What would I say to you, over cappuccinos and biscotti, if you told me that you have trouble with creating a new habit and then consistently following through?
Yeah, me too.
Consistency is tough for 99.9% of the people on the planet. It involves knowing what habit you want to change, knowing how to change it, and then changing it, which are three steps that can feel almost super-human.
When I first started working with my coach a decade ago, he told me from session #1 about the value of daily practices–and I resisted it. Daily practices? Ugh. I’d been inspired before to begin new daily routines, and I’d started and stopped, or just never started. Sometimes I’d leave a session with my coach all lit up and ready to go on those daily practices…starting tomorrow, of course. You know how that always goes.
Consistency: Such a draaaaag, man.
I didn’t get consistent mostly because consistency felt like such a drag. Instead of seeing these daily practices as something that would help me, they felt like “another thing” that I had to figure out how to fit into my day. My thinking: I didn’t have the time. They probably wouldn’t do much of anything, anyway. I’d tried this before and failed, so nothing would be different, this time.
And then, after two years of working with my coach and never doing the damned daily practices, I “got” it. I finally understood that if I continued to go to sessions with him and not actually follow through on what he was saying might help me, then I was wasting money, wasting my own time, and furthermore–it was a new year, same old issues.
Choosing not to do daily work to change negative habits into positive habits, I was actively conspiring in my own suffering, in my own life not getting better.
Consistency: But how?
I wanted to get consistent with these practices. “Trying to remember” wasn’t cutting it. So in the back of my Moleskine notebook I created a checklist. I checked it every single day. The daily practices he was asking me to undertake involved things like gratitude, daily joy, an integrity check-in with myself, acknowledging myself, and more (all practices that I’ve integrated into the Courageous Living Program), and he was suggesting spending just a minute or two on each of them. Total time to complete: 30 minutes, sometimes less.
I kept up with this practice of ticking off practices in the back of my Moleskine for the better part of a year. After a year, I no longer needed to visit the checklist to keep myself accountable. It was part of my life, now, to turn to gratitude, or to ask myself how I might step into more integrity, or to deliberately find laughter in my day.
Sometimes I’d joke with my coach: Shit, man–so this stuff really works, and it was available to me, the whole time?
Yes, it was.
As of writing this, my kiddo is just shy of a year old. First year as a parent? Tough stuff. But I’ve been doing pretty well, in fact.
I’d thought that each month would seem easier as I returned more and more to being “myself” and adjusted to my “new normal.” Yet each month I noticed myself a liiiiittle more inclined to…grouse, complain, get pessimistic, get grouchy, feel inexplicable sadness. Just a little-tiddly-bit more and more.
All of those years of working tools and being consistent had been like hocking money away into a savings account, an “emotional savings account,” and I’d been drawing from this “emotional savings account,” without consistently working my tools so that I could replenish it.
So out I come with the checklists, again (though not without yet another bout of that same resistance: I don’t have the time; what’s this really going to do, anyway? and on and on).
But only three days back into the process, life felt fresher, lighter, happier. It has only felt better, since.
Consistency, thou art a virtue
Sometimes people think of personal growth as a perfectionistic end-point: you do the work, you never again have the…fear, the triggers, take it personally, doubt yourself.
That’s never been my experience.
My experience is that we need to water our personal selves much like we water plants. You might think you’ll get the a-ha moment where you’re forever changed, but in my experience, it’s like AA: It works when you work it!
So checklists, vision boards, accountability partners, whatever–however you want to do it, make it consistent.
It’s not about whether or not you have time (if you want it badly enough, you’ll find a way to make the time). It’s not about whether or not you know what to do (if you get honest with yourself, you really do know what you want and how to get there). It’s not about whether or not consistency works (because if you get real, you KNOW that consistency works).
It’s about a choice to step into consistently practicing the things that make your life feel better.
Consistency isn’t a shackle; it’s a pathway to feeling goooood.
I’ve been #RockingMyTools (that’s the hashtag I’ve been using) and feeling a shit-ton more joy. I’m humming as I walk, rolling with it when a challenge arises, and saying “no” to the things that I don’t want to do, without fear.
This is what consistency creates. It nurtures. It creates a container for something to grow.
It’s only fear that would push the illusion of waiting for it to be perfect, waiting for the big A-ha!
If you want life to feel better now, choose to start a set of tools that make it feel better–now. If you want to start consistently feeling happy , then you’ve got to do the things that consistently bring about happiness.
It doesn’t get any more straightforward than that.
“The people who really care about you will go the extra mile for you.”
This is popular self-help dogma.
And, it’s not true.
In my twenties, I ruined at least three friendships because I believed that someone who cared about me should show up for me in a very exacting, certain way. They would essentially prove themselves as friends by “going the extra mile” for me.
