January 20, 2012

You Can Do Anything You Decide To Do.

But You Can Choose Not To.

My parents instilled in my brother, sister and me a firm belief that we could do anything – anything! – we set our minds to doing. I think one of the greatest rewards of this mindset is an almost automatic willingness to try new things.

Sometimes, my belief in myself drives me to do some relatively crazy stuff. Can’t find draperies and bedding to match freshly painted bedroom walls? Why not make them? How hard could that be? Want to send handmade Christmas cards like the fabulous one you received from your crafty, creative friend last year? If she can do it, there’s no reason I can’t, too! Need a website for your fledgling business? If your average 20-year-old can build one, surely I can too, right?

And, fueled by my belief in my ability to do anything I decide to do, I learned to do all these things. It’s empowering to believe you can.

Upon reflection, it must be this deeply engrained belief that kept me, a fairly uncoordinated, long-limbed, not-so-flexible gal, coming back again and again to my yoga mat. There was absolutely no good reason to believe I’d one day figure out how to move fluidly through a complicated series of postures. Anyone who knew me in middle school will tell you that I was always (always!) placed in the far back corner of the stage in dance recitals. That I would one day be able to balance on my head or my hands was so far-fetched as to be laughable. While my sister was cart-wheeling across the lawns of my childhood, I could be found sitting safely in the grass with my nose in a book.

Paradoxically, these childhood experiences helped me keep at it. Because I was so accustomed to not measuring up, I didn’t set lofty physical goals for myself. Because I was so used to being relegated to the klutzy corners of a group, I certainly didn’t spend a lot of time looking around the room comparing myself to my classmates. By keeping my goals attainable – just do the best you can today – and by keeping my focus inward, I never doubted myself. In fact, despite how I must have looked in each posture, the yoga felt so good that I knew I must be doing it “right!” Not only did my belief that I can do anything I set my mind to doing keep me coming back to my mat, but yoga reaffirmed the veracity of this belief.

Now that I’m all grown up and have had the benefit years to test this belief, I’ve added a caveat to it. While I may be able to do anything I set my mind to, I may not actually like doing it. When this is the case, it’s perfectly OK to choose not to do it. It’s liberating to know you don’t have to.

Let’s go back to some of those things I decided I could do. The draperies and bedding that I made were beautiful. They matched my walls perfectly. And they took forever. Would I do a project like that again? Maybe. Would I do it right now? No way. My kids no longer nap leaving me several hours each afternoon to design, measure, cut and sew. While I clearly could do it, it would add stress to my days. Right now, shopping for bedding is the way for me to go.

And those handmade Christmas cards? Well, not only was my finished product not nearly as fabulous as my friend’s, but I hated the process. All that cutting, trimming, and gluing nearly landed me in the loony bin right in the midst of what was supposed to be a happy, celebratory time of year. Can I make cards? Sure. Will I ever do it again? Absolutely not. I find it a lot more fun to fiddle around on Shutterfly and then press the “order” button.

The website I built for my little yoga studio was a labor of love. I’m proud of it. It took about a hundred times longer to finish than I expected. It made steam come out of my ears. It stretched me to the max. Compared to building that website, the process of learning to stand on my head looks quick and easy – and that took almost a year and involved me falling flat on my back onto a wooden floor!

Did I do it? Yes. But I in doing so I learned two invaluable lessons. First, I learned that the willingness to ask for help is central to my ability to do anything I set my mind to doing. Without two generous and knowledgeable friends, I might have met my match on that project. Second, I confirmed that being able to do something doesn’t mean I like doing it. One click past the user-friendly interface into the details of IP addresses, coding, and the like and my eyes glaze over, my brain freezes up and my heart begins to pound. Though I’m glad I tried and (with a more than a little help) succeeded, the details of web technology are just not for me. I’ve given myself carte blanche to choose not to do anything like that again!

There are lots of crazy postures to try on your yoga mat. (Some even crazier than trying to build your own website!) The belief that you can do anything you set your mind to can be the inspiration you need to try. That said, a sign of the maturity of any yoga practice is a willingness to choose not to take postures that don’t feel good when you try them. Until your body opens or your understanding deepens making these stretches more accessible, feel free to give yourself permission to choose not to take them.

Like my adventures in sewing, this doesn’t mean you’ll never try again. Rather, it means that, for now, choosing to take baby steps, modifications and even to get a helping hand from your teacher might just be the way to go.

Believe in yourself and choose your path wisely,
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