When Trying Harder Doesn’t Work

I once watched a woman damage her car.

It was in a parking lot that alternated pull-through rows and rows with a thin strip of landscaping down the middle. The landscaping is not much more than two feet wide with a cement curb on each side and about 18 inches of grass between the curbs. The woman had parked in one of the landscape rows, but must have forgotten and thought she was in a pull-through. Not seeing a car in front of her and not able to see the curb from the driver’s seat, she put her car in Drive instead of Reverse and gently pressed the accelerator.

She paused momentarily when the car was blocked. She didn’t back up and she didn’t get out to take a look. Instead, she pressed more firmly on the accelerator and managed to get both front wheels up over the curb. I can still remember the loud crunch as the undercarriage of her car met the cement and the look of astonishment on her face. The whole thing couldn’t have taken more than a few seconds. I have no idea how long it took or how much it cost to repair the damage.

This happened several years ago, but I still think about her sometimes — especially when I am teaching movement classes and witness someone risking injury through determination to force their body into a desired shape right now, dammit. I encourage a spirit of inquiry and attention in class participants. I look for blocks they might be unable to see by themselves. Sometimes the joint they are blaming isn’t the holdup at all. We might take a break from a Yoga pose to explore how excess tension in the neck and jaw restricts free and easy movement in the hip joints. A very small shift in the tilt of the ribs can do wonders for flexibility of the spine. Returning to a pose after a detour to explore relationships and variations is much more satisfying — and safer — than simply trying harder.

Writing this now gets me thinking — I’m pretty good at applying this insight when I meet physical challenges. But do I actually pause to explore and redirect my efforts when I meet other kinds of obstacles? Maybe I just try harder and create trouble with my own attachment to how I would like to move forward in my daily activities, my career, my relationships. Accomplishing my goals might be easier than I think if I take a look at what really slows me down and adjust my actions accordingly.

All that woman wanted was to pull out of the parking lot and get on with her day. Putting her car in reverse would have done it.

What about you?

Have you ever caused trouble for yourself by plowing straight ahead toward something you wanted?

Do you have any tools or phrases that help you take a look and redirect when you hit a snag?

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