The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” Center for Action and Contemplation

We’ve all been tempted to criticize. My husband hates the way I load the dishwasher. And I’m not a fan of the way he makes the bed. There have been moments (weak ones) where we chose to share our thoughts with each other. These moments didn’t go particularly well for either of us. Without any discussion, we have both opted to express our opinions in a quieter way. We simply load the dishwasher and make the bed “the right way” in hopes that the other will catch on eventually.

As we’ve raised our children, we’ve done much the same thing. We’ve tried to model behaviors and choices that we hope they will make themselves one day. We do this in the way we love each other and in the way we love them. We do this in the way we argue and apologize. We do this in the way we speak and (more importantly) listen to them. We do this by using our turn signals in the car and by picking up trash we find in the woods.

In other words, we spend a great deal of energy trying to “lead by example.”

I don’t know about my husband, but I get countless opportunities to practice this skill on my yoga mat. Honestly, each and every time I do yoga, I do something wrong. I learned very quickly that it was a waste of energy to critically rehash my practices. What works better (and is infinitely more pleasant) is to simply note the mistake. After all, I do actually have to notice when I’ve messed up in order to avoid doing so again. This mental note is a sufficient reminder to do things differently the next time I do the posture.

In short, I’ve learned on my yoga mat that the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. This doesn’t mean that I always get things right the very next time I do the posture. In fact, on my yoga mat at least, I can be a glacially slow learner. But the intention to “practice better” seems to be enough. It keeps my head in the game. It keeps my thoughts positive. Rather than failures, each of my attempts is a step en route to that eventual attempt when things go right at last.

The world is a big place filled with things we can be tempted to criticize. Politics. Religion. Finances. Fashion taste.  And, yes, ways of loading the dishwasher or making the bed. The next time you feel moved to criticize, take a breath. Pause for a second. Ask yourself if it is possible for you to “practice the better.” It is often the best way of all to inspire change.