Challenge

work-life balance: Men struggle as much as women to maintain work-life  balance - The Economic Times

I’ve never been a very competitive person. Growing up with an older sibling, you quickly realize that you’re more than likely always going to lose anything that isn’t purely chance. My odds were only slightly better even in those scenarios as I never seemed to be lucky either. I have always blamed this dynamic in my childhood for creating the largely apathetic attitude I have regarding any type of competition. I expect to lose. I don’t care much if I win. So what’s the point? I’ve always preferred to avoid any chance of failure.

Recently I’ve realized that my lack of a competitive drive has also bled into my relationship with my own personal challenges. I’m a huge quitter. I’ve never had any problem backing out or giving up if I believe I am going to finish short of my goal. In addition to that, academics have always come easily to me. I never had to struggle to understand or accomplish anything as far as my school work went. I got pretty used to being ahead of my peers. It felt good to always be the smartest person in class, even if intellectually I knew I didn’t attend a very good school. When I got to college and found myself actually having to study for my chemistry and biology classes, I was quick to change my major rather than put in the extra effort. Psychology came much more naturally to me than science, so I finished out my formal education at the top of my class, no studying required.

I still think back on those college science classes every now and then though. I take pride in the fact I still managed to get A’s even though it was hard. Whereas I don’t really care about the grades I got in my psychology courses, because in my mind, they were easy. I was more shocked that anyone managed to do badly. I’ve started to recognize this recurring theme in my life though. I’m so afraid of failure that I only allow myself to do things I know I’ll excel in. Yet, whenever it does happen that I find myself in a challenging situation, it seems I enjoy it more in some ways. I definitely take more pride in accomplishments that were difficult for me. Sadly, despite my many accomplishments, I only have a few that fall into this category.

I think in a certain way, society encourages this type of behavior. “Do what you’re good at” seems to be the message. There is this idea that we have natural gifts. Once we find out what those are, that is where we should focus our energy rather than wasting our time improving at something we may only ever be mediocre at. Only after learning about the 10,000 hour rule, did I really begin to question that idea. While it is still widely believed some people are simply born with special talents, the 10,000 hour rule explains that if someone devotes enough time to a certain art or discipline, they will surely master it, regardless of innate ability. This idea puts the locus of control back on the individual.

After spending the last few weeks absolutely obsessed and in love with my new electronic drawing tablet, I started to view this whole issue from a different perspective. At first, I was terribly intimidated by this new software I had no idea how to use. A large part of me wanted to quit and just go back to pen and paper which I already knew I was good at. However, knowing how much money I spent on this tablet, I pushed through the discomfort of being an amateur. In doing so, I ended up having so much fun learning something brand new.

Through this experience, I’ve begun to realize that I actually enjoy being challenged. Once I get past my initial fear of failure, once I overcome my massive ego telling me it will be the end of the world if I’m not the best at something, no matter how frivolous, I inevitably start to have fun. Sure there is frustration along the way as I struggle to do something new, but that makes it all the more satisfying when progress is made. Ultimately I don’t even care if I can eventually master whatever it is I’m doing. The enjoyment itself is all I’m after.

I remember hearing about how highly intelligent students may do poorly if their lessons don’t keep up with their ability. The smart kids get bored and lose interest while waiting for the rest of the class to catch up, causing them to lose focus and motivation, or even start to act out. This never made much sense to me growing up. I liked that school was easy. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want their lessons to be harder, even if they found them laughably easy. Now I think I’m finally starting to get it.

A happy mind is a busy mind. A bored mind will tear itself apart. In my opinion this is why we often see the most intelligent people also suffering with the most extreme mental illness. Being intelligent is simultaneously a gift and a curse. High intelligence demands high levels of intellectual stimulation. The brain was made to create, to investigate, to learn, and to solve problems. Without these healthy outlets for mental energy, the brain begins to make problems for itself.

When all I do is things that only require half-assed effort, my brain has plenty of extra energy to run amuck. Boredom breeds rumination. With nothing to occupy my mind, it begins to pick apart little details of the past or fret over the future. To me, this is the opposite of the “flow state.” When we are in that coveted flow state, our brains are fully engaged in what we are doing. The rest of the world falls away, and we are able to exist in the present moment. When nothing in the present requires our full attention, the mind is free to wander. With enough wandering, it’s only a matter of time until we find ourselves in the uncharted territory of our own mental illness.

The ego looms large over the mind with mental illness. The ego tries to keep us in our comfort zone, tells us challenge is too hard, that failure is painful. But if we can push past this flawed perception, if we can overcome our ego, we actually find that it’s fun to be challenged! Challenges are what help us to learn, to grow, to stay interested in our day to day lives. It’s new. It’s novel. It’s engaging. Challenges are true workouts for the brain. And just like physical exercise, it makes us happier.

