Practice is No Small Change

leadership resilience transformation Apr 22, 2018

I used to say that I have done Pilates for the last 18 years. But now all I can say is that I’ve practiced Pilates for 18 years. I had been reading from a little gem of a book called, The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle. In the Introduction, he speaks of how tennis players practiced in what he calls hotbeds of talent where the athletes are intensely serious about the practice necessary to become great athletes. The author describes how they began “swinging their racquets in slow motion.” The slow motion was to allow the athletes to make precise adjustments (directed by their coach) so that each swing was as precise as they could make it. They did this over and over again. (p. xv.) I was quite impressed. Why practice slowly for a game that is played so fast? The answer was precision.

I thought back to when I first began my Pilates instruction. My body could hardly do the forms at all. My instructor, Diana Gore, knew that her first job was to get my body to be more flexible. (She said that my back was rigid as a poker!) I remember vaguely how hard it was to get into a position even close to what she was asking of me. I wish I had taken some videos of these early efforts. It would give me so much satisfaction today that my body is in much better shape. But I was still intrigued by the idea of practicing slowly.

Inspired by Coyle’s words, I asked my Pilates instructor (the very same one for all 18 years) if I could do the forms as slowly as I could so that I could practice doing them correctly. She began to laugh and said she thought I would never get to this point. My real learning started when I began that first slow movement.

I got through about 10 minutes and had to stop. I had done maybe 3 of the forms instead of the 8 I usually did, but I was exhausted. My brain was working so hard to think of every muscle of every part of my body, its placement, its action, its speed, regulating the effort of always working against the springs, not with them. Nothing was automatic. Everything had to be thought through. My brain was working much, much harder. The other realization was that these forms which I had been doing for 18 years, suddenly felt like completely new forms.

In the end, I did only 30 minutes of my weekly, 50-minute routine and had to stop from sheer exhaustion. This went on for about 4 weeks. The forms were becoming easier. I tried not to let them speed up because I wanted very much to continue practicing them correctly. After about two months, I realized that my body was working very differently even in my everyday life.

Pilates had kept me walking for the last 18 years. Having spent time in a wheelchair, I was very grateful for that – thus, my dedication to the forms over this length of time. Now, I was becoming even more grateful for the additional benefits that I was beginning to achieve through the small, subtle shift of my slow, slow practice of the forms.

I recommend four small but powerful practices (the Phenomenal Four) for those who want to unlock, release, or simply improve their resilience. Five minutes a day sitting in silence sounds like such a trivial thing. Writing a personal story feels cursory. Selecting just one thing you will definitely complete for the day doesn’t feel like enough. Seeking new knowledge just by asking a question that doesn’t get answered feels like nothing. Now that I have seen the difference when I attend to the small things of the Pilates forms, I consider the deep, real value of doing small things over a period of time. As Coyle says, “Small actions, repeated over time, transform us.”

If you are a leader of a group, think about the small actions you can introduce to your group. For example, if you want to encourage honest questions, express your appreciation when any one of your team asks a question by answering it respectfully. Management ideas are often presented as the ‘solution’ when in fact, it is the small change, done consistently over time that really can transform a group. If you need more ideas on what these small actions might be, sign up for Resilience Brilliance for weekly ideas and check out my blog on Psychology Today for even more. And, of course, check out my musings here where I test out my latest thinking.

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