The Time Traveler: The power of the daily practice

Hugh Ellis

I guess quite a few of us picked up an unexpected, I-can’t-believe-s/he-is-doing-that, hobby during lockdown in 2020. For me, that hobby was the saxophone.

I’d recommend learning a musical instrument to anyone, for both cultural connection and mental health, but this not directly what this column is about.

It’s about the one big thing that impressed me about saxophone pedagogy, and indeed all musical instrument learning, as far as I know: you must practice every single day.

I soon realised, as I guess most music students do, the great power that daily practice has. When you practice something every single day, something almost magical happens.

Techniques that seemed weird and that you had to look up the first few times, soon become subconscious knowledge. In the case of an instrument, suddenly you just end up knowing where to put your fingers and how to regulate your breath.

More importantly, doing something every day makes you believe you are, inherently, a doer of that thing. You are the genuine article. A real saxophonist. Or a real whatever.

This got me thinking about the power of daily practice in so many other areas of our lives, and in the way we run our country, too.

Maybe that’s why so many of our government policies, as fine as they may be on paper, remain unimplemented. They do not specify practices that every police officer, every teacher, ever Home Affairs clark, every Executive Director and so on, must undertake every working day.

Maybe that’s part of the reason the ‘rescue’ plans of many of our troubled companies fail. Partly it’s because management knows they can always lobby for a government bailout. But partly it’s because these ‘turnaround strategies’ talk in general terms, but do not specify what must change in the daily practices of every employee at every level.

Imagine we required every police officer to read daily about the dangerous effects of rape culture and patriarchal norms in society. And there was someone checking his or her homework. Might not the way they treat rape victims change?

Imagine if we elected politicians, and the President appointed Cabinet Ministers, based not on the question, ‘what will you do in five years’ time?,’ but on ‘what will you do next Monday?’ Or ‘What did you do last Friday?’

That would force us to think about policy-making in a new way.

If we start by considering ‘what practices do we want to be undertaken day-to-day?’ then it follows that we would also need to think, ‘what resources does each public servant need right now to undertake these daily practices?’

It might make our plans less grand – more about what can actually be achieved than what we would love to see in our most optimistic visions.

I would also say that working on the basis of daily activities would help us with that tricky Namibian problem of self-belief. With getting people to believe in the idea of Namibia as a hopeful nation, a winning nation – an idea that, at least to me, seems to have been slipping away ever since shortly after Independence.

Despite the fact that I can only play, like, all of five songs, the fact of going back to my instrument every damn day has made me feel like a sax player.

In the same way, actually seeing our public servants and corporate employees do stuff that benefits people every day – that might help us to feel like a winning, developing and confident nation.

Based on my experience with the saxophone, my New Year’s Resolution is to apply the power of daily practices in my working life – in my teaching, my marking, my research, my community activism. I would encourage you, and Namibia, to do the same.

Dr Hugh Ellis had a 10-year career as a journalist in the 2000s, and has been an academic at the Namibia University of Science and Technology since 2010. He’s currently planning a third career, in due course, as ‘that strange old guy playing the blues at the back of a smoky bar’. Just kidding. The views he expresses here are personal views. Check out his blog at

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