“You only live once, and if you pay attention once is enough.”
“Guess what? I am going to start meditating. I am learning to play the guitar! Not only that but I am now a vegetarian!”
Have you made pronouncements like these and a few weeks later had the feeling of putting your tail between your legs and running from your exciting new adventures?
What goes wrong? Why do you quit, even though you haven’t put much effort into change?
For me it comes down to two things, distraction and discouragement. These dream killers are really anxiety and fear.
When I am entering a process of change, like setting boundaries at work or in a relationship, letting go of an old behavior, or becoming more intimate in a relationship, I am often distracted by spending time imagining the benefits I will gain when I have reached my goal.
I think and ponder how I will look and feel better when I eat well. When I read books on the subject. When I enjoy the pleasure of imagining being able to play music for a small group of friends and having everyone sing along.
Visualizing these things can help overcome habit and fear. It is powerful to use the imagination to inspire and motivate. However, dipping into the future without taking action in the present can be a distraction and detrimental to acting on intentions.
I can delude myself with feelings of immediate gratification by daydreaming about the rewards that will come when I have “changed.” Often I mistake thinking about the process for progress. This comes in the form planning my new adventure, going to the office supply store for all the tools I will need, buying books and telling everyone what I am up to – anything but actually doing the thing.
Distraction allows me to avoid my fears and “get off” on the excitement of the new, shiny thing. All reward no pain. Not a bad deal until the illusion wears thin and all I have to show for is more books. Now I have to find a new inspiration.
I can also become impatient and discouraged during my progress if I continually compare where I am at in the process against where I imagine I should be. After three guitar practice sessions I can’t notice any improvement or I notice that at times I feel more anxious when I meditate. “I didn’t improve. Therefore I must not be very good at these things.”
I become so focused on the gap between where I am and where I want to be that the distance seems so great I become overwhelmed.
I remember this feeling when driving through Kansas. I could see for miles, and I continually felt that I was not making progress because the horizon kept moving.
I want it now and working and waiting seem too painful. The pain triggers my anxiety, and I see the discomfort as evidence that I am on the wrong track.
These diversions drain my energy and take my attention away from doing what is next. The distraction diverts my progress, and in the end creates discouraging beliefs:
“I can’t do it.”
“I am not good enough."
“This isn’t worth it.”
The anxiety this produces can convince me that my goal isn’t worth it. Since I haven’t completed what I started so many times in the past, I eventually decide that I will never complete the process. So why try?
I am indulging my fear and letting it drain away any joy I could experience from the process.
I have quit on many dreams because of these patterns. I used to beat myself up over the long list of skills or things I would now have if I had just stuck with it!
I now realize that the loss of the rewards I might have experienced by sticking with the process is the least of the losses. The greatest loss is missing the feeling of aliveness and of being fully in the experience while I am doing it. I am missing my life by worshiping the idea of what my life could have been or will be when I complete what I started.
The success or failure of my intentions is no longer the main motivation for my actions in the process of change. What gives me the willingness to be persistent and patient in the process of change is that I am energized by fully focusing on the task at hand, not the future. Because focusing on the future is the source of most of my anxiety.
The peace and joy we seek isn’t in the achievement of goals but in relaxing into the present moment and the task at hand.
This is “consciousness” and consciousness is its own reward.
Oh, by the way, consciousness is also the best way to achieve that “pot of gold at the end of the journey” we aspire. The greatest reward to being fully in the present moment is that when we do get to our destination we will have the skill to savor it fully and be nourished for the next adventure.
Here are some practices that help me notice the life I am living:
Slow down, slow everything down. Live at the speed of life.
Do one thing at a time.
Do something new everyday.
Start your day with your to do list on a small post it, place the 3 most important items on it and do them.
Take regular breaks that require physical action, such as a walk.
Spontaneously call an old friend or family member.
Enjoy the journey.Roger
Roger Nix is a Certified No More Mr. Nice Guy Coach and teaches “Fierce Relaxation,” a Four Week online course designed to provide the skill to regulate anxiety in a positive way.