for me, because I’m tired of competition and tired of focusing on outcomes and less on my why. I get rid of the leaderboard. I get rid of the timer. I get the screen as clear as possible. Because my why for coming to the Peloton bike is, am I proud of myself? Am I working hard? Do I feel energized? Consistent? And if I’ve accomplished all of those things, so if I’ve accomplished all those things, then that’s what I want. So when I examine my intention, my why I’m on the Peloton is very, very clear to me. It’s inside out ,not outside in.

AW: Yeah, there are inward focused people and outward focus people, right. But I love your point about being conscious of it. So maybe my goal is to win the gold medal or to be first or in the case of communication skills. It’s, I need to go out there. If I’m giving a presentation, a keynote speech, I need to impress the audience, I need to entertain them, I need to teach them something, whatever the more specific goals are. But your metric is external.

NK: But you’re defining an approach for yourself. Still, though, I think you’re still defining an intention. Yes, you want to connect. It is about an interaction in that specific scenario. So if you’re saying to yourself, I want to be present for this audience, I want to make sure that I am relaxed so that I can connect with them and make them laugh, I want to make sure that I am clear in my points. And I’m succinct. To me that’s a little bit different. You’re still being intentional. Yes, you want an outcome, but you’re also defining what those parameters are, and how you’re going to be cognizant of making sure you hit those points, you are defining how you’re going to show up.

AW: So this is putting you on the spot. And this may become the meta point of this entire episode. So I don’t want to make you nervous here. But I just I just thought of this question, which is, whether you’re on your yoga mat, or you’re preparing for a keynote presentation, or you’re trying to acquire a new skill, say practicing the piano or whatever it is, is there a mindset is there a checklist is there one or two or three things that we should be really focusing on in terms of our mindset questions that we’re asking ourselves. And as I said, what we’re focusing on?

NK: You want to make sure you’re showing up as the best version of yourself. We want that. We all want that. To me, what are the main two questions? Why am I doing this? And the second question is, who do I need to be in the scenario? Now, you know that I’m a coach at the Akimbo workshops.

AW: Yes.

NK: And here’s something that I’ve been asking myself when I’m coaching, these are adults globally. So who do I need to be in that scenario? I show up as the coach there. I need to be who I need to be, which means that I am not anybody’s Mother, I’m not a helicopter mom. I am there to support, I am there to witness the journey, I’m there to show empathy. So I am very clear about who I need to be when I sit down to engage with the students on that platform. When I need to sit down with one of my daughters. I’m still not a helicopter mom, but I decide who I need to be in that moment. Who do they need? At that moment? They need me to listen, or they may need a piece of advice. It depends on the conversation. But I want to have clarity as to why am I doing this? And who do I need to be? Because that varies depending on what I’m doing.

AW: I love that. I love that. So why am I doing this? And who do I need to be and that relates to you and I were talking about personal brands and articulating our personal brands and then communicating it and I’m thinking our personal brands are not one sentence, right? It’s a moment, we have multiple roles that we have in our lives. And so what part of your personal brand is showing up in a different context, including when you’re practicing, because it’s very different to show up, for example, as a student who is eager to learn, right, as opposed to a performer. And I’m thinking a lot right now about a yoga studio where there’s 25 people in their mats. And I bet you subconsciously more than half of them are feeling like they’re doing a performance.

NK: Absolutely, yeah, it’s competitive. It’s definitely something that I noticed in my classes because I teach a different population. We’re Wise Women, and with different physical abilities and levels. Let me give you a very typical example. A lot of shoulder issues in this population. So say we’re doing an exercise where we’re lifting both arms towards the ceiling. Invariably, I will catch a woman making a face, straining the shoulder that is hurt to try to get them both up to the same level. Or I’ll catch someone shaking her head in disappointment like she failed because she lost her balance during a pose. Or here’s another example. Oh, I’m sorry that I’m asking you a question. Or I’m sorry that I couldn’t do that. Because I feel like I’m holding up the rest of the class or, or I wish I could lift my leg like Nancy can. That’s what I’m coming back to the practice question. That’s a good opportunity to question your narratives. Right? So you can ask yourself, why do I talk to myself like this? Why am I always trying to prove myself? Can I let those things go? Because are they serving me right now?

