Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Promise. Or, From My Lips to God’s Ears.

I’ve been thinking about making myself an outrageous promisethat I’ll devote every waking moment to one of my five greatest passions:
  1. Family, relationships, and helping other people;
  2. Sketchbooks, art, and creativity;
  3. My practice of Aikido and other physical exercise;
  4. Nutrition, health, and a balanced life; and
  5. Any activity that helps nurture the first four passions (e.g. reading, researching)
It’s crazy, I know. Most people are only allotted two or three successful sweeping changes in lifecommitments on the scale of “I’m going to quit drinking” or “I think I’ll drop those extra hundred pounds.” That’s the reason why far-reaching New Year’s resolutions fail at a rate that justifies the cliché.

There are a couple of reasons why I believe my outrageous promise is going to work. Or perhaps I should say, there are a couple of reasons why I think this promise is worth pursuing. The first reason has to do with advice from a dead friend; the second with the importance of underachievement.

A few years ago, a former coworker died in her thirties from a sudden illness. She was a powerful, dynamic, fiercely intelligent, determined person who achieved more at a younger age than most ever could. She was a vice president in our company, an extraordinary mother to her three small children, and a good friend to the hundreds of mourners at her funeral. At the service, her husband delivered a moving eulogy about Jen and her belief in living every day with intention. She wasted no time, deciding where to allocate her energy every minute. She made every moment of her life meaningful. That was her secret.

At the funeral I decided that living my own life with intention would be a the best tribute I could offer this great woman. I developed the habit of asking myself at random times, usually when I was waiting for something or deciding what to do next, whether I was living that moment with intention. Invariably the answer was “no.”

I began to wonder: how many of those “no” moments make up my days? How much more could I accomplish if I reclaimed those moments for the things I care about most? Often, the simple act of asking myself whether I was living that moment with intention was often enough to re-focus that time on something important.

Living each moment with intention is an idealistic notion at best. If I’m going to focus my time on one of the five things that matter most to me, I’ll need to also make strategic use of under-achievement.

I know that sounds ludicrous, but bear with me. 

I first learned how to use underachievement in physical exercise. Like many beginners, I set fitness goals that were unrealistic and sapped my motivation. Through trial and error, I learned to reward myself for effort that failed to reach the mark. If I wanted to do 30 push-ups in a set, it was OK if I only completed 24; perhaps the next day I could do 25. Sure enough, the next day I was usually able to find the strength for the extra effort, and I slowly built my way up to my goal. 

I never compromised my goalsI still wanted to do 30 push-ups in a set. I simply rewarded myself for underachievement in order to keep my motivation alive and I allowed myself all the time I needed. It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you refrain from judging yourself. 

So now I know that if I’m conscious of how I spend my time, I can reclaim more of it for my greatest passions. And if I keep my goals intact while giving myself the time and space I need to reach them, I might just fulfill that outrageous promise.

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