Why do we do it? Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect?
I’ve been practicing Tai Chi for over a year now and have just started training as an instructor, like really only just started training. I was asked to take the left front corner in our group while the instructor recovers from an operation. It doesn’t sound like much but it’s a big deal. The left corner is the leader, the one the rest of the group takes there cue from with the moves. I’ve been practicing as much as I can, the first couple of practice runs in front of the group went, well, awful fully expected since this is completely out of my comfort zone thing, and it’s my first time…ever in this kind of situation.
I thought nothing of it, as I have been working hard on my mental state to not freak out and tone down my anxiety…especially the all eyes are on me ‘what the hell am I doing‘ situation kind of freak out! So I was getting pretty adept at the uncomfortableness. That was until I found out one of the other members of the class mentioned my look of unease at being in the left corner. Nothing meant maliciously of course, she just noticed how nervous I appeared and wanted to help by relieving me of the discomfort. To be honest she is way more experienced at Tai Chi than I am so the left corner would be a sinch for her.
However, the instructor explained to her that no Lee must take the left corner as this is a good opportunity to practice. She understood completely and was pretty happy. However, now that I’m aware of this I find that it is messing with my confidence. My monkey mind has been awoken.
Now as I practice I’m second-guessing all my moves…am I too fast, have I done this move wrong? Do I look uneasy, too nervous?
So where am I going with this story?
Well, here it is people..pressure. I’ve gone from I will do the best that I can to a flat out oh my god what am I doing I’m not ready, I must practice, and I must practice hard, I must look and act perfectly. All this due to a perfectly innocent comment. My logical brain understands her point of view entirely, she wants to protect me from any unease I may feel during the class. I totally get it, I also totally get what my instructor is saying too if I don’t step out of my comfort zone, give it ago and embrace any mistakes as a learning curve then I will not build my confidence. problem is I have to somehow inform my lizard brain that all is safe and not to freak out and hide and not to release the Monkey Mind.
I also realize the irony of what my mind was going through, Tai Chi is a form of mindfulness activity. At this point, it was doing the exact opposite.
Pressure and perfection. The Monkey Mind. Two things that can easily destroy something you enjoy. That line between ‘I do Tai Chi for fun’ and ‘I have to get this right’ can easily get distorted. Before you know it its becomes a chore…or worst still a chore that you believe you suck at…
It’s not like we can turn our negative thoughts off like a tap. Although I wish we could.
So what do we do, how do we get our minds to stop with the pressure and tame that Monkey Mind?
Monkey Mind, also known as your inner critic. It’s actually a Buddhist term meaning whimsical, confusing, and totally uncontrollable.
We have around 12000 to 50,000 thoughts a day and this little Monkey swings from one thought to the next. This little Monkey also likes to jump from present to past to future thoughts. This little guy is connected to your ego and takes great delight in constantly reminding usof our faults and failures, all the should have done, could’ve done, and what-ifs.
As you can imagine this little monkey prevents you from stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new things. Worst still this little guy is utterly persistent.
But he does have a weak spot, he is easily distracted and can’t sit still long enough on the here and now. The trick is too get the monkey to stop.
One way is to fully concentrate on what you are doing right now. Really focus. Your mind has a hard time switching from berating you to fully concentrating on detail. Also known as a bit of calming mindfulness practice.
Another way is to create a morning mindfulness ritual. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate…no sacrificing of goats.
A simple early morning walk, a bit of meditation, some yoga, deep breathing exercises, journaling, or even Tai Chi. Something that brings you calm.
Challenge the Monkey, what’s the evidence. They’re all going to laugh at me? prove it little monkey!
One year of Tai Chi practice, two sessions on teaching it, compared to the instructor with many, many years, and compared to others in the group also with many years of experience. You can’t seriously expect to be perfect and get it 100 % right do you little monkey? So what if we make a mistake, just carry on and have fun with it.
Let’s get real here, no one is seriously going to be looking at you so closely. They are most likely going to be concentrating on what their doing to stop and judge you. If they are then this will say more about them than of you.
Step out of your emotions for a second, if the was happening to someone else would you ever talk to them the way the Little Monkey Mind talks to you? no, well then what makes you think others would? I can almost guarantee you would be pretty empathetic to them. So why are you not being more kind and empathetic to yourself?
Remember why your doing this. For myself, I want to be able to teach Tai Chi one day. I see so many benefits in it that I would love to pass on. Plus I enjoy Tai Chi and am delighted that the instructor sees potential teacher material.
So After All That How Did I Go For My First Left Corner?
Did I back out of it entirely? I wanted to, well my Monkey Mind definitely wanted to. Believe me, every move I practiced that Monkey Mind was criticizing and second-guessing.
Did I do it but dread every second? I started to. Like a lot of new things nerves will appear no matter what. So yeah on the first go I did naturally dread it a little.
Did I do the best that I could? hell yeah, I did! Once I calmed that Monkey down and hard out concentrated on my moves I found my groove, I started to get out of my own way and go with it.
Did I make mistakes? oh yeah! I made so many mistakes. And you know what, no one yelled at me, no one came up to me after to tell me how incompetent I was or how utterly disappointed in the class they were. In fact, the opposite happen. Everyone had fun.
Here’s the thing. No ones perfect, we all fall flat on our butts at some stage, and in order to get better at something we have to embrace our mistakes and learn to improve from them.
If we wait until we deem ourselves ‘perfect’ or convince ourselves we can’t do it without even trying we aren’t learning, we aren’t improving, we aren’t living and we definitely aren’t having fun.
Another way to think of it is this. Everything in nature is evolving, everything is continuously learning and adapting. There is not one thing in nature that is absolutely perfect. If it was what would be the point? What use would something be if it didn’t learn, adapt, and evolve into something more?
Next time you come across a situation where your Monkey Mind deems you ‘not good enough’, toss it a banana and go do your thing! Embrace the imperfections, use those mistakes as a process of learning, and give yourself the freedom to evolve.
Need help with that Monkey Mind?
Contact me for some one + one coaching