I've always wanted to love yoga and be really good at it, but it's never worked out for me. As a runner, I understand the benefits for the long-term health of my muscles. As a coach who preaches about the power of "being" (at least some of the time), I believe yoga can help cultivate presence and a deeper connection to self. And anything that includes wearing stretchy pants just seems like a good idea.
So, I've struggled and pushed myself to try all different types of yoga. And without fail, it always ends with me quitting and feeling guilty about it.
A few months ago, I mustered up the courage to try again. This time I was focused on my why — the need for an intentional practice where I could connect mind and body and find that “flow” everyone raves about. A few months ago, I found a class that wasn't terrible. It was slower than I wanted, and let's be clear: I sucked at it. But I decided I would commit to going every Tuesday morning so that I could learn the techniques and maybe, just maybe, come to not despise yoga.
The teacher, Linda, is kind and graceful in how she corrects me. I never feel called out, but I know she always has her eye on me (probably worried I'm going to seriously hurt myself).
Fast forward four months and I had my first class where I almost "got" it. I still can barely stand on one leg, but I began to feel changes in my flexibility and my ability to zone out the world and cultivate presence.
I’ve never actually spoken to Linda other than to smile and say, “Namaste” at the end of class. Today, I stopped and said, “Thank you.”
“You’ve come a long way in your practice,” she smiled.
I literally felt like I had just gotten back a test with a big A+ on it. Still, instead of just thanking her, I made some self-deprecating comment about my flexibility.
“Care, but don’t care too much,” she said. She requested that I stop judging my practice and be content with what shows up.
As I walked away, her words resonated. Care, but don’t care too much.
I began to wonder where else caring too much shows up in my life. Caring too much about writing the perfect blog post (hence not writing a post for a month when I have so many things I want to write about), caring too much about saying just the right thing (and then not saying the bold thing that needs to be said), and caring too much about what others think (and trying too hard to do that damn triangle pose).
It’s so natural to care about what others think. And if we didn’t, wouldn’t we just be complete narcissists? But when do we go overboard? And how can we care, but not care too much?
Linda’s statement got me thinking back to a few strategies I’ve used in the past:
Know That No One Really Cares
Wow, that sounds harsh. But a study done by the National Science Foundation found that people have 50,000+ thoughts a day. That means that even if you do something stupid and someone else thinks about it ten times today, it’s only .02% of their overall daily thoughts. Perhaps depressing, but people are focused on things relating to “me” or “my,” and the majority of their thoughts are only about themselves. Unless you do something that directly impacts another person, they won’t be thinking about you too much.
Falling over in yoga class, giving a crappy presentation, saying something stupid; these are all just blips on everyone else’s radar screen. We are constantly worried about how other people might judge us, but the truth is, everyone is too worried about their own missteps to notice yours.
Remind Yourself That You Reap What You Sow
When you spend all of your time worrying about what others think about you, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy; soon the way you think starts to become the way you actually start living. If you’re running around trying to please others and caring deeply about what they may or may not think, you’ll lose yourself - the real you - while trying to please everyone else.
Hold onto this and when you feel yourself trying to people please or caring too much about what others think, ask yourself what you think. And then care about what others think, but not too much. I’ve found for this one to really work, I sometimes have to write it down. I write down what I think someone else wants me to do or be and then I ask what I really want. Just the act of putting it on paper can help clarify and make it hard to turn away from the truth.
Focus on Your Values
Knowing who you are and what’s most important to you can be the strongest driver of authentic action. I work with my clients - sometimes ad nauseam - to clarify their values and what’s at the heart of them: what’s really important to them (not just what they’ve been told should be important to them). Once you have a clear view on this, you can base even the smallest choices - like whether to really care about what someone else thinks - on if it’s honoring a value, or doing just the opposite.
I often use values as a compass for decision making. And when I find myself harping on something I’ve messed up or that just isn’t going swimmingly, I ask what value I’m stepping on. Sometimes, I find that it is something I really do need to care about. For example, the other day I kept coming back to a tough conversation I had with a client. I couldn’t let it go. By reflecting on my values, I realized that I hadn’t been bold or true to the value I hold around radical candor. I had to go back to the client and give the honest feedback I wanted to give before.
On the flip side, last week I was feeling really guilty about turning down a wedding shower invitation. But as I looked to my values, I realized that what I really felt bad about was not connecting with the bride and being more present in her life at the moment. I let the shower guilt go (we certainly weren’t going to connect while she opened boxes of towels and tablecloths in front of 50 other women) and planned a weekend away with her where we could catch up and be present in one another’s lives.
So, all this to say, I hope you too will take wise Linda’s words to heart: Care. Do care about the people, places, and things that matter to you. But don’t care too much. Let go of that which doesn’t align with your values or might be just a story you are telling yourself.
And as for my yoga practice, I'm going to keep it up. But I'm committed to being less judgey about my progress and more appreciative of why I'm pushing myself to go to yoga every week. I have a long way to go, and that's ok.