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To Try is to Grow

Making mistakes in movement–and life–is the cornerstone of progress
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Author- Alisha Smith

When I was 11, I’d catch the number 168 bus to my school in Sydney’s North Shore.

Most days I’d stand for the 30-minute trip. The bus was always overflowing with serious-looking, city-bound, suit-clad adults. I’d stand so they could sit, just like my mum taught me, and try not to bang into anyone with the heavy backpack that dwarfed my little body.

With the support of my parents, I’d made the choice to move to this school for the two years before high school. I knew just two other kids out of the 60 who had been selected but we all had one thing in common: we were in search of opportunity.

In search of opportunity

Quite literally called ‘Opportunity Class’, or ‘OC’, the accelerated program gave us the chance to experience a depth of curriculum not offered at our existing schools. We learned how to write in calligraphy, adapt and perform Shakespeare, and do long division.

My teacher was Mrs Craig, a diminutive yet foreboding woman who spoke in perfectly enunciated English. Her silver-blonde hair was always scraped back in a chic chignon and she routinely pursed her lips so tightly that they’d disappear inside the vortex of her mouth.

I was petrified of her. If I hadn’t already been teetering on straight-up neuroticism as a kid, two years of OC would double-handedly shove me over the line. I’d stay up unreasonably late most nights, tearfully re-writing the pages of work that I had torn from my school folders, knowing that my calligraphy would disappoint her.

Trying to be perfect

My perfectionism was not unwarranted. Mistakes felt like unbearable transgressions; those who did not make them rose to the top of the class.

There was competition–we all wanted the best roles in the Shakespeare plays, to come first in mathematics or English or science, or to be voted into the lauded position of school captain. For a bunch of 11- and 12-year-olds, we could be decidedly cut-throat towards each other.

Looking back I can see that, for all of the knotted-stomach days that I spent in her classroom, Mrs Craig taught me something valuable. It wasn’t the long division (which I can’t recall ever needing as an adult), nor the Shakespeare (though I’m no stranger to being dramatic at times), and certainly not the calligraphy.

It was the importance of trying.
At everything. Not only the things I was good at but also, and perhaps more valuably, the things I was not good at.

I was simultaneously encouraged to try and scared to fail. Those two years bred a perfectionism that was a hallmark trait for many years, that I am still working to uninstall from my own default mode network. Yet now I see perfectionism to be what it is. It’s not simply wanting to deliver outcomes to a high standard. It’s insecurity wearing lipstick.

A woman in activewear sinks down onto a long flight of stairs.

A new perspective on errors

The practice of movement has not only supported but also encouraged and required that I err. Making mistakes is not only part of learning new skills, it makes us better, faster. Errors signal to us biochemically that we need a new strategy. There’s a window of time where the frustration, lack of focus, and failure just needs to be endured. It’s not long, up to 30 minutes, and when we bust through it our bodies are rewarded with a flush of neurochemicals that dial us in and keep us going. Persisting in spite of mistakes changes our brain.

I’ve re-framed what it means to make mistakes. Provided I learn from them and attempt to course correct, mistakes are now scientifically-supported demonstrations of my growth.

These days, I make mistakes, plenty of mistakes. I have learned that if I’m not, then I’m not playing at my edge and, instead, am hanging on too tightly to the reins of control.

I make mistakes in my work (there’s possibly a typo in here somewhere), in my relationships, in the way I communicate, and in the decisions I make. And in doing so, I’m learning more than I ever will from not trying.

I’ve never been scared to try new things but the lipstick-wearing perfectionist in me is still, on occasion, scared to try those new things that I might not be good at. It sometimes still stops me from releasing things I’ve worked on or from more boldly putting myself out into the world.

The opportunity in movement

For the past seven years, Animal Flow has been my movement ‘opportunity class’. At times, it has humbled me, stumped me, and eluded me. There is always something to be better at, and always someone who is better at it than me.

But the way I Flow is the sum of my parts. It’s an expression of my trying and failing and learning, of my personal style, and of the way the practice continually chisels off the hard edges of my movement and my mind, revealing something more shapely and sculpted.

There is no ‘being the best’ in Animal Flow, there is only being my best.

Trying for better, together

The Animal Flow Certified Instructor community on Facebook is a hotbed for trying. Each week there is an optional homework task that is assigned by a Master Instructor. Flowists who choose to do so share their attempts for thousands of others to see.

I am always blown away by how open-mindedly and vulnerably our community of instructors steps up to the tee to publicly receive feedback. They are not only open to feedback, they are hungry and grateful for it.

Each of our Master Instructors brings empathy and encouragement to the appraisal process. In bringing compassion to the task in this way, it has unexpectedly helped me develop more compassion for myself–and for my mistakes.

There are very few perfect submissions but perfection is not the point. Perfect submissions would render the process useless. Instead, the intention is to focus on trying, betterment, and attending to the details. It’s about showing up with our imperfections and being seen as we are, as we try. It’s equally about not blindly rushing through the journey of Animal Flow when there really is no one destination.

What if, instead of falling, you fly?

I’ve heard people say of Animal Flow, “I wouldn’t be good at that.”
In return, I ask, “How do you know?”
If Animal Flow’s not your thing, that’s ok. There are a bunch of sports or physical activity styles that hold precisely zero appeal to me, too. But if there’s an inkling of interest or maybe you catch yourself defaulting to an ingrained pattern of avoiding the growing pains of not being all that good at something, then I encourage you to give it a try.

Opportunity doesn’t come without effort.
Progress doesn’t come without persistence.
And underneath it all is simply the decision to try.

We know that trying new things can sometimes feel intimidating. That’s why we’ve created the AF Deconstructed category on Animal Flow On Demand. Learn to perform simplified versions of some of our Level 1 movements and find a more gentle entry point to your Animal Flow journey. Start your 7-day free trial today!