An Impeccable Word
How can you keep doing the things you know are healthy for you? We might make new goals that stretch us, particularly at the beginning of the year. Or we have a habit we’ve been building for awhile that’s been really beneficial, things like fitness goals, eating goals, mindfulness or spiritual practice goals. We could have a really good run with these, maybe doing a new fitness practice for three days in a row. Or meditating every morning for a month and a half, walking three times a week for over a year, but no matter how much success we achieve, there comes a day or a week, when we don’t follow through as well as we said we would. That’s not really a problem. What becomes a problem is what happens next.
Somehow failing to follow through when we said we would tends to snowball. We missed one physical fitness session last week and this week we miss three, then something about that makes us stop trying entirely. Why does it seem so hard to just have a little stumble and still keep walking?
It’s hard for us to accurately estimate what we can actually commit to.
We make a mistake about what our capacity is and then we don’t intentionally reexamine the commitment we made (which we would be in a position to do after having a little practice with the new activity). It can feel like we’ve broken our word, or eroded it down to something of little value. The guilt that builds up around our broken commitment can make us start to avoid the activity altogether, maybe we even avoid thinking about it.
What would it mean to have an impeccable word? How would that responsibility feel, to know that anytime you say you will do something you will do it?
I think that if it were my goal to have complete, uncompromising commitment to everything I said I was going to do, that I would be very careful about what I committed to. I would still inevitably make mistakes about what my capacity was. I might occasionally commit to things and later realise that it’s not possible for me to both maintain my priorities and follow through with the commitment.
Since many of us have a tendency to over-commit ourselves how can we maintain an impeccable word?
Reexamine the commitment that was made.
It’s okay to adjust our commitments after we learn something through trial and error. It’s normal to make mistakes about our capacity, but we need an effective and non-hurtful way to fix mistakes.
If we made the commitment to other people we may need to go back to them and say, “I said I was going to do this, but I won’t be able to.” Maybe you just won’t be able to get it done in the time frame promised, or you can only get part of it done, or it’s not realistic for you to show up at a certain time and place. It’s often not necessary to explain why, though sometimes it can be helpful.
If we made the commitment to ourselves then we can take the time to intentionally examine and restate the commitment. “I said I was going to spend an hour at the gym 6 days a week, but I realize now that unexpected things come up at least twice a week that are a higher priority for me. I also realize that an hour feels like a daunting amount of time. Instead I’m going to commit to going to the gym 18 times this month and spending at least a half hour working through this exercise program. If I go at least 18 times I’m going to acknowledge my success and reward myself by…” It might also be helpful to take note of the things that come up that are a higher priority than meeting your goal. This can give us helpful insight into our values and how our actions align with our values.
To recap, the principles at play are:
- Decide to make having an impeccable word your goal.
- Attempt to be realistic about your capacity when you commit.
- Learn through trial and error what your capacity is and let yourself correct the mistakes you’ve made in your estimate.
- Reexamine and recommit based on the new information.
- Acknowledge and celebrate your success.
This works for many types of things, but health goals particularly benefit from this approach because it’s so easy to ignore our well-being until it’s reached a state of great urgency.
And our well-being is the foundation for all our action.