08/20/2014 01:10 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Greek Dancing Can Teach Us About Life

One of my longstanding mentors in the inside-out understanding is Dr. George Pransky. While I have learned enough through my conversations with George to fill volumes, one story in particular stands out for me -- how he learned the art of Greek dancing from a teacher who recognized the value of simplicity in learning.

"What my teacher told me," George said, "is that all you need to do is get in line. If you fall out of line, get back in line."

When George pressed for more details about the specific steps involved, his teacher explained that as long as he stayed in line as best he could, he would pick up the steps naturally as the dance progressed. While he would no doubt have numerous stumbles along the way, before long he would be dancing comfortably and well.

This is reminiscent of how we learned to walk and talk. We hung out with other walkers and talkers, made our mistakes without dwelling on them or consciously trying to learn from them, and before we knew it, our parents couldn't shut us up or get us to keep still.

This is also in direct opposition to the way many of us try to learn as adults. We want to have the entire process of whatever it is we are trying to learn explained to us up front, and then we want step by step instructions for implementing it. Generally speaking, this is because we approach learning as an exercise in "mistake limitation."

While we theoretically understand that we will not do most things well on the first try, when we are learning something new we seem to keep score like golfers -- whoever makes the least mistakes wins. Instead of "getting in line," we try to avoid getting it wrong. And unfortunately, at some point we stumble across the ultimate strategy for mistake limitation and failure avoidance:

If we don't play, we can't lose.

The only downside is, if we're not careful we can wind up without much of a life. This points to another thing George mentioned in passing that jumped out at me:

Success is generally more a function of the games you play than the results you achieve.

To better understand this, imagine two tennis players. The first has won 90 percent of his matches over the past year; the second is struggling along, winning only 45 percent of his matches. When these two players wind up head to head in a tournament, which one is most likely to win?

While at first this seems a ridiculously obvious question, the real answer depends on who they've been playing over the past year. If our 90 percent successful player has been playing predominantly against beginners and children while our 45 percent player has been playing on the ATP tour, the less "successful" player has a considerably better chance of winning the match.

So what do we do with this information? What is the equivalent of "getting in line" when it comes to the rest of our lives?

For me, it all comes down to our state of mind on a moment by moment basis. Whenever we approach life from our natural state of clarity and well-being ("in line" with our innate health and wisdom), we will make our way through things as best we can, adapting as we go.

From time to time, we will lose our bearings ("fall out of line") and get caught up in our thinking. In those moments, we obsess about keeping score (i.e. "how we're doing") and life seems hard. But as soon as we regain our bearings ("get back into line"), we resume the process of happily stumbling towards higher levels of success and achievement.

Worst case, we enjoy the journey. Best case, we enjoy the journey and arrive at some fun and interesting places. Either way, we are having fun, learning heaps, and dancing each day from a place of comfort and well-being inside us.

With all my love,


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