Quick! Slow down!

Going back to the journals I wrote for my M.Ed. courses has been an interesting exercise, and not just because I’m revisiting some ideas and concepts that I haven’t looked at in a decade. It’s the “in a decade” aspect that got me thinking about the passage of time.

One of my yoga students from the YMCA where I used to teach came to one of my new classes at my local Y, and he talked to me after the class. He was quite agitated, because he wants to “fix” his energy. He wanted me to come back to the first Y, and pass my energy to him, or give him a way to get to perfect mental, physical and spiritual balance, NOW.

I stopped him, and I asked him how old he was. He’s thirty-one. So I asked him how long it took for him to get to his current state – the answer is 31 years. Change doesn’t happen overnight. In the realm of physical fitness instruction, this is a concept we often reiterate to our clients and participants: it took X years to gain this weight, or lose this muscle, or develop this anxiety, or fall into this fast-paced, obsessive career. It’s going to take some time to lose weight, to gain muscle, to calm fears, and to detach from our obsessions and obligations.

Most people are quick to see the logic in this idea. It took time to get here, so it will take time to get to the goal. My desperate client, however, was insistent that he wanted change NOW. He wasn’t ready to hear me. So, I touched his arm, told him again that he should try to love the journey rather than rushing to the destination, and I said goodbye. One of us had to let go.

In the classroom, we sometimes encounter the same thing: the student who wants to be perfect, and perfection has to come NOW – and when it doesn’t, we have a frustrated, demotivated student. We can’t use the same “how long it took to get here” approach, in most cases, because learning academically is (usually) not about undoing damage (although sometimes it is about breaking bad habits). So how do we calm the frustrated learner, and get them back on the slow-but-steady road to achievement?

An analogy that I’ve used in teaching essay-writing is a layer cake. Initially, I used this analogy simply to demonstrate that like the baker, the writer must approach the essay from the inside out. The baker begins with a commission, finds a recipe, gathers ingredients, bakes the layers, assembles the cake, ices it, and last but not least applies the fancy rosettes. Similarly, the writer begins with an assignment, creates an outline, gathers evidence and support, writes the body paragraphs, creates transitions from one idea to the next, composes the introduction and conclusion, and finally, edits and revises. Inside-out.

In recent years, I’ve added this: how many people in the classroom can create one of those beautiful, elaborate wedding cakes? Likely no-one. How many can put together a cake that one might find served in a restaurant? Maybe a few. But how many can open an instant cake mix, follow the instructions, and end up with something that is at least edible? Probably everyone in the room.

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So what’s the difference between the wedding cake maestro and the cake mix apprentice? Practice, experimentation, instruction, and TIME. Not 10,000 hours of box cakes, but maybe a few thousand hours of learning, practicing, reiterating, repeating, and analysing.

We live in a world of instant gratification. We have everything at our fingertips… but we still can’t turn ourselves into wedding cake artists overnight.

We can, however, try to get a little creative with the instant cake, and maybe in a few days, or weeks, or months, make a cake from scratch. And after that, have a go at making those rosettes. Eventually, we’ll be there, and all the time and effort will pay off – but not only are there no shortcuts, we should be so happy that there aren’t. I want the thrill of mastering that scratch cake, and when that feels old hat, I want the challenge and excitement of trying, and maybe succeeding, to write “Happy Birthday” in fancy letters (something I still can’t do, by the way).

In yoga, we refer to our “practice.” No matter how long we’ve been at it, we’re all still practicing. The journey is long, we hope.

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