Now my problem has become coming up with ways to challenge myself. My brain is quick to catch on to anything new I try. Therefore I’m constantly required to switch it up and try new things if I want to keep my mind engaged. However, just like with my workouts, it’s always hard to motivate myself to take things to the next level. It’s called a comfort zone for a reason. It feels good to be good at something. I’m going to work harder from now on to remember that it also feels good to be challenged and practice facing difficulties with enthusiasm rather than dread.

Calm Amidst the Chaos

Even when I don’t have a lot of free time in my day, I always make time for my yoga and meditation. Some days that’s a half an hour, others it’s only 5 minutes. I try not to let myself get caught up in an all or nothing mentality. Just because I can’t find the time to do my normal routine, doesn’t mean that those five minutes I do have won’t make a difference.

Today I noticed myself getting caught up in a totally different problem, though. I was exceptionally pressed for time. I had to squeeze my meditation into the 15 minute span before a new client was coming in for an appointment. As I tried to drop into my breath and let the world around me fall away, I couldn’t help but become preoccupied with what was going on in the rest of my office. I was fixating on every little noise, anxiously anticipating the client to show up early and force me to jump up and greet them. I was worried my coworkers were irritated at me for still being closed away in my office so close to our appointment. I considered giving up on my meditation all together. I wondered if it was just a waste of time, if I was too on edge to meditate.

I’ve found myself in this situation many times before. Sometimes I can’t find a quite place or I keep being interrupted or whatever other kind of inconveniences the world likes to throw at us from time to time. Occasionally, I will actually decide to forget about meditating all together. I tell myself that it’s not the right environment or I’m just too distracted or uneasy.

For some reason, the ridiculousness of that reasoning really struck me today. How silly it sounds to say: I’m too anxious to meditate. I can’t meditate because I feel rushed or it’s too loud. These are all perfect times to meditate! Meditation and yoga aren’t things that we need ideal conditions to practice. One of the most beneficial and important parts of these practices is to learn how to use them to cope with hectic times in our lives. Through these practices we can learn how to sit with these moments of discomfort. We can use them to step back from our own drama and distress and simply observe ourselves from a calm neutral perspective.

If you are just beginning to incorporate mindfulness into your routine, it may seem impossible to meditate unless you are in the right atmosphere or headspace. Developing a designated area where you can feel calm and relaxed is an excellent way to help you stick with it in the beginning. However, if you have been practicing for a long time like I have, it may be time to challenge yourself a bit more. You’ve laid the foundation, now it’s time to test it. I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Give yourself a chance to notice what it feels like to be rushed, or irritated, or interrupted. Get curious about this experience. Ask yourself questions. What is happening in your body? In your mind? What is your internal dialogue telling you in these difficult moments? How is that self-talk exacerbating the already tense situation? What might be a kinder or more gentle form of self-talk you can implement instead? This is the perfect time to start changing patterns of thought that are not serving you.

Meditation isn’t always supposed to be easy and effortless. No matter how long you have been practicing, you are going to find yourself struggling from time to time. Going through phases of discomfort internally, externally, or both is all part of the human experience. The incredible experience that we are all here to witness. Meditation is about learning to be present through it all, not just the calm, clear moments, but the rough and tumultuous ones as well.

Making Change a Habit

After 27 years of life, a pattern that now seems so obvious has finally revealed itself to me. While I’ve always heard that change is the only constant, it seemed equally as natural that we will inevitably resist and detest this constant change. How many times have you heard someone say something like “I wish things could stay this way forever”? I’m sure we all feel that way sometimes. However, even if it were possible to avoid change in our lives, should we?

I’m reminded of when I learned that despite having clear ideas about what will make us happy, studies show that we don’t have very good judgement in that regard. We don’t know what will make us happy. It’s a hard concept to wrap my mind around. I feel so sure that this or that will make me happy. I almost don’t even realize it when I acquire said thing and am still just as unhappy as before. I thought working from home would be a dream come true, but it turned out that I’m actually much happier coming into the office every day. Despite clearly remembering this baffling realization, a few months after coming back to the office, I find myself hoping for another shut-down so I can work from home again. I can’t seem to convince myself that being at home alone every day actually makes me feel depressed and more anxious than usual.

This strange dilemma is similar to the way I view change. I assume most people would say that they don’t like change. Evolutionarily, change is an obvious threat. If we’re able to survive with the way things are, change could potentially be catastrophic. Our minds and bodies are inclined to try to hold on to what has been working for us up to this point, even if something else may work better. As long as we’re alive, change seems like a big, unnecessary risk. I think this is one of the complexities that make modern day society so difficult for us to navigate. It is not an accurate reflection of what our minds and bodies were designed for.

