Practice

Developing Your Most Powerful Practice

The other night while watching TV, the characters walked into an ambush. They immediately did exactly what you’re supposed to do in an ambush. Here’s a pop quiz to see what you think they should have done:

A. Immediately move left or right, finding cover.

B. Hit the deck! Stay low and try to fire back.

C. “This is not a good place to be! Back the way we came!” (This is known, in most armed services, as “retreating”, but in the Marines we called it “tactical withdrawal.”)

D. Charge pell-mell into the oncoming fire, hoping to overwhelm the strategically placed and entrenched ambushers.

Go ahead, take your time. Think about it. I’ll give you a hint: the answer is not intuitive.

The answer is D. CHARGE!

Why You Should Dive Into Your Practice

The reason for this tactic is simple: the whole point of an ambush is that they got there first. This means that they’ve already looked at the places you might find cover (and made them into traps) and they’ve also prepared to cut you off from retreat. Staying where you are…well, if that was an option, you wouldn’t really be in an ambush, would you?

The only way out of an ambush is through it. But it doesn’t make sense – it doesn’t feel right. Running towards something that scares you? You’d have to be crazy!

Except…that’s the only way to get through it. And when you’re looking at something big in your life – change in job, big project, new family issues, public speaking, moving into more intimate emotional spaces – it is scary. Often it feels like the entire Universe is ambushing you (“I just can’t win! It’s like the world is out to get me!”).

The only way out is through. But that is hard, and scary, and takes a measure of willpower that is often exhausting, to the point where you “literally can not.” And that’s it. The ambush did its job, and kept you from your objective.

Unless…you’ve built a habit. Unless you don’t need to expend the willpower, because you’ve already conditioned yourself to charge into things that scare you.

Charge Into the Little Things

You don’t have to start with the big stuff. Even if you know the big stuff is out there, and you know (with that sinking feeling) that you have to come at it head-on, you might not have to come at it right now.

Find something else that is something you don’t necessarily like, but that isn’t scary. For me it would be, say, an intermediate yoga practice. I don’t want to take the time, I don’t want to do those poses that push me out of my comfort zone, I don’t want to feel my age and inflexible joints and fatiguing muscles.

All those things feel like an ambush waiting to happen?

So how do I “charge” at it? How do I overwhelm the opposing forces with my powerful counter-attack?

I tend to think of it as making a slide. Instead of thinking of this obstacle as a mountain I have to climb, I try to make it into basically a waterslide. That means laying out my yoga mat the night before, right where I will trip over it when I get up. It means having the yoga workout (which I usually watch on YouTube) already cued up and ready to press play. It might mean having the coffee making stuff already laid out so that I can see and smell it waiting for me at the end of the workout. It also means asking my partner to remind me, cheerfully in the morning, that the first thing I am doing is yoga-ing.

That’s a lot of prep, right? But honestly, I’m laying an ambush for the forces that I know, in the morning, will try to keep me from my objective:

Yawn. “I don’t want to get out of bed…”

“Morning! Time to do yoga!” (This is much easier for her to be cheerful about when she’s not going to be getting out of bed).

I grumble into the living room, and see my phone on my desk. The urge to check social media happens…until I trip over the yoga mat, literally, and there I am, with the remote for the TV right next to me.

I push the “on” button, and instead of a series of distracting icons trying to share movie previews and news and celebrity gossip there is just the yoga instructor, frozen there, waiting for me to push “play.”

Sure, the coffee makings are up there…but it’s more effort to get up off the mat again than to press the button, and so the yoga practice starts.

The “I don’t wanna” never stood a chance. I literally fell into the practice, and the objective.

Choose Your Battles, Win the War

Honestly, I’m a little uncomfortable with all the military metaphors in this post…but in this case I’m going accept that there is a struggle going on between the self we think we’re supposed to be and our “authentic” self. Building habits to encourage the latter to come out requires constant effort, because our culture surrounds us with simultaneous messages of “here’s what you’re supposed to be” as well as “you’re not good enough yet

I don’t do yoga because I want to be a better yogi. I do yoga because it helps me be a better Gray. That’s also why I lift weights, journal, write this blog, and eat donuts. Seriously: the Gray who eats donuts is a much better Gray than the one who doesn’t. Ask my partner.

Your job – and maybe this is a good idea for an upcoming Life post – is to figure out what habits you can cultivate to let your own authentic self come out.

It’s really not that hard to do, because usually it’s the habits that scare you.

Charge!

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