I love supercoach Michael Neill‘s coaching tip this week, in which he tells a story about learning the art of Greek dancing (from his mentor George Pransky):
“”What my teacher told me,” George said, “is that all you need to do is get in line. If you fall out of line, get back in line.”
When George pressed for more details about the specific steps involved, his teacher explained that as long as he stayed in line as best he could, he would pick up the steps naturally as the dance progressed. While he would no doubt have numerous stumbles along the way, before long he would be dancing comfortably and well.
This is reminiscent of how we learned to walk and talk. We hung out with other walkers and talkers, made our mistakes without dwelling on them or consciously trying to learn from them, and before we knew it, our parents couldn’t shut us up or get us to keep still.
This is also in direct opposition to the way many of us try to learn as adults. We want to have the entire process of whatever it is we are trying to learn explained to us up front, and then we want step by step instructions for implementing it. Generally speaking, this is because we approach learning as an exercise in “mistake limitation”.
While we theoretically understand that we will not do most things well on the first try, when we are learning something new we seem to keep score like golfers – whoever makes the least mistakes wins. Instead of “getting in line”, we try to avoid getting it wrong. And unfortunately, at some point we stumble across the ultimate strategy for mistake limitation and failure avoidance:
If we don’t play, we can’t lose.
The only downside is, if we’re not careful we can wind up without much of a life. This points to another thing George mentioned in passing that jumped out at me:
Success is more a function of what you take on than the results you achieve.
So what do we do with this information? What is the equivalent of “getting in line” when it comes to the rest of our lives?
For me, it all comes down to our state of mind on a moment by moment basis. Whenever we approach life from our natural state of clarity and well-being (“in line” with our innate health and wisdom), we will make our way through things as best we can, adapting as we go.
From time to time, we will lose our bearings (“fall out of line”) and get caught up in our thinking. In those moments, we obsess about keeping score (i.e. “how we’re doing”) and life seems hard. But as soon as we regain our bearings (“get back into line”), we resume the process of happily stumbling towards higher levels of success and achievement.
Worst case, we enjoy the journey. Best case, we arrive at some level of what people call “success”. Either way, we are having fun, learning heaps, and dancing each day from a place of comfort and well-being…”
Lots of lessons – or rather, reminders -there for me! The main one – as usual – is an always-welcome reminder be kind to myself. In the game that is life, I play pretty big (eg in choosing to home educate my children), which means I lose my bearings quite often. Those are the times I find myself worrying (and yes, sometimes yelling) that J is never going to learn to write and C will still be having tantrums when she’s 30 (no idea where she gets them from, ahem). It’s good to be reminded that instead of obsessing about the score, all I need do in those moments is get back in line and resume my happy stumbling – most of the time, I love the dance.