Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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Learning, criticism and being offended.

Published: 02 Sep 2012

My wife was a bad driver when we met. I avoided riding with her; I tried to always drive and limit how much time she spent behind the wheel. It took her quite a while to come to terms with this. For a while she didn’t believe me. It was interesting to watch the transition from blissful ignorance to awareness and acceptance of reality. Her world, very distinctly, changed.

She became fearful and anxiety crept in. I honestly don’t think this was a bad thing. She was dangerous. The ignorance kept her happy, but it was only a matter of time before a nasty accident happened. It is easier to ignore the dangerous consequences and just assume luck or divine intervention will keep us safe. When awareness of reality hits the world seems a little more scary.

Around the same time we moved to Seattle. Seattle is not an easy city to drive around in. Water, bridges and a large population creating traffic makes it daunting. It wasn’t long before she had her first accident. Fortunately, just running into parking garage pillars. Twice, but fortunately not in the same day. Unfortunately it was the same parking garage (and possibly the same pillar, but I don’t remember). We had a conversation and it was decided I would give her driving lessons.

I had never taught anyone to drive. I sort of remember learning, but not in a compact lesson style fashion. I learned to drive through my entire life. On farms, I would drive by myself from probably age 12 or 13. Because of this and from starting so young, I never encountered learning to drive while under any level of stress. I didn’t have to worry about hitting anything or running anybody over. It was enjoyable and I learned a lot.

What was most interesting is that as her lessons continued and she caught a glimpse at the gap of knowledge, she became more fearful. She had more stress.

I believe this level of stress was helping keep her a little more alert while she was driving. However, it was a hindrance to her learning to do better. That stress that was always present was a huge barrier to work through. She became very worried about making a mistake. She really didn’t want another dent in the car, or worse, a dent in a person.

And now, 8 years later we’re living in an area with no water and no bridges. The roads are sensibly arranged on a grid, it’s less populated and easy to navigate. Her anxiety has dropped and her intuitions have improved. I credit this from the near immediate reduction in stress.

In the 2 years since we’ve moved here her skills have improved drastically, but it was because she didn’t feel overwhelmed. The roads are easier to figure out here. She isn’t trying to do too much at once. There is less traffic, certainly around where we are. Of course there is still practice, but removing the stress from the practice was the key to unlocking her progress.

You can’t learn, especially increase your intuition, when battling stress. If you want to truly improve, reduce or flat out remove stress. After that put the focus on getting better.

How can you be stress free when mistakes have such dire consequences? A mistake could kill herself or someone else. Removing stress from the situation so the right instincts can be developed is hard. In our case we had to move, and I had to learn to teach and instruct without contributing stress.

How I critique and offer feedback is very important. If I’m harsh, or simply say the right thing at the wrong time it can introduce stress. Suddenly the efforts have no reward. She may know what she did wrong, and just needed encouragement. It’s hard to know the difference, but focusing on the levels of stress is important.

If I’m teaching and introduceing stress, the student isn’t learning. We learn the most when we are the most comfortable. Life, however, doesn’t allow us to be that comfortable so we must make do. I just need to remember that things are only stressful and scary when learning.

We’re only calm when doing something we’ve mastered.