How We Change

Recently while a friend and I were listening to Liszt’s Liebestraum she commented (rather pungently) on the general inability of piano students today (at age 79 she still teaches the odd learner) to be willing to make slow, steady progress toward a goal. Sixty-five years ago her own teacher of that instrument, one Harry Littler, explained to her the value of chopping up difficult tasks into manageable pieces and then addressing each piece diligently. He advised her daily to make at least one bar of one composition perfect; after thirty days thirty bars would be perfected, and each month she could be then be confident of perfecting another thirty (at the least), making slow but steady progress through the piece until she had mastered it by working on it patiently and consistently.

Sadly, the opposite is also true: make repeated mistakes and you will perfect them as well. This is why my mentor, Vimalananda, always exhorted me to make different mistakes each time I made a mistake. In the words of Jim Rohn, “Success is a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.”

We’ve entered the time of year where we often make resolutions or niyamas to take us into the new year. A niyama is a simple discipline, a pact that you make with yourself for your betterment, a commitment to personal improvement. Pronounced transformations can result when small positive alterations accumulate. Dave Brailsford, general manager for Great Britain’s professional cycling team, calls this the “aggregation of marginal gains.” He believed if every area related to cycling could be improved by just 1 percent, those small gains would add up to significant advancement. You can read more about him and his team’s accomplishments here.

Another way to shift your reality is to develop “tiny habits”, minor alterations that are not difficult for you, tacked onto regular behaviors so that not much motivation is required to perform them. Here is a summary of this approach.

The key to success at any niyama is to start now and keep going. Failures will occur, especially during Kali Yuga; never let them stop you. No matter how often you fall, keep picking yourself up and beginning again. Here is Jalaluddin Rumi’s invitation:

Come, come, whoever you may be. Our hearth is not the threshold of despair. Come again, even if you have violated your vows a thousand times. Come again.