AW: Right. And I just have to say everything that you’re saying makes so much sense. And it’s such an easy jump to, if you are conscious of your internal narrative of what your brain is saying, and maybe even what you are verbally saying like, Oh, I’m sorry about this, and Oh, I wish I could do that. Then your practice will be more effective. And how do you define effectiveness? It’s not necessarily improving your skill, but it’s accomplishing whatever the goal was that you ideally, intentionally set. Right? It’s a little bit tautological, actually, because you’re focused, you have intention to focus on your goal, right?

NK: Mm hmm.

AW: A couple of other things. So you said you want to show up as your best self. What about sometimes just showing up, because you don’t want to lose your rhythm. You don’t want to lose your momentum. And it’s better than doing nothing.

NK: Oh, that’s still showing up as your best self in my opinion. That’s being a professional. I don’t feel like reading this or preparing for this presentation or Don’t feel like teaching this class today. We’re people. I’m not in the mood right now I wish I could just go sit down and watch TV. Sure. But then you say to yourself, why am I doing this? And who do I need to be? And then when the answer to that is, I’m a professional. If I identify myself as a professional, that means that I behave as a grown woman and go do the work at that moment that is showing up as my best. Because I’m a professional and I show up when I keep my promise.

AW: You keep your promise, I love that answer. I was not expecting you to say that. But that that’s absolutely true. Sometimes our best self is just the one that’s barely showing up. But we do. Yeah. So let’s just back up for a minute. And the other thing that I’m hearing is being intentional about our intentions, right? And I’m actually thinking, if we’re really, really focused on our practice, then we almost need to have a mindset of practicing our practice.

NK: I hear you, yes. There’s humility to all this to you know, a yoga practice makes you so humble. And it makes you question convention, or stop to think why you’ve accepted certain things. I was doing a challenging yoga practice with a teacher I love last week, and we came into a pose that was a combination. And it wasn’t, he took us through it very slowly to get there. Okay, it wasn’t an acrobatic class. We built up to it. When we got to this pose, though, it was an arm balancing pose, but then you put one thigh up on your forearm as you’re balancing on both hands and in your arms. And then the opposite leg shoots back. Now, Nadine, eight years ago, that’s very fair, eight years ago, would have been like, Oh, I can’t do it. What’s wrong with me? I’m a failure. I should be able to stick this .I can do it. When I set my mind to do something, I do it and I’m gonna get it done no matter what. Me last Saturday, I looked at it and said, You know what, I’m not gonna do that. But I’m gonna modify it and do this instead. That’s a very different for me. That’s for you out of mindset work, you know, because I do want to show up and be nice to myself.

AW: Yeah, that’s really important.

NK: Especially in a very challenging practice. Just be nice. Like, it doesn’t always have to be about I got another “A,” you did it again. So you’re invincible. You’re unstoppable. It’s like, do I always have to be perfect? Aren’t there times for that? There are times for that. But not every single thing has to be approached with such fervor.

AW: So my friends and I sometimes talk about it as being a gold star seeker. It’s like, hey look, another gold star! We actually joke with each other, we’ll text each other. Oh, you got another gold star today? Look what happened? Yay. That’s actually it is it’s actually I’m thinking about it. Now through a different lens after this conversation. It’s good to remind ourselves that public accolades are fantastic, but we need to be intentional about what our goal really is.

NK: Yeah.

