Continuous effort, not superior strength or intelligence, is the key to unlocking our true potential. —Winston Churchill
Learning to love is like learning to master an instrument or an art. The following is a list of factors these acts all have in common.
Possibility—This includes having the time to devote to the art, and the physical capacity to do it. One can not very well pick up a violin if one’s hands are broken. Time, more often than not, is something that gets in the way of being able to devote oneself to loving.
Commitment—It is much easier to pronounce “I paint” or “I love you” than it is to actually master painting and to unconditionally love someone. Without the wish, will and dedication to work, it will never happen.
Goals—This includes the ultimate goal of mastering the art as well as all the stepping stones along the way. Staying focused on the present is important, yet without an idea of where one is heading it’s easy to get lost.
Instrument—Just as I can not very well master the guitar on a block of wood, I cannot love without an object for my affections. This doesn’t mean a person has to be in a romantic relationship to practice loving—we can practice loving human kind, friends, family, pets, god, and most importantly, ourselves.
Confidence—This does not mean that if you think you’re the best cellist, then you will be. It refers to accepting where you are in your practice. Expecting to be a master on your first try is unrealistic. Mastering an art takes a lifetime, and surely many mistakes will be made along the way.
Patience—Hand-in-hand with confidence, patience is needed to persevere through the low points. If martial arts were easy, everyone would do it. The same goes for love. Truly opening yourself to another, being vulnerable, and accepting the other unconditionally takes a lot of effort. It is a common misconception that “love should just come naturally.”
Model—If I took a person who has never heard music, gave him a clarinet and said, “play me some jazz,” he would not have the foggiest idea what I was talking about. In love, we model our behavior after those who influence us—whether it be from family, friends, a religious figure, mentor, therapist, or books.
Discipline—Practice makes perfect. Even when you’re tired, or when you’d rather just watch a movie, you’ve got to push through and always remember to keep at it.
Persistence—Working closely with confidence, persistence requires having faith in the process of learning. That even though you don’t get it all now, if you keep at it, eventually you will.
Environment—A safe space to learn, practice, make mistakes and try again is also needed. A ballet dancer needs a studio with a bar, and a lover needs freedom to explore and express his or her feelings.