There have been many times in my life where I’ve wanted to pursue something new and later quit because I was afraid I wasn’t doing it right. I felt like the harder I tried to do things right, the more I did them wrong.
A few years ago I had a burning desire to want to meditate. I wanted to move past my monkey mind and reclaim control of my inner space. I wanted more peace in my thoughts.
I remember listening to an audio recording by Alan Watts on how to meditate. The main focus was on being aware of your breathing while observing your thoughts. So I tried this for a while and of course, like most people that try to meditate for the first time, I was incredibly frustrated.
I never felt like I could do it right. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t quiet my mind. Even when I did experience a gap in my thoughts, it was fleeting.
It usually went something like this…
ME: Okay, it’s time to meditate. This is going to be awesome! All right… focus on your breathing. *Inhale* … ahhh. That feels good. It’s nice to be aware of my breathing…
MIND: I wonder if I have any emails in my inbox. What should I do tomorrow? I should probably go to the gym… What’s the point of just sitting here? I should be doing something productive. The bathroom really needs to be cleaned.
ME: Oh yeah, back to the breathing. Right.
*mind quiets slightly*
MIND: Wow, I’m just observing, this is awesome.
ME: Oh shit, I’m thinking again. Oops.
For a long time I stopped meditating because I never felt that I could get my mind to stay quiet. I’ve since learned that it’s much more effective to follow your thoughts (rather than try to stop them). Trying to stop your thoughts is like trying to smooth out a running river by putting your arm across it… you’ll just disturb it all the more.
Now I meditate often and have gotten over my compulsion to do it right. But I still feel hesitant knowing the critical part of my mind will likely surface and tell me that I’m doing it wrong.
For a while I tried to silence that voice (which only made it louder, of course). Now I do something radically different. I intentionally do-it-wrong from the very beginning.
Whenever I’m approaching anything new, I don’t try to get it right at first. When I do that I set myself up for being overly critical of my mistakes. That just encourages me to be even more self conscious of not making them. It also supports a groove for the pattern to repeat.
It seems weird that intentionally doing things wrong would lead me to do them better and faster, but sometimes life is strange like that. Plus I’m tired of not doing things that I want because I’m not going to do it right.
By doing things wrong I’ve…
- Started a popular blog
- Become self employed by the age of 23
- Got married :)
- Hiked barefoot for 10+ miles
- Became a coach
- Learned to play drums (I had terrible rhythm before)
- Competed in an amateur MMA fight
- Eventually learned to meditate
- And now I’m working on my front flip
None of this stuff I could have done if I was obsessed with trying to do it right.
So what I’d like to ask you is… what have you been wanting to do but haven’t tried out of fear of doing it wrong? When will you give yourself permission to not get it right?
photo courtesy of crystl
Karen Tiede says
Anything worth doing is worth doing badly!
My favorite guide is Art & Fear, by Bayles & Orland. Artists who make more art make better art than artists who try to make perfect art from the start.
Clay Shirky goes here too, in his latest (Cognitive Surplus, I think)–that the huge delta is between not-creating and creating, infinitely bigger than the gap between creating a mess and creating art. (My wording; his was neater.)
Hoop dance. Chainsaw carving. Blogging. Internet anything. Twitter. Painting (pictures, not houses). Raising dogs.
I can really relate to your mental process during meditation, I have been there! If I haven’t practiced in a while I tend to go through that, and you are right it is definitely best to just go with the thoughts. They will eventually calm down.
Learning to let go of perfection is really important in all new endeavors. The way that I like to look at it is a learning process. When I try something that doesn’t work then I move on to something else. We need to be flexible, or we will just break!
Setema Gali says
Once again a priceless article. I love it. This is what I am talking about. Doing it WRONG and making sense of things. Thank you for the awesome article. Much appreciation.
