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Sunday, May 1, 2011

The 5% Solution

It takes 21 days to break a habit. Today just one thing you do could be 5% towards a transformation. Have you acknowledged that 5%?

Recently, I’ve been reminded of our all-too-human tendency to think of success in any endeavor as being legitimate only in the measurement of size rather than quality. Must all of our achievements be super-sized?

I think of someone like Gabrielle Gifford, whose measurement of success has perhaps undergone a dramatic metamorphosis. Rather than measuring her success in votes counted, bills passed, or years in office, her successes may now be measured in breaths taken, inches walked, and words spoken. Who can say that these successes are not the greater ones, even though their measurement be small in comparison to past successes in her political career?

Last week, I found myself berating myself because I felt that my progress in teaching a small boy some simple yoga poses had been slow, with not much to show for it. Recognizing that I was about to slide backwards down the slippery slope of despair and self-criticism, I reached out for a branch to hold onto, one that I often reach for and never lets me down. This branch, which to my eyes clouded with doubt appears so slender, is a technique I learned many years ago from Rhonda Britten, the author of Fearless Living. It is one of the four pillars of her life-saving philosophy.

Feeling great resistance, I pulled out from my pocket a scrap of paper and began to write. At the top, I wrote, “Today, I acknowledge myself for....” Below, I began to list all the steps I had taken to teach this little boy. It was difficult at first. I wanted to pat myself on the back for something big! I finally wrote, as my first acknowledgment, “....listening to him.” Underneath that, I wrote, “....observing him.” When I absorbed the idea that perhaps it is no small feat to listen to and observe with empathy a small restless boy who wants to play Legos while learning a pose and keeping up a constant stream of chatter, I started to list, one by one, the poses he had learned in just one hour. There were six!

Looking back on this, I realized not only had I been imposing adult standards on a child, but that, as an experienced teacher of yoga, I would have been surprised if an adult beginner had mastered six poses in one class. It was then that I remembered the 21-day time frame to break a habit. My expectations had been that this child would learn so much in one day! And my expectations of myself had blinded me to what had been accomplished....

Today, one of my yoga students happily informed me that a small amount of weight lost around his midsection had allowed him to practice plow pose successfully (his measure of success was feet on floor, legs straight). He had told me several times that he was trying to stick to a diet and exercise program, including yoga, to lose some weight. Previously, he had been criticizing himself for not losing enough fast enough. His joy in the seemingly small step of dropping down one pant size was very inspiring, reminding me of the value of acknowledging each step.
Later on, another student and I were exploring, through conversation, our mutual struggle to manage and organize our stuff. As we discussed the origins of our resistance to letting go of clutter, she mentioned that she often tried to devote at least 15 minutes a day to sort and hopefully get rid of the mass of papers that had accumulated over the years. I shared the fact that I often set a timer for a block of time, and once started, find that I can work beyond the set time. Again, this reminded me of the disservice we all do to ourselves by failing to acknowledge the moments of our lives, however mundane or trivial they appear to be in our own judgment.

There is a Zen proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” I would like to amend this saying by adding, “And by taking a moment to acknowledge each step, our lives will be rich with joy.”