Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Effort Behind Your Effort

I've been blessed to be married to a very wise teacher. And my wife came home from a yoga class the other day with a very powerful insight.

She had been doing a yoga pose and was not satisfied with the quality of her effort. The pose was not where she thought it should be. It was a twist and she had not twisted as far as she thought she should be able to. Her spine was not as straight as she thought it should be. In short, she thought she should be better in the pose than she was at that particular time.

She noticed a critical voice in her head telling her how badly she was doing the pose. Her insight was to realize it doesn't have to be this way. We can encourage ourselves instead of berating. Or we can simply be with our experience rather than running an internal commentary of any sort. She was excited to be able to share that with her yoga students. To show them that the voice of effort doesn't have to be a harsh critic.

We all try things. New things, old things, things we are skilled at and things where we struggle. Maybe we're giving a presentation, or writing a report, or learning something new. It could be anything.

What do we say to ourselves as we try? Are we an encouraging coach? An ill-tempered nag? What do we add to, or take away from, the experience with our self criticism?

To reach a state of flow, we always need to flirt with that line where things are doable but still challenging. And to be kind to ourselves when we're on that edge, instead of beating ourselves up, is a precious gift.


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  1. Hi Jeff,

    Happened to step upon your blog very recently, and I have been digesting a few posts a day. I must admit it has felt like a nourishing wave of down to earth advice and wisdom.

    This post in particular really hit home for me, as every now and then I zone into what my inner critic is really telling myself and I am surprised that instead of being a support and motivator, it is in fact being a harsh force against all of my energies.

    Perhaps most surprising for me was that it didnt't take too much energy to focus my attention inwards, it's the dialogue that I heard that caught me off guard the most.

    Keep up the great writing.


  2. Sometimes we forget how many things just go "right" for us. We seem to be like breathing lotus flowers, we open and we close. One day seems open and free, and the next day we are not the same and life requires more effort to keep up... and I wonder, "keeping up with what? Especially when we do asanas, we may get sore and then the next day is not the same. I said we are like lotus flowers - or perhaps any flower - we breathe and open and then we close a bit. Now we can decide to observe this opening and closing - allowing to invite effortlessness even when we struggle... we do what we do - we can't even say it is anything, like a meditation for instance, then :-). We can't really say what is happening, no matter what unfolds. Still, our desires tell us to want more of this, this beautiful flexibility and strength... I so understand!

  3. Thanks you both for your comments.

    Sean, glad you found the blog and that you enjoy reading. Please feel free to tell your friends!

    Just noticing that we can be kind to ourselves, even as we struggle, is a powerful teaching. It's so easy for me to slip into a mode of being critical, or of beating myself up, even as I try to improve. The reminder gives me a little more space, which seems to make things easier.