Habits, decisions, and arbitrary deadlines

I started practicing yoga ten years ago – very intensively in the early years, a drop-off when I moved away from the first yoga studio I really loved, with a slow but consistent decline in the past few years as my life has gotten busier and my kids have gotten bigger.  Over the last few months, things got so full that whole weeks were passing without any yoga at all, and it was affecting my sleep, my mood, how my joints felt, the works (all worse).

I know enough about yoga and about how the mind and body work to know, intellectually, that between practicing a lot every so often (that is, 2 hours every Saturday) or a little a lot (30 minutes every day), a little a lot is much better.  Once a week feels virtuous, but thirty minutes a day is a habit, it’s part of my life, it builds.

But I don’t have this kind of time.  I don’t have an extra 30 minutes (which always becomes 40 or 45 minutes), certainly not every day.

Or do I?

Last week, I decided the time had come to do something.  So I decided then that the next day and every day I’d wake up 30 minutes earlier.  No planning involved, no “I’ll get to it at the end of the day.”  I admitted to myself that I needed to make an arbitrary commitment that was clear and time-delineated and non-negotiable.

It’s early days, but so far so good.  It’s working because it’s clear, it’s simple, it’s something I can do right now.  I’ve created a structure that works for me.

We are all filled with good intentions. There are lots of things we want to have in our lives but we don’t create space for them – because our lives are full, our days are full, and because it’s easy to do what we’ve done.  We need help doing the things that we want to do, doing the things that will make us happy.  We need a structure that will help us act.

One of the problems so many nonprofits face is that the issues we tackle are so big that they’ll be here tomorrow.  And the next day.  And the next.  This is the perfect excuse for someone who genuinely cares to end up not acting – because of the gap between good intentions and good actions.

WE, the nonprofit professionals, feel the urgency today, but that’s because we live in our world; because we’ve dedicated our lives to this.  For everyone who doesn’t live and breathe this, we need to translate this sense of urgency.   When we talk to people and try to motivate them to act, we cannot simply say “this is important, I want you to help.”  We need to communicate why we need their help NOW.  We need to move that person to action – to help her do what she wants to do but isn’t doing – with a calendar and a deadline and things that will not happen if they don’t act now.  (and “now” doesn’t have to be today, but now can’t be “someday” either.  More than six months away is the same as “whenever.”).

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2 Responses to Habits, decisions, and arbitrary deadlines

  1. We can work the busyness. Or work the business. We can’t do both, right?

    It seems like you are saying that we should not only work the “business” ourselves, but we should help others see and work the “business” with us. I mean “business” in the broadest, vision-oriented sense: business of life, business of change, business of service, etc.

    I entered April with a commitment to write one publishable piece (article, essay or poem) per day – non-negotiable. To borrow from Seth Godin, it has to ship.

    Nice post.

  2. Jim Lord says:

    You wrote, “…to do what she wants to do.”

    That assumption that this is about her and that she has something she wants to do, that can change everything. That’s what I’ve found.

    And so the work becomes less about persuading, and more about drawing a person’s attention to what they already care about, and “allowing,” instead of convincing, right?

    Seems to me this way of being is more possible if there’s a meditative habit on our part. One way for us to get that focus and keep it, I’ve found, is by quieting my mind, even five seconds, and listening to my breath.

    A small step, as you suggest.

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