Here is the picture, you have been going to Kung Fu or Tai Chi classes for awhile. You are starting to build some skills and are comfortable doing some of the things that you have learned on your own in class. The teacher has said that it would be a great idea if you practiced this stuff on your own because it helps to learn the information. When you try and play it at home something feels a little empty. When things get a little hard you say to yourself” ok, well that is enough of that” and you stop short saying to yourself well I will just try and do this tomorrow. Tomorrow turns into next week and next month, and you pretty much only do the activities that you learn in class while in class. It happens with pretty much anything that you might “want” to do but don’t have to do. Even if you do try and create a time and place to start your practice, more often than not, it ‘s hard to get into the groove. It is so much easier when there is a teacher in front of you telling you what to do!
Even though this is the case, you have to keep at it. For any endeavor that you want to learn you have to put some heart, soul, and effort into the practice of the material that you would like to learn. I set my alarm for nearly one year at 5 am to get up and start my practice before it became a habit that I have to this day. I am not saying that I never got up, but after a year there were many more days than not I couldn’t pull myself out of bed to practice today, it is rare that I don’t get up and play one or more of the arts in the morning.
There seem to have been a couple of things at play that made it difficult for me and maybe they will be some of the same things that you might be dealing with in your effort to learn something new.
1. Set a time and keep your date. I think most people have been stood up on a date before, it sucks. When someone doesn’t show up for something that they have agreed to do it is disappointing. So think of your time you will create for yourself, as a date with someone you don’t want to disappoint. (yourself) Not only will you start to have a better relationship with yourself when you keep your promises, but it will get you engaged in the process.
2. Create a ritual that you place at the start of the activity. So you have shown up, Yay! No what do you do? Create a ritual that you can step into every time that you do the activity. Rituals are extremely important; empty rituals are useless. What is the difference? The heart and intent that you put behind them. My morning ritual is:
a. I get up to go to the bathroom trying not to disturb myself with too many thoughts staying as close to a dream state as I can muster.
b. I have a good start. I stand with my feet together with hands at my side and clear a space for what I am about to do, and when I am ready, I raise one fisted hand over my head and count down from 5 to 1 and give a resounding “yeah!” while pulling down my fisted hand. (this yeah can be internal depending on if other people are still sleeping in the house!) This good start is vital. I never miss this step. It sets apart the activity; it greases the wheels for everything else to follow. The “Yeah!” is not one of Eeyore says but one filled with excitement, adventure, and exploration. Even on days that I am Eeyore, and there have been a few over the last 30 years of play I can still get over myself enough to have that “Yeah!” have some positive intent.
c. I have a light warm up, stretching and loosening all of my joints from the fingers to my neck and down to the feet.
d. I play what we call around our School The Big 3 which is a simple but effective and ancient Chi Gung consisting of Counter Swing, Rise and Drop and Trembling Horse.
e. Then I engage in what we call Mechanics of Breath.
These steps make up a beginning ritual that I have used every time for 30 years. Have I chosen not to do it before? Yes, and it was a struggle.
3. Bring a sense of lightness and optimism to your study. Even if you suck at something, tell yourself that you just haven’t learned how to do it yet and that with a little work and effort that you Will be able to learn whatever it is that you are doing. It may not be today or tomorrow or as soon as you would like but you can learn. You would be surprised how many people fall into this trap of thinking that if they don’t understand something right away that they will Never get it. We all know this is crazy, but it stops people from progressing, it even happens with experienced practitioners from time to time. This idea of quitting before we have learned something that is well within our reach is about control. We think “we are in control” and not only is that our first mistake (because we are not) but when we can’t do something we feel out of control, and that is annoying to our egos. Let it go! Be happy that you are learning and that bit by bit you are turning a complicated task into lots of little manageable pieces. In practice, it is as simple as bringing a sense of optimism to learning.
4. Paying attention to how the teacher sets up the activity you want to learn and make a ritual of doing it in that way. All too often when we want to learn a new skill, we ignore the process and choose to jump ahead and forget the lead up to the learning. If when you are learning a posture and the teacher had you do some stepping, and hand drills start with the stepping and hand drills before you just do the posture. If you are learning a piece of music for the guitar and the teacher has you play some scales that go with that piece of music play the scales first then play the music. There are thousands of examples of this in action, but it all boils down to the same thing pay attention to how the teacher taught you something and do what the teacher had you do. The process is part of the learning and sets you up for success.
5. Create a space for the learning to take place. This space to learn is both an external and internal, physical and mental. For instance, have a place that you can go to practice, whether a place in your home or your yard or the park. But know where you are going to practice. I currently have one main place, and on good weather days I have an alternate, but mostly it is in my studio. The other thing is to make it as interruption-free as it can be. Turn off the phone, the tv, try and have that space be as sacrosanct as can be. Why do I get up at 5 am to learn? Because this is when I can have uninterrupted time to play and my friends and family know to leave me alone.
6. Have a good ending. When it is time to stop don’t just rush onto the next thing. Take a moment to wind down and close off your learning. I usually bring my feet together and stand silently for a moment and then bow and say a little thank you to myself for my efforts. This is a vital step don’t get sloppy and forget to close off the activity! It is just as vital as the good start in the beginning.
7. Keep a journal of what you have learned. Finally, and this step is important as well, keep a journal of what you have learned, what you practiced, and thoughts and revelations about how and what you learned. The act of note taking is profound.
These are the seven steps that I find to build a momentum to learn. I also use them to learn any other skill I want to learn. If you engage these, it will supercharge your efforts in learning new information. If you are sloppy with your thinking, and clarity as to how you engage the skill you wish to learn what you learn will be sloppy as well.