Regarding your comments on meditation, I had a similar problem when I started meditating 15 or so years ago, it took me a long to get my head round it. I recall the “ah ha” momment was when I was complaining to my meditation teacher that “I just can’t stop thinking!!”. He replied “You are not meant to stop thinking, you can’t. Your brain is designed to think, as your heart is designed to beat and your lungs are designed to breathe. The key is to disengage from the thoughts and just observe, like watching clouds in the sky. Don’t fight it…”
Stella Stopfer says
I guess looking for the people I want to find, or need to find. I know this is not the answer you probably expected, but I have been giving myself the permission to do many of the things I wanted for a long time now. This is the one that I never seem to get to. Whether it’s people in business or in life.
Wow, this was actually a great question. That is going to be my next challenge.
Dude! You are doing it wrong!
Ed - People Skills Decoded says
That little peace of dialog reminds me of something I call mental boxing. It’s a good way to change your thinking patterns. Once you set them on the right path, I often find that you can then forget about your thinking and focus on whatever you want.
Well, I’m sure that Alan Watts would make a point of saying that there’s no “right way” to meditate in any case, haha. Personally I’ve been using Holosync, and if you want to take your meditation to the next level, I would suggest you check it out :) Takes about 10 days, for 30 minutes each day, and you’ll be meditating on average better than your current best.
For the past week and a half I’ve been obsessing over a new blog name. I just can’t seem to “get it right”! I need to get started on the steps of launching a new blog, but I’m stuck on a name, so I can’t even do the first step of registering a domain! I know I need to just pick one already, what’s the worst that can happen? Great article, hopefully it’ll give me the kick in the pants I need!
Fabian | The Friendly Anarchist says
Big applause for doing things wrong! :)
“Deliberately dilettante” is my name for this, and it can really help a lot! Not just for approaching new things, but also later on, to avoid falling too much into routine. Doing things “wrong” from time to time helps to question the validity of the supposedly “right” form in the first place.
I really liked this. I have been trying to this specific thing perfectly and not finishing it and it is really holding me back! Even when it comes to sending an email I have this annoying tendency to read it over and over again! I’m just going to start giving things my best shot and sending them on. You just can’t perfect everything the first time around! Thanks for this:)
I just started meditating today! It was the hardest 10 min of my life – and I looked at my phone time 3 times LOL. But tomorrow I will sit again, breathe in and out and see where my thoughts take me.
Takes a lot of practice to do get mediating right. I always have troubled shutting up my mind. But every now and then I get it right and I feel my body vibrating. It’s a really weird feeling, but not in a bad way or anything. Then I usually snap out of it. Wish I could stay in that state a bit longer.
Jonathan, great post. As the great Lao Tzu once said, “Success is the lurking place of failure.” Sometimes we need to things wrong again and again before we finally find the sweet spot. It’s all trial-and-error and experimentation.
I like what you said in regards to meditation:
“For a long time I stopped meditating because I never felt that I could get my mind to stay quiet. I’ve since learned that it’s much more effective to follow your thoughts (rather than try to stop them). Trying to stop your thoughts is like trying to smooth out a running river by putting your arm across it… you’ll just disturb it all the more.”
Alyx Falkner says
Just stopped by your blog and this was such a good read. I can so relate. I don’t know how many times I’ve second guessed myself and turned out not doing anything at all. So I guess I’d rather do something wrong oppose to not doing it at all. Thanks
Doing something “wrong” reminds me of something I discovered when I first stated learning about personality types. You see in popular culture there’s an assumption that there is one ideal personal type.
In terms of Meyers Briggs personality types, the ENTP is the ideal type in the US. That’s someone who is extroverted, Big Picture thinking, Thought based, and open to any possibility. That type is known as the champion, but the reality is many of us have different dispositions.
Do it wrong. Go your own way. Don’t “Fake it til you make it.” Just Be yourself, independent of the good or bad opinions of others.