I mentioned in some of my recent posts the new habits I have added into my daily routine to promote mindfulness and self care. While I initially felt an immense positive impact from these changes, after a month, they have begun to feel lackluster. This is the pattern I have finally noticed within myself. I am constantly concocting new plans and habits that I believe will help me live a happier and fuller life, more in line with my values. These changes are always amazing for the first week or so. Then they start to seem ineffective. I find myself back where I started. I fall back into the mindless hum of habit.

I’ve begun to wonder if perhaps what is making me so happy at first isn’t the specific tasks I’m including in my day, rather the change itself. Although the habits I’ve cultivated are mindful, I wasn’t being more mindful simply due to the actions I was performing. It’s much easier to be mindful when you are doing something new. Perhaps I wasn’t less anxious because I wasn’t watching TV while I ate, but because I was doing things differently than I normally would.

I’ve often had the feeling that intelligent minds are more prone to anxiety and depression. I believe this is due to the effort that we have to exert to stimulate our active, easily bored brains. Not many of us are willing or able to make that effort. I’ve always detested challenges as well as change. I don’t know if that was innate or a result of my early environment, but it is a misguided opinion nonetheless. I need to be challenged, I need new, novel experiences and information to make me happy. Now the issue is how do I go about intentionally including these things in my life.

When we’re growing up, we have little choice in the matter. There are lots of consistent changes that come our way which we have no control over. Maybe our parents move or get divorced. We have to go to a new school. We suddenly have a new sibling. Whether we are resistant to change or not, we know there is going to be a lot of it we’re going to have to deal with. Once we are adults and have more control over our own lives and environment, it becomes easier for us to avoid change. Often we even avoid changes we want to make out of fear. Stagnation may be unpleasant, but it is safe and that is our prime biological imperative.

After trying for years to cultivate healthier habits, there is one I have been missing. This month, I’d like to try to make change a habit. In order to break free from what has become a quite oppressive daily schedule, I think intentionally doing at least one thing differently or trying something new each day would be an excellent way to invite more mindfulness and mental stimulation into my day.

10 Facts About Chameleons

Pushing Past Your Comfort Zone

This weekend is for teacher training at my studio. I am always excited to get to help new teachers learn more about yoga. It’s also nice to get to stay after my class for a bit and hear feedback on my own teaching. I’ve been looking forward to it all week.

The teacher trainees had only positive things to say about my class. However, my mentor from when I was a trainee myself had some constructive criticism. It was nothing I haven’t heard from her and others many times before. Because of my anxiety, I am pretty disconnected from my students when I’m teaching. I am immersed in my own practice, modeling every pose and going through the flow with everyone. This is what I always envisioned for myself when I decided I wanted to teach. This is also what I’ve learned from online yoga teachers who constitute the vast majority of my history with yoga.

But online yoga teachers do not have a classroom full of students in front of them. Students who have come to a studio to be in the presence of their teacher. I am doing my students a disservice by not engaging with them more during class. My cues are flawless, my practice is beautiful, my flows are creative, fun, and different every week. However, I do not watch my students nearly enough. I do not give adjustments. I do not compliment or comment on their expressions of the poses.

I know I could be a much better teacher and greatly benefit my students by doing these things. The only reason I don’t is because I am afraid. Even though my social anxiety has practically disappeared thanks to Paxil, it is still quite intimidating to stand in front of a group of people and meet their eyes. I’ve only learned to make eye contact in general a few years ago. To closely observe and engage with my students in that way has always been something I felt I simply cannot do.

I’ve comforted myself with the excuse: “Well this is just my unique teaching style. If the students don’t like it they can go to another class instead.” But that is absurd. I don’t want to make excuses for myself anymore. I want to be brave. I want to push myself to try new things, to face my fears. I’ve done it before. And even though it is scary, it is also so rewarding.

We can never know what we are capable of if we don’t test our limits. Yoga is about personal growth. Not just in the body but in everything. It may be safe to stick with what you know, with what you’re good at, but it is also boring. It isn’t truly living.

There are a lot of changes I have been planning on making. And they scare the hell out of me. Yet once again yoga has given me the opportunity to challenge myself within an environment, a community of curiosity and love. Maybe if I show myself that I can do something scary, try something new and still be okay, it will give me the courage I need. Maybe it will remind me how good it feels to face my fears and overcome them. It is one of the most exciting, empowering things we can do.

Even if we “fail” it will still be a success. Because we tried. And now we’ll know we can always try again. So allow your curiosity to inspire courage. Surprise yourself every day. And no matter what, love yourself. Trust in yourself. You are capable of more than you know.

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