Practice the practice
“I can’t do yoga.” As a yoga teacher, I hear people say this a lot. Or “I can’t meditate, I tried it once and I can’t do it.” I find this sentence increasingly bizarre. Of course, it’s partly based in a misconception of what meditation is, which is understandable.
But the thing I find particularly odd is the presumption that you need to be good at something the first time you do it. Would you expect that of anything else that you do for the first time?
It’s like me and my electric guitar. I’ve had this guitar nearly 30 years. It was a present from my dad for passing my GCSEs. I started learning classical guitar when I was 10 but loved rock music and really wanted an electric.
I’ve probably played it less than 100 times. For some reason I just never took to it. I’d pick it up, not sound like Jimi Hendrix, and put it back down again for a month. Even when I found out there was such a thing as “effects pedals” it still felt like a different instrument to the one I had learnt.
The months have gradually turned into years, and if I’m honest I gave up long ago. As rock ‘n’ roll as this photo is, it feels a bit fraudulent if I’m honest.
Ridiculous isn’t it? No-one in the world would expect to pick up a guitar for the first time and sound like Jimi Hendrix. I bet not even Jimi Hendrix sounded like Jimi Hendrix the first time he picked up a guitar.
So there are three things I’m learning and I’d like you to take these on board too.
1. You don’t ever have to be brilliant at something to derive pleasure from it. While I still haven’t picked up my electric guitar for anything more than posing for a few photos, I have recently rekindled my joy in playing classical guitar. It doesn’t matter what it sounds like, I’m not playing for anyone else. Which leads to…
2. You won’t get good at anything if you don’t practice it. We seems to have forgotten this, especially as adults. The perseverance. The learning process. Why do we get so scared of learning again? Why do we fear being a bit rubbish at something? We are ALL rubbish the first time we do something. You get good at it by doing it.
You are never too old to learn a new skill. My great Auntie Phyl died a few weeks ago. She was just a few months short of her 100th birthday. I always remember her painting, but she didn’t actually learn to paint until she was in her 60s. As her eyesight deteriorated she felt she could no longer paint, but she had probably 15-20 years of enjoyment from the hobby. And she has left us a legacy of many paintings and drawings (three of which I have in my house).
3. We don’t always get pleasure from the things that make us feel great in the long term. One of my favourite psychologists, the founder of flow Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, talks about how ‘pleasure’ and ‘enjoyment’ are two different things. And ‘enjoyment’ is not necessarily always pleasurable.
“Enjoyable events occur when a person has not only met some prior expectation or satisfied a need or a desire, but also gone beyond what he or she has been programmed to do and achieved something unexpected, perhaps even unimagined before.”Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Sometimes we need to stretch ourselves beyond what we think we can do to reach new heights of enjoyment.
Which brings me back to yoga and meditation. Will you be brilliant at it the first time you do it? Almost certainly no. Will you get better at it the more you do it? Almost certainly yes. Will that process of learning be pleasurable? Maybe yes, maybe no. Will it be beneficial and enjoyable in the long term. Well I wouldn’t be much of an advocate for it if I said no would I?
Of course, no hobby or self care practice is for everyone. But I honestly don’t believe you can conclude that it isn’t for you unless you truly apply yourself to it for a period of time. And learning and growing is all part of the optimal human experience.
So what can you apply yourself to learning?