As a for instance: someone didn’t come to a birthday dinner I was holding because she had new dietary restrictions and the restaurant where the dinner was being held was pasta, pasta, pasta. In what I can only, in hindsight, admit to as total manipulation, I rather sweetly called her and left a long voicemail about how the important thing was that she was there. She could eat beforehand! She could just come and make conversation!
When she didn’t come to my birthday dinner, I was distant and cold to her next time I saw her. I was punishing her.
And then, oh wow look! She no longer wanted to be my friend. Shocker.
In my mind, the people who really cared about you were people who would prove it to you. If they knew something was important to me, they’d show up for it. They’d come to all the birthdays, dinners, housewarmings, remember to call, text back right away, drop everything if I was in a crisis.
What I understand now is that none of those things are actually love.
Why We Do This
We do it because we don’t want to be wounded, again.
Vulnerability: I didn’t want to be alone on my birthday. That’s why I pushed this friend to come. If she showed up, even if it cost her something to do that, then in my mind she’d be proving to me that she cared about me and about our friendship, which would mean I wasn’t alone and I’d have my “evidence” that I was loved (she showed up! That’s my evidence!).
Consider this for yourself. Do you do this in your marriage? Does your husband only show you he loves you if he follows the exact prescription you’ve laid out for him to show you that he cares? Are your kids only showing you that they care if they always remember to call?
The concepts of what other people need to do for us in order to prove their love are really just about us. We ask this of others because we don’t want to re-experience some kind of prior wounding.
It’s a form of asking others to protect us against our own wounds.
And sorry, but…that’s not someone else’s job. It’s my job to work on my wounds. Your job to work on yours. We can only help one another if the help is authentically given.
Given that most of us want to heal from our wounds, not spend our lives avoiding, here’s an interesting question:
What if not getting what you want is the best thing that could ever happen to you?
I Cannot Be Contained
In the years since, I’ve experienced both sides of the dynamic. I’ve been on the receiving end of the message that “If you love me, if you care, if I matter to you, then you’ll…” and it doesn’t feel good.
It doesn’t feel good because it’s manipulation. Love can’t live in the vise grip of manipulation.
It doesn’t feel good because it’s conditional. Love is unconditional.
It doesn’t feel good because it’s dysfunction. Love doesn’t thrive within dysfunction.
I’ve come to understand that my spirit cannot be contained, and my spirit always knows when something (a lie, a circumstance) or someone is trying to contain it.
If I know that saying “no” to a request will mean incurring a consequence, then I am existing under conditions that are not free.
It’s Hard to Release Attachment
Back to that question: what if not getting what you want is the best thing that could ever happen to you?
It would trigger all of your stuff. It would force you to deal with it. (Good!)
When the friend in the aforementioned birthday dinner incident walked away, she forced me to release my attachment. I couldn’t attempt to control her, anymore, and then I got exactly what I had feared:
I was alone.
It was really fucking painful. I was ashamed of my behavior. I berated myself and called myself horrible things and felt straight into those deep pockets of shame, the ones that tell you that you’re the worst person on earth (shame can be a bit dramatic).
I went there, I was in it, and I came out on the other side to understand more of this part of myself that was wounded and needed compassion. I have nothing but total respect for this friend when I think of her, today. In fact, I admire her–she had enough self-respect to say “no” to dysfunctional, manipulative behavior that I was trying to pass off as love.
Even though I know these things, of course I still catch myself: tallying what someone else does versus what I do. Paying attention to whether or not they’re paying attention.
It’s a shit-ton of wasted energy, energy I’d rather spend working through what’s underneath that.
The call is always there: What wound will I need to face if they don’t do what I’m hoping they’ll do and I have to deal with what comes up?
The answer to that question is your freedom.
What you think, matters.
What you believe, matters.
What you create, matters.
What you desire, matters.
What you want, matters.
It all matters. You matter.
So many people think, “It’s all been done before. It doesn’t really matter, anyway. No one will notice.”
Here’s the thing: you will notice.
You will notice when you keep ignoring your soul’s calling. Like eating junk food, one day or a week will feel less-than-stellar, but still tolerable. Eating junk food every day for months? Could bring you (and your health) to a breaking point.
It’s not about becoming the next big internet superstar (whatever that is, anyway).
It’s not even about being paid.
Yes, earning cash or recognition for your efforts has it’s own glitzy cachet. But it holds no candle to being able to look in the mirror, meet your own eyes, and see them shine with pride.
When you put your unique self-expression out into the world, the world changes–your world changes.
You’ve got to stop making it about some higher calling, or getting noticed, or projecting ten steps into the future and then defeating yourself before you’ve even started.
You’ve got to do it because something within you says to pick up the brush, tap at the keys, go make the call, stretch into the pose.
You’ve got to do it because you matter–you matter, to you.