“Practice makes perfect” is something we hear from the time we are small. The aphorism reveals a cultural belief that it’s about the perfection — not the practice. In this small phrase lies great potential for misdirection. We forget that practice is the point. Everything is practice.
As a cyclist, I used to log 200-300 miles a week, and I was frequently disappointed by my lack of consistent improvement. I was so attached to the outcomes of my riding that it affected my moods. When I had a good performance day I was up. When it didn’t go so well, it brought me down. Then something changed.
During a trip to Portland, Maren and I did a 30-mile ride around the city with our daughter Sonnet and her boyfriend (now husband), Chris. I was riding a 1970s model Schwinn 3 speed with a big basket. The weather was typical, overcast with damp mists frequently turning to light rain. We stopped for breakfast and lunch along the way. When I surrendered to experience instead of obsessing about performance, I had a great time.
After that, my thinking about cycling shifted. I realized riding is a neutral. Whatever value it has is assigned by me. It only became “good” or “bad” when that was the label I gave it. By letting go of an attachment to “perfect,” I could make every ride a good ride. Now I push myself because it feels good. If I don’t enjoy it, I don’t do it.
We have similar attitudes at work. We have our own picture of what the outcome should be, and so do our coworkers. If we get too attached to our outcome, efforts become about getting our way, even at the expense of others. We begin to drain joy from the work.
The wisdom of yoga addresses this sort of attachment through a precept called ishvara-pranidhana — or surrender. It is the practice of recognizing and honoring that we are connected to something greater than ourselves. That applies to work, a place where people come together to create something bigger than self.
Surrender doesn’t mean giving up or defeat. Nor does it mean that planning is unnecessary or that we shouldn’t strive toward a common goal. We still need to give work our best effort, but shift our orientation to those efforts. It means focusing on the daily practice of working for the good of the whole by letting go of the need to control the outcome, which is impossible anyway.
Yoga is action and action is practice.
Consider listing the meanings and associated feelings evoked by the word “surrender” in the context of work. How do those feelings affect the actions you take at work? What would you gain if you were to practice surrender at work, and what would you lose? (Remember that gains are not always positive and losses negative. If you’re making a change, you might gain anxiety, for instance.)
Try to notice how you feel when you become attached to an outcome. What practices could you employ to stay present and focused on the good of the whole as opposed to getting your way?
By becoming aware of potential pitfalls, and creating practices that will help you let go of attachment, you will become more sane and fulfilled at work.
Practice, “repeatedly performing or systematic exercise,” requires internal focus with an outward gaze.
It’s just like riding a bicycle.