Anthony Feint says
Spot on! We learn best from our mistakes
Anass Farah says
Trying to do things right from the first is what makes me fear maths and physique exercices. I feel very sad when i can’t solve an exercise from the first time. It’s crazy but school and society want us to do things right from the first time. Mistakes are seen as failure not experiences, when I start seen things from a new perspective I knew that the most important things is not where you’re going but more what are the directions you’re following and what are you learning from this journey you’re taking. I don’t want a person to give me 1 billion dollars I want to make it myself :D
Christopher Foster says
I love your writing Jonathan for many reasons. But one reason I love it is because touching in with your brave, authentic spirit is a true inspiration to me. Oh yes. Do it wrong by all means. But don’t let anything stop us from doing what our own spirit tells us to do.
Create My Mind Movie says
This is a great post and the most important thing that I want to add, is that there is no right and wrong way to do things.
I think the reason why we experience so much torment in our lives is because we have unrealistic expectations of how things should really be.
For example, when you meditate, you should not let your thoughts overrun you.
In a 10 day meditation retreat which I participated in the first thing they taught you was that there was “no right and no wrong” to your experience. Your experience was your experience and that is exactly what you need to go through at that point in time. They also taught you that everyone’s experience is different from eachothers and that there was no use comparing to what the other person was feeling or thinking.
Resisting or fighting something, only creates more resistance, therefore if there is a skill that we all should develop its more a keen awareness of what our thoughts are saying to us at a point in time and the ability to choose, if thats what you want to be running through your head.
Its more about a conscious thought process living, rather than unconscious programed thoughts and actions.
Thoroughly enjoyed your post. Thank you.
Pete Sisco says
Jonathan, this is a HUGE truth than needs to be more in the front of people’s minds. In math and science there is the concept of a ‘first approximation’ which is used to start in a promising direction. Karl Benz did this when he created an automobile. The Wright Brothers did it. History is full of examples. Too many people get bogged down worrying about mistakes or perfection. It was impossible for the Wright Brothers to make a 747 in 1903 – lucky for us they just tried to do what they could. A HUGE life lesson. Thanks.
Gary Simpson says
As a karate practitioner of more than 40 years I am very familiar with the process of meditation.
Try this: Find a suitable place where you will not be distracted or annoyed, get comfortable, close your eyes and count. When you count it’s difficult to think about other things that may be bothering you.
After you reach say 20 (or whatever number) and have focus, just time your in-breath and out-breath to whatever feels comfortable. ie count in and count out. After a while you can drop the count if you want.
You can train yourself to do this. And after some practice it just gets easier and easier – like everything. There is no great mystery to meditation.
arina nikitina says
YEAH! A very big YEAH! I used to beat myself getting things perfect, doing it right, appearing clean-cut and goody-goody. Man, those moments were the most exhaustive, painful and frustrating ones. Then I learned how to experiment and welcome being wrong, learned along the way, not be perfect but have fun, and even deliberately break “molds” of being right. What did I get?
GREAT LESSONS in life, laughter, love, friendship, writing, earth, health and everything else. Sometimes we need to take a different road, if only to value the right path; and sometimes we need to be bumped in the head to know we’re walking too tall and have become over-confident and vain.
So there! Wrong does rock at times we need to realize the better side of life.
Way to go, Jonathan!
Kenley Bel says
I am so glad I have read this. I receive your newsletters like so many others I subscribed to. I procrastinated on my writing today. So I decided to clean up my mail box and unsubscribe to the newsletter I did not need.
I am keeping you. I need this type of read at least once a week. Thanks Jonathan.
Today I am picking up my guitar and open up the notepad on my computer… Thinks for the inspiration.
Much Love to you
Paul Jun says
That’s pretty incredible we have similar interested.
I, too, had trouble meditating. Instead of trying to meditate like how I see on TV and read on blog posts, I took the step of doing it even if it was wrong. Now, I’ve developed a habit of being able to sit still and take deep breathes. When I open my eyes, it feels like my head feels lighter, I feel better, and I become motivated to do something.
I also started a blog and accidentally found what I loved doing. I, too, became self-employed by 23 — well, I just turned 23.
Excellent post, I resonate with it very much.
This is my first time on your blog, and just know I’m here to stay. Keep up the great work.