Have you ever heard something like this inside your head:
“This writing project / spiritual practice / __________ is taking too long!”
“So it must not be working.”
I am intimate with this line of “reasoning,” which can sound something like, “If it’s not 100% effective and fast, it must be bogus, broken, or less than the best and that means it’s time for a complicated new program / guru / martini.”
This refrain might be cued by someone in my circle of friends having a breakthrough and sharing what brought that about oh so enthusiastically followed by, “You just HAVE TO take this program / drink this raw camel milk martini / go to this shaman.”
And if you are anything like me, you might fall for it but only because you were just getting traction.
Yes, my time-tested observation is that we fall for the new bright, shiny solution, even when it comes in the form of a raw camel milk martini, just when we are actually making real progress on something we care deeply about.
In fact, the more we care, the easier it is to get tricked.
- When you are actually making good progress on the memoir? That’s when you decide you must start a short story.
- When you are opening to deeper layers of radiance in your meditation practice? That’s when you suddenly decide meditation is boring but tai chi? Now that’s the ticket.
- When you’ve found a way of declaring what is enough for you day-by-day and you’re basking in being? That’s when you read the article about what all super successful people do and bam! you are back to cramming your life with way, way too much stuff that doesn’t matter to you.
It’s tricky in this world of life hacks and instant success gurus to stay in contact with the essential truth of being human: we change slowly and we change instantly. Both are true!
You see the whole structure of your memoir but then you have to write it, word by word.
You feel the oneness of everything and then you have to drive in rush hour traffic.
You bask in your well-balanced life and then a thought comes about making your creative mark in the world and how you’re getting old…
But the mind isn’t so pleased with step by step, nor with your incremental accrual of skills, words on a page, nor in patience, self-compassion, or the felt sense of creative radiance. And so the mind does what the mind does – Squirrel! Ball! And in case you haven’t seen Up (in which case stop reading and do so immediately) and that last reference falls flat, dig this: the mind longs to distract you because if you stay the course? Things will actually change.
And the mind isn’t so cool with that.
What to do the next time you want to chase a bright, shiny new ______ instead of doing what you’ve been doing with faithful devotion?
- Find a community to support you and let them support you. At The Oasis, we are there to witness each other. For you it might be a church group, meditation sangha, coach, therapist… you need outside eyes!
- Embrace small. The mind loves lots of big plans undertaken all at the same time because you are bound to fail and then the mind uses that as evidence you should never try anything again. Small, simple, focused – please. Not “I will never check email again,” but “I will set the timer for 10 minutes while I drink my tea, and then when the timer goes off, I will turn on Freedom and write for 15 minutes without stopping.”
- Track what you do! You will either forget, dismiss, or inflate what you did without a record. Measure your progress.
- Only track 1 to 3 things at a time. Be realistic or the mind will come in with all barrels firing.
- Always begin again. Always implies you are going to forget, get confused, get sick, get busy so just – begin again.
- Let your body be your ally. Remember how it felt to be writing the memoir with deep attention or feeling oneness on the meditation cushion. Take 60 seconds to recall what was working and how it felt. This will reset your nervous system and make it easier to begin again.
You build your life, you live your life, one step, one choice, one word, at a time.
Let the mind natter on about how you aren’t making any progress and you better go find some camel milk while you keep going about your business. See you on the human scaled small step path of devotion.