How I Deal With Frustration in Practice
Mar 06, 2020
Ever feel like storming off your mat in frustration? Or worse yet, not even getting on it? We all feel frustration with practice from time to time. So how do we deal with it? Oftentimes, this is actually two questions: one is about frustration with your own practice; the other is frustration because you’re comparing yourself to others.
We all get frustrated with our practices sometimes, but it can be easier to break out of if you can remember the two central concepts of impermanence and nonattachment. Whatever it is you’re frustrated with will change, just like everything in life does. So recognize and accept the impermanence of the moment and the frustration, love the whole process, and move forward in your practice without attachment to the outcome.
But with the frustration of comparing yourself to others, it can be a little easier to address because you don’t need to change your own mindset. All you need to do is remove the things you’re comparing yourself to, and your mind will start to change itself. Comparing yourself to others is never going to serve you, but it’s still something that is really hard to get away from doing. If you’re talking about social media, remember that whatever you see is one-dimensional. It’s a very limited perspective. A good strategy for that, in my experience, is to unfollow the people you find yourself comparing yourself to. If you started following for the good of your practice, why are you still following if it’s not helping? It’s never going to feel rewarding, and if it’s not someone whose practice you’re familiar with, you’re not even seeing anything real - the photo captures such a small segment of the practice and of the posture and even of the moment; there’s too strong a selection bias, too high a likelihood that you’re seeing something artificial. Practice social media pratyahara. Take a sensory diet - if it isn’t nourishing you, get rid of it.
If you’re comparing in real life, that’s a little different. One suggestion is to practice without eyeglasses or lenses - if you don’t wear either, just work on having a really strong drishti. (This is one unexpected benefit of learning to stop comparing - the solution can build new strengths in other areas of your practice.) If you’re looking around the room all the time, not only are you comparing yourself to others, but you’re taking yourself out of your practice. If you can, find a space in the room where you’re less likely to look around. I sometimes look at other people to try to learn from what they’re doing, but it’s really important to make sure this is a learning tool - instead of comparing, pay attention and ask them what they do. Surrounding yourself with people that are operating at a high level doing what you do can be a great way to up your own level. Plus it’s important to remember that most people who are great at anything have been at it consistently for a long time. Many people put in the hours and put in the effort and put in the lifestyle. There’s no point in comparing, because we're all just where we're at.
Another suggestion is that if you’re feeling frustrated by comparing your asanas, remember that asanas aren’t the end goal. Focus much more on all the little individual steps and components and how they feel. Focus more on how you’re feeling, what your state of mind is, and what you’re experiencing emotionally, rather than on, “what does this asana look like?” What an asana looks like is not the point of the practice. This can be a great opportunity to redefine the goals of your practice or the goals of an asana - one with a really good breath, one with a really good drishti, one where your mind is really absorbed - so that you can get away from putting so much importance on what your asana looks like or what someone else’s looks like to you. The goals of your practice are yours alone to figure out, and those can be more subtle than the asanas.
So if frustration and comparing are challenges for you (as they are for so many of us), ground yourself in the reminder that your practice is your own. All things are impermanent and ever-changing, and whatever you’re trying to accomplish is already within you. Someday your frustration will be a memory - operate from a place where it already is.
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