I was recently talking with a friend about the idea of doing things the 'Right Way'. It's something we often obsess about in our culture. Perhaps it come from the Judeo Christian background of the western world, or perhaps it's just a side effect of striving for excellence and happiness; in either case it can very easily become a trap that limits our imagination, our ability to grow, and our happiness.
The 'Right Way' can become a beacon for us to shoot for, but also very often it is the standard by which we constantly judge our inadequacy. I'm going to take a few posts to really look at how this fixed idea of 'Right Ways' and 'Wrong Ways' effects our lives. These won't be posts that relate in a direct way to fitness, but I think very much apply to the mind that arrives at the gym or in the park every time we work out.
First off, Where does this idea of the 'Right Way' come from?
I once got into a discussion about the 'Right Way' to determine the difference between stuffing and dressing. Even though it's very silly in retrospect, I gave what can only be described as a passionate account of the difference between stuffing and dressing. I spoke with the conviction of an attorney working for Stovetop Inc. In the midst of my defense, of the purity of breaded poultry fodder, I realized that my entire knowledge of this difference, was based solely on a single article I had read the previous day on the Internet.
My conviction was unwarranted and the conversation, though clearly silly to begin with, had lept the bounds of absurdity, because of my forceful perspective. So why did I argue for the 'Right Way' to define something of so little importance? When I reflect on this, I realize that holding this 'Right Way' in my mind gave me a sense of power, of confidence, of safety.
I felt validated and justified in my actions. Knowing the 'Right Way' gave me a clear identity. I was the person who knew the identity of stuffing. I was the sole arbiter of stuffed bread products (cue the heroic music). There is something so satisfying about knowing the 'Right Way' to do something. It says so many things about me. I am competent, capable, and knowledgeable. Who am I? I am the one that knows.
It is easy to see why we can easily become obsessed with the 'Right Way' to do something. There is so much comfort for our anxiety, our fears, our doubts, and our fears. Put simply, the idea of a 'Right Way' comes a very human need to know and understand themselves and the world around them. This 'Right Way' situates them at the center of a known universe they have drawn the borders around.
The only problem is, this 'Right Way' doesn't reveal the truth about myself or the subtlety of the actions I undertake. Instead it trades the complexity that makes life beautiful, for the certainty that makes us feel safe. I became so fixated on the 'Right Way' to describe stuffing, I lost all perspective on the absurdity of the conversation. I wasn't connected to the person I was interacting with or my own intentions. Worst of all I became unable to take in new information and new perspectives.
Striving for excellence is great and visualizing can be very valuable, but when we get fixated on the 'Right Way' to do something, we lose what we sought. What makes us truly unique among the animal kingdom, is our ability to take in new information and greet new situations with curiosity and imagination.
If the 'Right Way' comes from a fixation on a particular idea or way of being, how right is it? If on the other hand, what if the 'Right Way' comes not from an idea of the end, but from the connection to the process? It's all a matter of putting the emphasis on the 'Way' and not the 'Right'.
This is the key salvaging excellence from the concept of the 'Right Way'. Our focus must be on the path, that leads us in the direction we want to go. Often our destinations rarely look how we expect them to and of course we as travelers have changed. The path on the other hand is intimate to our every step.
Excellence in self, in body, in mind is possible, but this excellence doesn't come from seeking some outside standard, but from believing in the flawed footsteps it takes to get there. It's faith in the path and the way, even if the scenery doesn't match the post cards.
Take some time to reflect on what fixed ideas of doing things the 'Right Way' is holding you back. What qualities are embodied in achieving that standard? Write them down. Then instead of comparing yourself to this Holy Grail standard, walk the path of the pilgrim. Do your best to embody the qualities that that standard holds. Take up this practice of embodying qualities instead of embodying standards for a week and see what effect it has.
Your expression of compassion, of wisdom, of joy, may not be the same as those you admire, but its the way behind them, that is the same. Your act of kindness will not be there's, but the quality of kindness is something almost anyone can recognize. In this way you become one with all the great people who have gone before; not because you will do the same things, but because you will be walking on the same road.
Thanks for reading and be well,