Succeed With What Matters to You
Bring home the energy of a peak experience
BY MAGAZINE EDITOR SUSAN MAIER-MOUL
The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior published a study earlier this year on why fitness resolutions end up failing. Medline/ HealthDay, reporting the study offered readers this guidance:
The key may be to avoid an all-or-nothing approach. Instead of committing to daily spinning classes at the local health club, people may choose to start by making smaller, incremental changes, such as taking the stairs or walking for a few extra minutes a day.*
It’s not just about fitness. If we want to succeed with anything, this is excellent advice.
What Medline’s article doesn’t point out is how much more energy and commitment it takes, how much more difficult it is, how blandly uninspiring we find it, to choose to make small changes to what we do habitually, all day.
We’d have to pay attention. We’d have to notice. We’d have to choose.
The Big Guns
Making a heroic choice once a day to do something hard asks almost nothing in terms of self awareness or attention. We set get-tough goals driven by heroic ego-reinforcing choices to earn rewards and recognition. Because I did “X” I’m entitled to have “Y”.
It’s a pretty good deal and all goes well until “Y” isn’t rewarding anymore or the heroic act doesn’t accomplish the goal we set. Well, that didn’t work, we say. Plus, we’re bored.
Success with goals and changing habits require us to make choices repeatedly and consistently about things we haven’t been aware of, or even wanted to think about, for a long time.
The Fine Line
I can so easily remember the first time I managed to interrupt myself when I was angry, just at the very moment I was about to lose my temper.
I noticed the signs: my voice was getting louder, I could literally feel my blood pressure rising, and I had a strong feeling of hatred toward the person with whom I was speaking.
There’s a fair chance in a different situation I’d have ignored the first two signs. That third signal, though, was halogen bright in my eyes because I was speaking to someone with whom I was deeply in love.
Right at that moment, I was prepared to leave the relationship. Immediately.
The Wake Up Call
Instead of beginning to shout, I asked if I could excuse myself a minute and went into the next room. Once alone, a battle raged in me. Fear lunged sickeningly into the mix of hatred and anger. My past rose up like mountains and the future split open like a chasm in the earth. My reason and emotions were thrashing like a gloves-off scene from Fight Club.
And as though in a dream, there was something steadily flashing, a glint from parallel dimension in the middle of it all.
My attention kept swinging back to the furious, seething energy I felt. In all of the tumult and confusion its force was a pole star that compelled me: the violence of the emotion I was feeling was completely, utterly out of proportion to the disagreement I’d had with my lover. It didn’t remotely match up. The discrepancy gripped me; though I heard my demon wind howl around me, I didn’t fall into the void.
It was one of the most sparkling clear experiences of my life.
The Down Low
In The Tibetan Book of the Dead, the exquisite prayers instruct us when we’re dying how to discern our own projections appearing in the space between life and death.
One monstrous wrathful deity after another, drinking blood, armed with weapons, circled in serpents and skulls, confronts departing souls. “Do not be afraid,” the prayers implore us, guiding us to liberation. “Do not be terrified. Do not be bewildered. Recognize the form of your own mind.”
The prayer says, Decide. Choose to know what is real no matter how much of a story you know about what you think. Recognize.
The Long Shot
In his book Drive, Daniel Pink describes the classic carrot and stick approaches to getting people to do things. He draws out the lessons of reward and punishment, the complications and the often surprisingly counterproductive results of attempting to harness these two motivational drives.
He documents how when rewards stop interesting us or stop showing up, our original goal pales too, and we’re less motivated than ever to do anything about it. Pink says, in fact, the motivation of our third drive – intrinsic interest – is far more powerful and reliable than either punishment or reward.
Intrinsic interest is exactly what yoga sets out to locate and intensify our awareness of. It’s the innate inspiration to be fully who we are, the drive we’re born with to live to our full potential.
The Sweet Spot
There are two key steps involved in succeeding with any resolution to change: noticing and choosing. One without the other doesn’t get you very far.
Yoga develops the skill, the energy, the strength to notice and to choose consistently.
Yoga teaches us how to free ourselves from fear and confusion, to recognize the forms of our projections, even under stress, even in our most overwhelming moments.
That’s why we practice.
We go to retreats, workshops and classes to bring home the energy of a peak experience. We get back to the grit and moxie of our real lives, looking forward to the challenge of sorting out ourselves from our illusions.
The sharp highs and lows are contrasts that save our lives: they compel us to notice the discrepancies between our projections and what’s real.
Learning how to be specific is one of the thrive-friendliest skills we can acquire. It helps us to get savvy about noticing, because we learn how to look in a less abstract way.
Specific means cutting out the noise and locating the signal. We can develop the strength to stop paying attention to the noise.
When we can recognize the signal, we have a chance.
We can choose.
*January/February 2010 The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
Medline 12/19/09 http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_93475.html
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.