AW: Okay, before I move on to the five rapid fire questions, there is one other sort of tactical thing that I want to ask you about, which is the idea of using visualization in a practice. So just a little bit of context, actually two things. One, when I was a competitive figure skater, we had a sports psychologist help us for a few years. And I have this vivid memory of her, helping us meditate getting us into a really a mindful state, and then encouraging us to do it was do our program or do a jump that you’ve been having some challenges with, and then going out on the ice and doing it. And I just one day, I just let myself be hers, right? I was like, You tell me and I’ll do it. And I was not judging myself. I was totally ignoring what anyone else was thinking about me. And she said, I want you to, in your mind, do the biggest axel jump you’ve ever done. And I went out and I did the biggest axel jump. And she swore I remember she was like, holy BLEEP. That was incredible.  And I was like, that was like an inner body experience. I said, but the thing is, I did it twice because I did it when you helped me visualize it, and then I did it physically. And fast forward to today I’m coaching executives on how to show up with confidence. And one of the tactics that I employ, and I encourage them to employ is visualizing, I call it pirating someone else’s confidence. So you can pirate someone else.  I was talking about imagining that I was Madonna when I walked out on stage to give the biggest lecture at the University of Toronto that I ever gave. And I walked out and I was all mic-ed up and I was like, I’m channeling Madonna. And it made me laugh at myself. But also, I felt like I had her confidence. And then nowadays, when I don’t feel confident, I think about myself in that experience. And I remember how it felt, and I’m visualizing myself again that way. So do you have any comments about using visualization to help us in our practice?

NK: It’s a really good question. I would say I like your example of channeling Madonna. I’d like to challenge you and ask you what was it about Madonna that caused you to show up that way on because it wasn’t really Madonna? It was something about her.

AW: Her swagger. She’s got swagger, man.

NK: So yeah, so that’s exactly what it is. It’s that’s your why. That was your why and your Who.

AW: Okay.

NK: It’s something that I’ve been looking at. Because if Okay, so as podcasters anytime I listen to Terry Gross, I’m like, oh, Terry Gross. I just love her.

AW: I adore her.

NK: Uh huh. I and then I let my, I start to hear myself go: I want to be just like Terry, I want to be Terry Gross. And then I stopped myself and said, Okay, what’s so magnetic to you about Terry Gross? What is the inspiration? What do you admire? What is that thing? It’s the confidence is the comfort in her skin. It’s the aplomb. It’s the calm.

AW: She she’s a phenomenal listener. And she’s so empathetic. Oh, my gosh. Yeah.

NK: So once I identified those things. So I said, well, that kind of experience comes through practice. Yeah, it comes through practice. So I’m just gonna practice my craft, and try to show up in those ways that I admire.

AW: Oh, I like that. So in my mind, it works that I pictured Madonna and then I became Madonna. But when we are practicing something, your add to that is to really think back to the intention word, be intentional. Think and challenge yourself to understand what exactly it is about that person that you are emulating?

NK: Mm hmm.

AW: What about the meditation and visualization? In my figure skating example, where in my mind, I mentally rehearsed doing the biggest jump I’ve ever done. Do you ever do that in yoga?

NK: Not necessarily. I’ve done it with my drums.

AW: Huh!?!

NK: This is a little counterintuitive, but it speaks to this idea of visualization. There’s a lot of power. And I know there are studies done to this effect to where you practice mentally away from that craft. Yeah, so if I’ve been working on something, and just won’t come to me, physically, I’m having so much trouble with the coordination of it. But as of late, I’ve said to myself, okay, I’ve put in 10 focused minutes on this thing. It’s not coming together just yet. So when I’m taking a bath, or when I’m going to sleep, I can hear the music in my head, I can see it on the page. And I can imagine myself practicing it, I find that that improves the practice, when I come back to it, almost like you’ve given your mind a little bit of time to relax your mind and your body to process that thing without extra pressure, extra demands that it has to be now. So if you can picture yourself doing it, you’re also practicing away from your craft. And so then it becomes a boost to your confidence or something clicks. And then you can just execute it without overthinking it.

AW: Yeah, so actually, visualizing is practicing.

NK: Mm hmm.

AW: Again, I wasn’t expecting that answer. Is there anything else you want to add about practice before we move on to the five rapid fire questions?

NK: I would also emphasize that practice takes patience. So practicing when the stakes are not high, so that when things are heated up, you don’t just go into autopilot mode. Just go into Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – it’s just one of my favorite books. It’s sitting here on my desk. One of the most profound things he says is that space between trigger and response, practicing gives you a little bit more of that gap…

AW: Oh, I love that.

