Maybe It’s Working?

I went to a step aerobics class last night.

Last night was the second class I’ve taken in 7+ years, when I used to take step classes twice a week at the gym at work. Back in the day, I loved step classes; they were the only time in my life that I’d ever felt coordinated (well, except for high school marching band). But the first class back after that long hiatus was pretty humbling. I couldn’t understand the instructor’s cues. (Did he say “sit down pongo”? What the heck is that? Mambo step pivot straddle, 180 over, exit to the back? Is that even possible?)  I especially had trouble on turns. For some reason, I always ended up facing everyone else in the class. I spent much of the time comparing myself to the other steppers. The woman in front of me never missed a step. The woman behind me looked lost a couple of times, but not nearly as much as I did. I started to feel frustrated and angry. When the class was over, I considered never going again.

But the time I had available to work out last night coincided with the time of the step class, so I decided to give it another go now that I’d had a week and a half of mindfulness. I still got lost. I still found myself face-to-face with everyone else in the class after at least half of the turns. But about halfway through I realized: I was happy! I wasn’t just tolerating the class. I was actively enjoying myself. I was even smiling. Embarrassment still found me several times, but the fact that I was happy at all was pretty remarkable.

I know it’s way too soon to conclude anything about the roll mindfulness may or may not have played in my uncharacteristic enjoyment of an activity in which I did not, to say the least, excel, but I found it encouraging that I had such a positive emotional response.

I wonder what need was being met in that moment. I was doing better than in the first class, so perhaps that met my need for competence or growth. One of the things I was really loving was moving to the rhythm of the music, so maybe there was some rhythmic need that was met. It certainly met my need for physical exercise. And I met two of my commandments in that class, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly,” and “Risk looking silly.”

Not only that, but I took the kids to the park today and didn’t hate it! I might be on a roll.

If it’s Worth Doing, it’s Worth Doing Poorly

This is another commandment intended to help me sidestep perfection. I paraphrased it from Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication. I would love to include the original quote here, but I can’t seem to find my copy of the book. It’s possible I loaned it to someone. I should probably own duplicate copies of my favorite books if I’m going to loan them out. The gist was basically that, when we’re trying to improve how we’re doing something, trying to learn something new or practice a newly acquired skill, we should try not to hold ourselves back because of a fear of not performing as well as we’d like. In the context of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), it’s acknowledging that what Rosenberg is introducing is a very different manner of communicating than what most of us are accustomed to. As a result, it feels uncomfortable or fake, and it’s easy to worry that we’ll mess it up and say the wrong thing, especially when we’re guessing at other people’s emotions, which is the cornerstone of NVC. Rosenberg reassures us that, since the point of using NVC is to form a connection with another person through empathy, even if we guess wrong or say the “wrong” thing, the intent is still there, and we’re still closer to connection than we were before we tried.

This commandment is similar to the commandment to Risk Looking Foolish, but to me, the “Worth” portion is a subtle but important difference between the two. Risk Looking Foolish is mostly just to encourage me to take a chance and not worry about what others think of me. My actions may or may not actually be foolish, but my concern is with others’ perceptions of me, which I can’t control anyway. “If it’s Worth Doing…” is about not just being perceived as foolish but maybe actually not succeeding at all or even messing things up. The implication is that if the thing one is trying is important enough, it’s better to try and fail than to not try at all.

I definitely try to apply this to interpersonal interactions, which is where I’m least comfortable. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time with my foot in my mouth. I tend to be judgmental and opinionated, and I have many memories of interactions that make me cringe because of my unskillful and untactful communication skills. I’ve worked hard to improve on these skills, which is part of why my foot isn’t in my mouth as often these days. The other reason, though, is that I’m less likely to talk to people now than I used to be. Being a stay-at-home mom makes it easier to avoid conversations than it was when I was working full-time at a large corporation. But, like with my avoidance of speaking foreign languages with native speakers, I miss out on relationships and experiences by avoiding conversations.

Now, when I go to talk with someone I don’t know, or with someone I do know about a sensitive topic, I spend a few moments (or a few days) psyching myself up and reminding myself of the guidelines for effective, empathetic communication before I make the phone call or talk with the person face-to-face. This takes a lot of effort, though, so I’m glad to have the freedom to take a break and be a hermit again if I don’t have the energy to deal with talking with people.

One area I’ve applied this commandment more confidently is with parenting. I can’t avoid my children for long, so I get to practice the intensive parenting methods I’ve chosen whether I’m up for it or not. I worry that I’m messing it up and messing the kids up, but I also know that it would be worse for them if I didn’t try at all than if I tried and did a poor job of it. It’s the effort that makes the difference, not necessarily the successful achievement of the intended outcome.

What are some of the things that you find are worth doing poorly?

Coming tomorrow: Happiness Project Kickoff! I will reveal August’s resolutions as well as the focus areas for each month.