Don’t Practice the Perfect

Interior - Algebra classroom - Broad Run High ...
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As an algebra teacher, I spend much of my day pushing kids beyond what they think they are capable.  To no one’s surprise, I am often met with resistance.  They would rather practice addition rather than polynomials.  They want to practice the perfect.

In the example of algebra students, it is easy to see the absurdity of practicing something one has already mastered to the exclusion of learning something new.  However, it is often not so clear in our own lives how frequently we gravitate towards the known rather than explore the edge and delve into the unknown and unmastered. If always do what you know, you will never know anything else.  This clicked for me one day in the gym (shocker, I know) when I immediately walked towards the free weights.  Again.  That was my comfort zone; that was where I knew what I was I doing.  Free weights are awesome, but I was slighting myself by not trying anything else.  I made a promise to myself to try at least one new exercise machine each visit or try one new move with free weights.  And, you know what, I now have added to my “mastered” repertoire and discovered new favorites.  If it wasn’t for trying new things, my “I can’t, won’t and I’ll never” list wouldn’t exist and my life would be much duller.

Math DancesIt is comfortable to practice the perfected and scary to be vulnerable by trying something new.  We often make excuses, promising to practice something once we improve at it.  Think about that.  That is like saying I meditate because I have a calm mind, rather than I meditate to have a calm mind.  Or, I’m not flexible enough to do yoga, rather than I do yoga to become flexible.  Just rearranging those few words entirely shifts the focus and intent of the practice.  Th only way to improve is to practice the imperfect.

We often need  a push, either internal or external, to delve into the new.  Start by being honest with yourself about how you stay in your comfort zone.  Then, make a committment to grow in one or more areas.  If it helps, try picturing your algebra teacher pushing you along the way:)

Math Class
Math Class (Photo credit: attercop311)

Here are some suggestions to help you break out of practicing the perfect:

-Surround yourself with people that have knowledge and interests that differ from yours.

-Sign up for a class.  The YMCA and park services usually offer some low-cost and low-committment classes.

-Take suggestions from or just spend time with a kid; they’re usually fearless when it comes to trying new experiences.

-If you’re concerned about trying a new class, start with a similar version designed for the elderly.  The welcoming environment and shared wisdom will immediately put you at ease.

-Find someone who can struggle through with you.  My students benefit from seeing others in the same boat.

-Find a way to record your progress along the way.  Seeing improvement is a huge motivator.

It’s time to stop practicing addition and move on to something that will challenge you to grow.  And, no, it doesn’t have to be polynomials.

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7 thoughts on “Don’t Practice the Perfect

  1. What an inspiring and empowering post, Lisa! I found your site through the link you left over on the HuffPo story I co-authored about the Scars R Sexy campaign. i think I’m going to have to take some time to explore in earnest.

    Thank you for lifting me up and inspiring me this Saturday morning. xo

  2. DAng girl…. I mean, yes teacher. u r so right. One of the reasons I did not date for over 2 years is that I kept finding myself talking with the same type of dysfuntional person I divorced. uh yeah. In my case, I was practicing the imperfect since it was what I knew. Well something more to talk about with my counselor. Thanks Lisa!

  3. “-If you’re concerned about trying a new class, start with a similar version designed for the elderly.”…..Ouch! with a grin while avoiding a membership at the Senior Center. Those ‘old folks’ would put me to shame.
    Seriously though, I begin to feel bland and stale when I get in a comfortable rut. In my situation what helps is to immerse myself in strangers usually by going to a local horse track (lost $4 last year), dog park (pups like that one), riverwalk-someplace public for a mjx of people. I never know who I might meet and rarely ever see anyone twice. Not very physically demanding but stimulating mentally.
    Funny thing about the comfort zone to me is that it is not always enjoyable just familiar.

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