Last night, my husband was telling me about a conversation he had with a co-worker about Benjamin Franklin. As most Americans know, Franklin is famous for his many inventions and ideas, research, politics and his writing. What these two engineers were discussing was not Franklin’s prodigious output, but his persistence.
Franklin was known to keep at his ideas – trying scientific experiments again and again, practicing his writing skills in deliberate ways. If he met with failure he would try not just once, but many times. He would move on, but not until he had worked persistently first.
This is the exact opposite of how many of us go about life.
We try something new and if it doesn’t go well immediately, we dismiss the new project, comforting ourselves with the thought that we were not cut out for that particular endeavor. We think we don’t have the natural talent needed to pursue it. Mostly though, we don’t want to look bad. Our egos don’t like looking like beginners, making mistakes, being corrected and acknowledging that others might know more. I know I fall prey to this way of thinking more than I would like to admit.
Yoga offers us two lessons to avoid this trap that keeps us bound to old patterns, one lesson from the Yoga Sutras and the other from The Bhagavad Gita.
The first lesson is that the key to success (in yoga, but true for other endeavors) is long, consistent and deliberate practice. Why have I italicized the word deliberate? Because it can be the hardest part of practicing. Deliberate practice means being present while practicing. Deliberate practice mean repetition of yoga poses that are hard for us, not just pursuing what comes easily or naturally. Deliberate practice means not randomly jumping through poses, but having a plan. This sort of practice is hard, but brings about change.
The second lesson is the idea of detachment. From The Bhagavad Gita:
Seek refuge in the attitude of detachment and you will amass the wealth of spiritual awareness. Those who are motivated only by desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do.
This passage is meaningful for me as I often do feel anxious about my “results”. Was the class I taught good enough? Did my practice on the guitar pay off so that my teacher will think I have done well? Will people laugh when I sing? These thoughts do make me miserable, because they are mostly about my ego. If I can change my way of thinking to reflect on my results in a detached way, then I can work to improve instead of giving up. This is hard work, and work that will never be finished.
Next time you are faced with a challenge in your life, give yourself a boost. Try on the idea of deliberate practice before simply giving up. Let go your ideas benefitting from your actions, or of looking good while trying something new and you will go far!