I was talking to one of my coaching clients who reported not being able to stay with a Zen meditation practice—so she gave up meditating altogether. “I’m either gung-ho all the way or I don’t show up at all,” she said with self-disgust.
We were discussing this on one of the unfortunate evenings when she “hadn’t shown up at all.” To listen to her, you would have thought that she had just murdered the family’s cocker spaniel. Clearly, she needed self-forgiveness more than self-discipline.
I understand the desire to make changes in your life. I am a believer in enthusiasm. I also believe in commitment. But I’m more of a fan of incremental, organic natural commitment.
That means I invite you to be inconsistent and unreliable.
I dare you to break promises to yourself and I dare you to make fresh new ones. This is what it takes to be on the courageous path of learning to reinvent, hunt down your bare heart, and discover and trust yourself.
You are here to follow an unpredictable light wherever it leads, not to wrangle unfathomable power into a silly, stupid box. This isn’t rationalization. It’s strategy. Because a realistic and sustainable path doesn’t come from obligation or hostility. If you want something to go the distance, it needs to come from love.
Commitment is bold and wondrous. Still, let your intention breathe instead of suffocate you. You’re learning how to commit from something deeper than willfulness. I’ll call it willingness. This willingness arises from an inner summons. Authentic success springs forth from irrepressible desire, not impatience.
“I never follow through,” says Sandra, on one of our afternoon calls. I know this isn’t true. She is a bright, passionate woman who has raised children, which if you ask me, is quite the follow through. In fact, she’s still feeding them, last I heard. “I get it. You’ve got to stare resistance down sometimes,” I said. “But honey, believe me when I tell you, that rigidity will create more problems than it solves.”
Following through is so much less important than following inner guidance.
It’s not wise to stay true to a faded goal. Stay committed to the gold. Your inner voice is the gold. You don’t have to believe me, just because I get paid good money as a coach who kind of turns the term “accountability” on its head. Ralph Waldo Emerson, leading the Transcendentalist movement in the mid 19th century said it even more flagrantly: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Don’t worry. Your inner wisdom is never going to ask you to abandon your integrity. It may ask you to abandon your hobgoblins. Or give yourself elbow room and wingspan.
Flexibility doesn’t mean you have a problem with commitment. It may indicate adaptivity, which is sounds so much sexier than being erratic.
Seriously, though, what if who you think you “should be,” is keeping you from the brilliance of who you are becoming?
For example, I’ve worked with many high-powered successful individuals who don’t “follow through,’ because while something might be a great idea, it’s not an idea that sets its fangs into their jugular. It’s just a good idea. They have lots of great ideas, popcorn coming out of their ears. And it’s not right for them to make a good idea the only opportunity right now. It takes emotional honesty to explore and stay true to your instincts. It takes enormous courage to not follow through.
Maybe you think you’re just a quitter? I’ve met many intelligent authenticity seekers who refuse to settle. They had the need to keep moving on. It wasn’t because they were flighty, but because they had already taken flight. If you’ve grown, you move on. That’s called maturing. If you move on to the 8th grade, have you “quit” 7th grade? No, you’re not quitting; You’re evolving. And growth sheds its baby teeth.
There’s also a divine timing to things, when things just work out themselves. My partner Paul tried to get sober three times before he got sober for life, or at least for two decades, and counting. It wasn’t a mistake for him to try to get sober. It wasn’t a failure to take a run at it, even though he didn’t follow through. It’s never wrong to move towards health. You can’t force yourself to be ready. But you can keep taking steps in the right direction as often as is possible.
To me, there’s beauty, intelligence and grace in showing up lopsided, showing up fitfully, showing up sporadically. Showing up is showing up.
The dream-basher in you pushes you into airtight commitments. But real change is about breathing, coming in and going out. Daring to live the authentic life that calls you is a path of invitation, not obligation. If it’s right for you to make a deeper commitment to something, you will move into this grace. But you will make it in your own time and not a second before or afterwards.
The Persian mystic poet Rumi, the absurdly free and expansive spirit, writes “Come, come whoever you are, wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving… Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times. Come, come again.”
The wisdom path of A Course in Miracles echoes this philosophy by telling us to “choose once again,” whenever we have made a choice that has felt painful. It doesn’t say crucify yourself, throw in the towel, and, by all means, go ahead and create your identity out of all that hasn’t worked out yet. No, it instructs us to save time. Just begin again.
Choose the new behavior or belief now. Give birth to a different experience this very minute. This kind of freedom isn’t irresponsible. It’s the ultimate responsibility. You have a mandate in this lifetime to give yourself every chance to be healthy and true.
If you are trying to lose weight, don’t agitate over your failure of will on the third day of your program. Celebrate the first two days of motivation. Only the wins count—if you want to win. In 12 Step Program lingo, “It’s all about progress, not perfection.”
I know the sticklers will tell you that taking one exercise class or spending one hour with your camera won’t help, but I disagree. Every act of love for yourself– makes a difference.
That one time can boost your self-esteem, help reveal the heavens, stretch a muscle, or send a rush of dopamine to your brain, which believe me, will increase the likelihood that you’ll return.
Go ahead, stumble into grace. Start and stop a million times. Get there late and leave early. Whatever it takes. So, what, if some think you look spasmodic? You are an extraordinary truth-seeker, an inspired explorer, or as Rumi says a traveler on “a caravan of joy.” And that works just fine, because you’re moving in the right direction.
Tama Kieves, an honors graduate of Harvard Law School, left her law practice to write and help others create their most extraordinary lives. She is the bestselling author of 4 books including A Year Without Fear: 365 Days of Magnificence and her latest Thriving Through Uncertainty. A sought-after speaker and career/success coach, she has helped thousands to thrive in their life, calling, and businesses.