The Paradox of Success

“I’ll never get it!” my Inner Nag grumbled last week in yoga class as we practiced shifting between Warrior Pose, a two-legged lunge, and Tree, a one-legged standing position. Instead of gliding back and forth in the seamless ballet our teacher demonstrated, I repeatedly lost my balance and toppled sideways.

With a voice full of mischief, our teacher, Natalie Morales, casually commented to no one in particular, “If you don’t fall out of a pose at least once during class, you might not be taking a big enough risk or having enough fun.”  She doesn’t call this class “Funyasa” for nothing.

Immediately I relaxed and the challenge became interesting again. Natalie’s words reminded me why I was there.  Physical performance is only a small part of it.  I was simply taking a big enough risk to stretch past my safety zone and into my risk zone.  Today’s limits aren’t permanent, and falling out of the pose was a message of feedback, not failure.  Every success I’ve had in that class has been preceded by dozens if not hundreds of failures.

I was also reminded that I was there to play and have fun, not to practice Jaw Clenching Pose, Eyebrow Knitting Pose or Inner Fuming.

Having recovered my good humor, I experimented by shortening my lunge and adjusting my balance … and there it was!  Tree Pose!   For a nanosecond!  Then I teetered, lost my balance, and toppled again.  But I was closer. For a moment, I’d done it.  And, I’d discovered a couple of tricks that might make it easier in the future.

Importantly, I was engaged with my own experiment again, and not thinking about what everyone else around me was accomplishing that I wasn’t.

My shifted attitude is what psychologist and motivational expert Carol Dweck calls our Mindset, a key component of our success.  A fixed mindset tells us, “I’m born with only a finite amount of intelligence, competence, or capability.  I have limits that stop me.”  A growth mindset says, “I can improve with learning, effort, and practice.  I can do more so I’m going to keep trying.”

According to Dweck, fixed and growth mindsets can occur not only in activities like yoga and other endeavors of physical performance, but also in education and learning, leadership, relationships, and even self-esteem.  When presented with an obstacle, those with a growth mindset tend to rise to the challenge. With a growth mindset, we’re less likely to fear failure, and instead, view it as a chance to improve.

Those with fixed mindsets believe that since they have limited amounts of intelligence, talent, and skills, they’d better prove to themselves that they are adequate. They exhaust themselves trying to measure up, comparing themselves to others, looking for external approval, worrying about being judged, and thrashing themselves for falling short.  It’s no surprise that fixed mindsets keep us stuck.

As we move into this New Year, let’s take this opportunity to notice where we have fixed mindsets in our lives.  Where are we believing that we (or those important to us) have limits, that we’re not smart enough, talented enough, courageous enough, lovable enough, or good enough?  When we notice ourselves looking for external approval and comparing ourselves to others, is this simply a signal of a fixed mindset?  Can we then shift to a growth mindset by reminding ourselves that we can get better if we don’t give up?

In virtually everything we undertake, our own experience has a wealth of proof that we can and do get better at everything we try to do.  In virtually every instance, the human capacity to learn, to grow, and to improve is real and provable.

As my yoga class and indeed life itself always demonstrates, our failures are just a part of the process of learning, of growth, and of progress. Failure always precedes success. The exploration of the edge between success and failure is how we learn what works and what doesn’t.  And success isn’t always the achievement of the goal we set out to attain.  Success is more often about staying curious, present, and engaged, taking risks, and having plenty of fun along the way.


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5 thoughts on “The Paradox of Success

  1. Vidica

    Great Blog Terry! I can relate to everything you wrote, thanks for the reminder. A Course in Miracles would classify this as a miracle, which is simply a ‘shift in perception’. I suspect many readers, besides myself, will benefit from this ‘miracle’ 🙂

  2. Melanie

    Love this! Would you mind if I printed it out and put it up on my wall so that I can always remember to keep a growth mindset? 🙂

  3. natalie morales

    terry- thanks so much, you really inspire me in so many ways! but i must correct you and say that i saw you hold that tree pose for WAY longer than a nanosecond! love natalie

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