NK: Yeah. And practice helps you identify your triggers. I mean, like a lot of introspection over 2020 for me, where I was able to go, Oh, I don’t like that. And this is how that shows up in different situations. I don’t like it when people say this to me, or I don’t like this way or I don’t like that. And so now I can recognize, Oh, that’s a trigger. Or my usual comeback for this. Do I have to do that right now?

AW: Yeah, you can take that and use it as an analogy in practicing something physically right. practicing something in your interactions and relationships, practicing your own mental mindfulness. What what’s going on inside your brain? Wow, that’s pretty powerful. I love that. Thank you. All right, let’s move on to the five rapid fire questions. The first question is, what are your pet peeves?

NK: My pet peeves are people who are not willing to learn. People who lack humility, and people who insist on a black and white lens for everything. I’m right, you’re wrong, and there’s no gray.

AW: Okay, question number two, what type of learner are you?

NK: I am a combination of a visual and kinesthetic learner.

AW: And yet, you are a podcaster and a drummer! That’s auditory.

NK: but the drumming is very kinesthetic.

AW: It is.

NK: And visual somewhat too, because I read the music. Oh, that’s really interesting that you brought that up, because my drum teacher has been trying to have me stop using the visual as a crutch so much. So he’s been actually having me learn to sing the tunes out loud. So singing the pattern, so that I can make that connection with what I saw to what I’m hearing and feeling. So it is making me a better auditory learner? Yes. Well, I think that is not my strength.

AW: You’ve got a lot of strengths, Nadine, let’s just, let’s just be honest. Okay. Question number three, introvert or extrovert.

NK: I would say I lean more towards introvert. I’m much better one on one. And in small groups. As soon as it’s a big crowd. I feel like I don’t matter. And I’m never going to be that big, bold personality at a party, screaming. And I just I don’t like parties. So I’m much more of an intimate person. I like connection.

AW: Okay, question number four. Communication preference for personal conversations.

NK: A phone call.

AW: A phone call?

NK: Yeah. If the person is in my tiny circle, a really close person, yes. Okay, then I like to hear their voice. Or I like to see them. On FaceTime.

AW: Last question. Is there a podcast or a blog or an email newsletter that you find yourself recommending a lot?

NK: 2020 has been a lot of introspection about what community means to me, my social circle and being healthy within my social circle. So I’ve been choosing on purpose, what I will ingest and who I want to be in that social circle. All right, so I’m gonna cheat and say three right now. Practicing empathy, being the best person I can be being a great communicator, being someone who does not. Because I’m a human being, sometimes I practice black and white thinking, but I don’t want to be that person. Okay, and I want to catch myself when I’m doing that. So I’m less judgmental, and I listen better. So I love your podcasts because you teach me how to be a better communicator. It’s just the truth. I have another friend a fellow podcaster I don’t know if you know her. But Trisha Park. She’s a dear friend of mine. “Is it recess yet?” because Trisha is one of the smartest people I know. She practices empathy. She listens, she’s warm. She is unafraid of making mistakes. And she and I have talked about that on air or airing those things. She’s very honest. I don’t. Okay, so for me, that’s brave. Yeah. And then the newest person in my social circle is a fellow podcaster. His name is Bruce Devereaux. And his podcast is called “creatively engaging.” And it combines creativity, empathy, and respect for our elders. The episode I listened to of his today was with Ashton Applewhite, who wrote “This Chair Rocks.” She was also on my podcast, but they had a really great conversation. And one of the things that Bruce did in that episode, which I really admired was he said something, and Ashton gently encouraged him to nuance the language instead of saying they for the elders, she goes, No, no, there’s no “they” we it’s “we.” We’re all connected. And he said that out loud. And so it gave me pause, because I’m phrasing it as Wise Women, my Wise Women. No, no, no, no. I’m part of that community too.

AW: Yeah, absolutely. We have to be very careful with our words. We have to be very intentional with our words, don’t we?

NK: Yes.

AW: Our words that we’re articulating verbally and then also our self-talk.

NK: Yeah, umm hmm.

AW: Well, Nadine, we could go on for hours and hours. But I want to thank you so much for really illuminating for me what practice means. I’ve learned a lot from this conversation, and I thank you so much.

NK: It was my pleasure to be here. I loved it. Thank you for having me.

Transcribed by


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