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Practice Makes Progress

Do you know anyone who is so busy or so wound up that they can’t slow down for anything? I’m talking about those who get jittery while watching a movie because they view it as wasting a perfectly good 120 minutes? I know quite a few people who are like that. I used to be like that. Shedding that habit didn’t happen overnight for me. It took work - countless hours of yoga and meditation sessions where I thought my brain would explode from all the things I knew I wasn’t doing!

A common response when I tell folks I’m a yoga teacher is that yoga and meditation is definitely not for them. That’s fair. I can appreciate that. The kicker though is when they follow up that statement by saying they could never slow their minds or take time out of their schedules for these types of practices. What’s interesting (to me anyway) is that some deeply wish they could slow down while others wear this inability as a badge of honour. For the latter group, busy-ness equals productivity and that is often linked to their self-esteem.

I was scrolling through Instagram and came across a post that loosely said that this need to be busy all the time is a trauma response. I don’t have a clue if that’s true and I have no desire to research the accuracy of the statement. On the surface, it kinda makes sense. It’s all about avoidance, isn’t it? When my parents split up many years ago, I had the cleanest apartment on campus. I was in my second year of university and living with three other girls. My roommates knew I’d had a difficult telephone conversation with one parent or the other because I would go on a cleaning rampage. I was like the Tasmanian Devil sweeping through the apartment, tidying, scrubbing and making all surfaces shine. That was how I coped - by shelving that information and distracting myself from thinking about it.

As time went on and I gained more life experience, I started to unpack those shelves and I now use them much less frequently. I’m not saying that everyone should relive their past hurts. I firmly believe in looking ahead and moving forward unless (and yes, there is an important “unless” here) those stored experiences have resulted in limiting beliefs or behaviours.

From a biological standpoint, humans are programmed to learn from experiences. Pleasant ones are repeated and unpleasant ones are generally avoided. Our brains create stories around each situation so that we can recognize the signs or precursors of the unpleasant and maneuver away from these situations. That’s a good thing though, right? For the most part it is. However, sometimes, we learn things indirectly - from other people’s recounted experiences and behaviours - and sometimes, the stories our brains created cast too large a net of avoidance and we miss out on what might be pleasant or beneficial.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s consider a fairly common topic like the fear of dogs. Let’s say that Tim has a deep belief that all dogs bite and are dangerous. That belief took root from a story his mother told him about her being bitten by a big dog. Ever since he can remember, he and his mom would cross the road or change directions if they saw a dog on the street. Now, Tim’s wife wants to bring a dog into their family because she was raised with dogs as pets and wants her children to have that experience too.

It can be quite alarming when there is a disconnect between a belief and an objective assessment of the situation. In Tim’s case, he may rationally know that hundreds of thousands of dog owners in Canada can’t all be ignorant of imminent attacks within their homes. However, rationalizing away a long-held belief is not like flicking a switch. In addition, merely wanting to overturn a perhaps-unfounded belief isn’t sufficient for Tim to be comfortable opening his home and heart to a dog.

As a Coach applying the Integral Coaching method, I am taught to look at the client and as the client. The methodology is quite beautiful. If you’re thinking it odd to describe methodology as “beautiful”, then you’d be right. Still, I struggle to find an alternate qualifier. The method really allows the Coach to see the client from the outside - as anyone else in their circle would - and also to feel the world as the client, with all their strengths, qualities, thoughts and yes, limiting beliefs. This way of coaching is almost a gift given to the client - an offer to hold space for them to be exactly as they are and to walk forward with the client in a way that honours their present and future selves. The approach is so well-rounded and layered that it prevents someone (like I used to be) from wanting to scream: “For goodness sake Tim! Get over it! Do you really think that miniature doodle is going to rip out your jugular while you’re sleeping?!”

So how does Tim or anyone release limiting beliefs? Well, it definitely requires a number of steps. It requires recognition and understanding of the limiting belief. It requires acknowledgement, and perhaps even gratitude, that the belief did once have a purpose and no longer does. It requires permission and release. In other words, it takes a whole lot of curiosity and exploration and practice. Releasing beliefs and associated behaviours with which we’ve been engaging for decades will not happen overnight.

Let’s get back to our busy people, shall we? What happens when someone who is so used to rushing from one thing to the next wants to make a lasting change? It is quite likely that their very first step will call on them to learn how to Seriously, I’m not kidding. Oh, I’ve seen it already. I’ve been asked for the Coles notes version of coaching. These fast-paced productivity keeners crave that Instagram-inspiration-one liner that will provide the ah-ha moment they’ve been waiting for. Sadly for them, that ain’t gonna cut it!

People may have different learning styles and different levels of engagement depending on how information is presented. Figuring that out certainly is useful. What is crucial to lasting change though is a willingness to become curious about ourselves and to get acquainted with what makes us us. Once that becomes clear, we can move to shifting our beliefs, behaviours and our perceptions in a way that broadens our way of being. I was discussing coaching with someone recently and he balked at the idea of journalling. Surely a busy person like him couldn’t be expected to write stuff down - in a journal no less (Gasp!). Couldn’t he just think about his topic over the course of the day? The short answer is “no”. The longer answer is “Hell no”.

There is something quite powerful about sitting quietly, contemplating, introspecting, writing down our thoughts and then having our eyes read our words and relay the message to our brains. It’s not about being “light and fluffy” or wasting time. How can you effectively change and maintain the change if you have no objective idea of what you’re dealing with and why? Spoiler alert: you can’t. And another spoiler here: change takes time and practice. There will be slips and setbacks. For a person to embody a new way of being, there needs to be a conscious decision, a lot of fact-finding and research and practice. This is simply not something that one can rush through. In the case of effecting change, productivity actually comes from slowing down and being present.

We are all works in progress. We are human and imperfect. I used to spend so much time on Pinterest looking up inspirational quotes to put up on my yoga Instagram account. Some, I would use as wallpaper on my phone’s lock screen so that I had a reminder during the day. You know what though? The second I replaced the wallpaper, I’d forgotten all about the saying. These one-liner ah-ha moments are fleeting. They are not linked to sustainable change without a structured practice to accompany them. Change is a process. At the risk of dating myself, I’m reminded of the Heinz Ketchup add with a very young Matt LeBlanc that said: “The best things come to those who wait”…and I’d add: “…and to those who practice”.

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