Go to where you could embarrass yourself, but without hurting yourself,” said Rebecca, the yoga instructor, as we moved into the yoga pose called Half Moon. She had just given us three different variations of the pose, from easiest to hardest, and left it up to us to pick which version we would try.
“And there’s no need to add any drama,” she added. I smiled at this. If that was not already enough of a daily dose of wisdom, Rebecca followed up with this gem, quoting a yoga teacher of her own: “The pose actually only begins at the wobble.” When I heard that, I knew I had to write about this.
On the Edge of Embarrassment
I had mixed feelings about Rebecca using the phrase “embarrass yourself.” On one hand, I thought it was useful because it tapped into the common fear of looking foolish if we try something and fail. On the flipside, it is important to remind ourselves that, if we fail, embarrassment is optional. One of the most useful principles of emotional self-management I have learned is that situations often do not cause our emotions: the meaning we assign to a situation is what causes our emotional responses. (I am not talking about automatically triggered emotional reactions, but emotions we hold on to.)
The only way we can learn and grow is to step outside of our comfort zones. However, we will not do it if we believe it will be too painful to take that step. That is why we want to take proverbial baby steps: to make changes that are big enough to feel challenging, but small enough to avoid an emotional face plant if we fail.
No Need for Drama
We do not have to make leaving our comfort zones a bigger deal than it is. One way that people add drama in yoga and when working out is putting on what instructors and trainers call a pain face. You know that look: all scrunched up with furrowed brow and clenched jaw. Putting on a pain face signals to your mind that what you are doing is painful and, if done repeatedly, is a great way to create the feeling of pain where before there was just discomfort. It also teaches the body to associate pain with that particular posture or activity, and with stepping outside your physical comfort zone.
If I tried the most advanced Half Moon variation and tipped over and fell, I could believe that everybody else is thinking, “What a clod.” If I engage in that self-talk, then yes, I will feel embarrassed. Instead, I can think: “I still have a way to go on that one. Big high five for going for it!” If that’s how I interpret my fall, I can feel bemused and cheerful, ready for the next move.
Begin at the Wobble
Rather than fearing that we will wobble if we try something new and challenge ourselves, we need to instead recognize that feeling awkward and performing clumsily is a good sign. It means we are growing.
When I first started practicing handstands, my arms wobbled from using stabilizer muscles I had never needed to use until then. It was not just physically difficult. I had this primal, irrational fear of being upside down and also of falling over backwards, even though I was practicing them against a wall and could not fall over backwards. While intellectually I knew I was in no danger, my body said otherwise.
Over time, what felt unnatural and awkward and what made me feel very vulnerable became normal and eventually easy.
Instead of seeing that wobbly feeling as something to avoid, it is actually something to seek out. It is not a sign that we are doing it wrong. It is a sign that we are changing. The wobble is only temporary.
Your Growing Edge
Think of those parts of yourself or your life that you want to nurture and grow. You may be learning a new skill or a new profession, changing jobs or careers, or developing a fitness and wellness practice.
Perhaps you are working on becoming open-hearted and unguarded in relationships, or braver about speaking your truth and setting boundaries. Once you have that in mind, you can apply Rebecca’s words to your personal situation.
1. Reflect on your own “I moved beyond the wobble” experiences and remind yourself that if you did it before, you can do it again. When you feel anxious about stepping outside your comfort zone, remind yourself of your own previous experiences of moving beyond the wobble, how you survived them and how much easier that thing is now for you. If you are in the middle of the wobble, remind yourself that it is just the beginning phase, the first chapter. It is not the whole book.
2. Use the mantras “I love to wobble” and “Discomfort is my friend.” They will remind you that it is only through allowing yourself to wobble by stepping outside your comfort zone that growth happens. If you are feeling uncomfortable and wobbly, you are growing. If you say these mantras to yourself with tongue in cheek, with an attitude of bemusement, it helps even more.
3. Start small. Remember to take baby steps. Make the first step outside your comfort zone so ridiculously small that there is no way that you can rationally convince yourself
that it is scary. Taking baby steps is one of the most effective behavior change strategies. For more on that, check out B.J. Fogg’s TED Talks.
4. Reframe failure as feedback and learning. When we try something and it does not go well, we can see it as feedback on how we can do it differently and better next time, and as a learning experience. We can immediately shift into curiosity mode and ask, “What can I learn from this?”
Go Forth and Wobble
Learn to love your wobble because if you are wobbling, you are learning and growing. Each time you wobble, you are becoming a braver, better version of yourself. And what’s not to love about that.