Yesterday, after teaching two lessons, a class and a workshop, I found myself with an unexpected slice of unscheduled kid-free time in the afternoon. So I packed up our over-due books and took a stroll through the beautiful day to the library. It was lovely. But the way back is up hill, it was getting hot, I had a heavy bag of new library books and, by about four blocks from home, I was DONE with this outing. The stroll had become a trudge.
And as I trudged along, thinking a groan might be in order, I suddenly remembered the workshop I had just taught. In it, I had suggested to 40+ people that merely thinking “Lighten UP” was enough to change their whole experience—body and mind—in the moment. And, through a series of explorations, we had shown that to be so. There’s little more satisfying than seeing a room of people completely transform just by changing their thinking.
Drat. Maybe I should try that.
“Lighten UP,” I thought.
It worked! I felt lighter, I felt freer, I felt more fluid, more mobile and like I had just put down a huge burden. The burden? My unnecessary work/effort/stiffening/bracing in response to fatigue. Isn’t it funny, I thought to myself, that I react to fatigue by doing things that make life harder for myself?
It’s not just fatigue. I look around and I see everyone WORKING SO HARD at life. I’m doing it too. Our habits involve continually pushing harder, going faster, in ways that are totally inefficient. Like the woman in the workshop who felt sure that lifting her shoulders to her ears would help her walk faster. As strange as that may sound, it reflects the belief we have in the necessity of a felt sense of effort in our muscles, which we associate with walking fast or working hard or being good little busy bees.
But what if we’re wrong?
Remember in Elementary School when they gave you a grade for Effort? I always got an A for Effort (actually, I think it might have been an E—Excellent, but you get the idea). Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea behind this, that we are assessed not just on Product, but on our Process. The trouble lies with associating a good process with EFFORT (which usually involves hunching over my paper, scruching my shoulders, stiffening my neck, holding my breath and showing the teacher how diligent I am). I have been Effort-ing though my whole life. Working harder than is necessary, exhausting myself, trying to be perfect. What a waste of energy!
I don’t mean to suggest that we should all be slobs with no integrity or work-ethic. I’m suggesting that these are not the only two possibilities. I am suggesting that EFFORT, in the sense of excessive muscular tension, is only making us tired. It’s not actually helping us achieve our goals.
So may I suggest you conserve some of your precious energy? That you Lighten UP and see what it feels like to not work so very hard moment-to-moment?
Let yourself have a C for effort today and then tell me all about it!
*I can’t take credit for either part of this two-part title (nor could I choose one, so I used both). A beloved movement teacher named Judith Koltai once asked, “Could you get a C for Effort?” And recently a student of mine described the Alexander Technique as “conservation of energy.”