The Power of Imperfection {Courageous Teaching Part 1}

Happy belated New Year, dear teacher.Be Courageous

I guess it’s not too late to say that since it’s still January. How’s it going, anyway? How’s 2017 been so far?

My experience is that typically this time of year has us either feeling hopeful, full of renewed energy, or frustrated and a little overwhelmed (and maybe, just maybe, feeling pretty crappy — not impossible). Sometimes all of of these things simultaneously (which happens to have been my experience these past few weeks).

We do this to ourselves though, don’t we? We get jazzed up and excited about fresh starts and big plans, but too often hold ourselves to some unacknowledged and unrealistic expectation that it’s all going to be great (and maybe easier than last time). Deep down we expect that we’ll live up to the demon voice in our heads that’s telling us “you should be able to do this,” or “you’re supposed to be able to do this,” or “you’re supposed to be better than this!” Better than what? Supposed to be able to do what, according to whom?

What it often comes down to is that we think we should be perfect. And maybe “perfect” is not your word exactly. My word is “better” — I’m supposed to be better than this/at this/at this by now… . It’s still a product of expecting something that is out of alignment with our desires, experience, or our history, the situation at hand, and certainly reality. It makes us anxious, worried, agitated, depressed, and turns all of our thoughts inward — not in a good way.

When we don’t meet these expectations of should-ness and better-ness we begin to analyze our every (mis)step, (missed) opportunity, (mis)spoken word, and (ill planned) action. Because we’re concerned that we’re falling short in some way, we don’t have room or attention to spare — not really — for anyone else. We think we’re dedicated to being our best, but really we’re fixated on not failing, on getting it right, on doing exactly what we said we’d do in the way we said we’d do it. In this iteration of our experience striving for “perfection” turns us against ourselves and away from what we really value: making a positive impact.

If you were perfect, did it all right all the time, met every deadline, could do every Pilates exercises just so, knew all the answers and made all the perfect corrections…YOU’D BE BORING. You’d also have very little, if not nothing at all, to offer anyone — especially your students.

Courageous teaching. What is it? It’s the power of imperfection. It’s the key to creativity and the conduit of curiosity. To be courageous is to be curious (when you don’t have the answer or you’re having a shitty day and you decide to show up fully anyway); to be vulnerable, willing to fail, willing to not know and still love what you do. Courageous teaching is bringing your best-self, NOT YOUR PERFECT SELF, to the moment as often as you’re able to and when you’re not able to to love yourself and what you do regardless.

This is the first part in a 3 or 4 part series (I haven’t decided yet — I often have more to say than I realize, which isn’t surprising to many of you who know me) on courageous teaching. My hope is to leave you with some small tool you can use to help you be more able to show up even on the bad days.

I just recently finished Amy Cuddy’s book “Presence: Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges.” Amy is the now famed TED Talk presenter and social psychologist who has dedicated her work to exploring (and proving) the connection between the body and confidence. In Presence she explores different ways we can quickly make positive change in our presence especially when we are facing difficult situations.

So, based on Amy’s work and another technique I was exposed to a long time ago, I’ve got two “pro-tips” for you. Check them out below and look for more in this series soon.

Power Posing
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What I love about the power pose is that is simultaneously a 100% elevating mental and emotional experience AND it makes me laugh loud and hard (because I feel so utterly ridiculous doing it). Open chest, spread feet, head lifted – woo! Now add a pencil between your teeth not letting your lips touch the pencil and you have not only a recipe for immediate confidence building, but also an absolutely elevated spirit.

The power pose I like most is the “superwoman” seen in the image below of the wooden model on Amy’s book.

One of the most interesting things about the research in Presence is that it IS what we ALREADY do, but not necessarily for the same reasons. She talks at length in the second half of the book about the effects of posture on our state of mind. Of course, we know this, and we promote good alignment and posture in all of our students, but more so from the place of good mechanics and functionality.

What if, however, we strived to establish open, tall, liberated posture in our students because we know it makes them FEEL BETTER, BIGGER, BOLDER, and more confident. What would you do differently?

Here’s what I’d do/what I DO do:

  • Begin sessions standing
  • Start students in upright, open, and uplifted positions and postures: Standing finger flicks, seated bouncing on the physio ball, chest opening/arm circles on the wall, standing side stretch (half moon if you’re a yogi), standing 3-dimensional breathing, Feldenkrais arm swings (with oppositional eye tracking if you’re feeling adventurous.
  • Move immediately into safe lateral flexion and extension: I like mermaid from the chair top (with rotation) coupled with swan from the chair top at the very beginning of a session (around the world with split pedal is also a wonderful variation to start with). I try NOT to get people lying down until at least 15-20 minutes in so they have enough time to open up and their energy and emotional state gets a bit elevated.

If you have students who don’t tolerate lateral flexion or rotation, simply standing with some simple arm movements, rolling the chest against the wally, arm circles against the wall, and other such things are AMAZING for setting the tone of your session and priming your student psychologically and emotionally. This is CRITICAL because for our students to get the most out of each encounter with us, they need to be in a positive emotional state, which optimizes learning.

Reliving The Experience

(How to capture your most sincere and courageous self)

In the opening of Presence, Amy writes about the value of connecting with a moment in time when you felt empowered, confident, and your most sincere and courageous self. This is not a new technique; it’s very much based on the old cliche self-help positive affirmation. But here’s what makes this TIP different:

  1. You’re not telling yourself a false truth, a hopeful wish I.E. “Daily Affirmation with Stuart Smalley” a la Saturday Night Live: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggone it, people like me.” INSTEAD this task is about reflecting on your most valued and deepest held values, the essence of who you are and believing your own story. That’s why we anchor into a “story” — an experience — that is real, that we had, that we can FEEL in ourselves and PHYSICALLY RELIVE.
  1. For this tool to really work, we need to experience our sincere and courageous moment again; we need to call it up and literally FEEL it. This is the TRICK! Don’t just think it FEEL it in your cells.

Here’s what you do:

Close your eyes and settle into your body. Feel your body as it is now: calm, grounded, quiet. As you become more still, allow your attention to move toward a moment in your past when you felt clear, confident, totally sincere and courageous. Maybe it’s a moment when you stood up for yourself or someone else (not in an angry way — we don’t want that physical experience). Maybe it’s a moment of accomplishment, something you completed by being dedicated, curious, and persistent. Choose the moment and then see it in as much detail as possible. See the place, the people, what you’re wearing. Notice then the sounds, the smells, the temperature, the nuances of the place and moment. Let it sink into you until you can feel the moment so strongly that it’s like you’re there.

Now stay there for a few minutes. Relive it again and again. What did you say, how were you standing, what were you thinking? Capture it as fully as possible. Then write it down.

From now on, when you’re feeling less-than, anxious, worried, scared, or confused, turn inward. All you need is there. Call on this moment and FEEL it in your body. If you can FEEL it you can BE it.

This is not only a great exercise for you, it’s a beautiful task to offer your students if you see that they’re struggling with self confidence. You can just cut and paste from the content above and send it to them, inviting them to explore this for themselves.

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