Tuesday, October 9, 2007

It's All Up to You

Have you ever known someone who talked for a long time about doing something--losing weight, quitting smoking, buying a house--but it never seemed to be the right time, or it just didn't happen? And then, quite quickly, it did?

Did their circumstances change significantly? Did they win the lottery, or get new friends? Usually not. What did change was their mindset, and their determination to achieve a goal.

Sometimes this happens due to outside factors--when my father had heart surgery, he did not need to be told again to quit smoking. Based on what had happened to him, he had, after decades of unsuccessfully trying to quit, given up cigarettes in a few weeks with the help of a nicotine patch. Now, nearly 20 years later, he still hasn't picked up a cigarette.

Sometimes it's due to an internal shift. I recognized while I was in college that I was really unfit. Not heavy, but I couldn't run around the block without getting winded. One day I laced up the ancient, mostly unworn tennis shoes that had been lurking in my closet, and went for a run. It hurt like hell, but I did it again the next day, but for a tiny bit longer. And so on. Two years after graduation, I ran 26.2 miles in a marathon. I had just decided to be fit, cobbling together steps to make it happen. (What's great is that you often don't know what you're doing, but so long as you're doing something, it works anyway!)

When it comes down to it, in order to succeed at something, especially something difficult, you have to make up your mind that you will do it. While this takes a leap of faith, what I find is actually more important is a leap to responsibility. A recognition that absolutely no one else can stop smoking for you. An awareness that your efforts will fail or succeed depending on you--there's no one to blame. Excuses are an extremely easy way to let yourself off the hook, but ultimately that leads to failure.

It's too cold outside for me to run. I'm addicted to smoking and can't stop. It's too late for me to get anything done anyway. I can't afford to switch careers.

If not achieving your goals doesn't really bother you, than these excuses are no big deal. When they stand in the way of you fulfilling a higher purpose that you feel called to do, then they're a problem.

The good news is that they can be overcome. The bad news is that it may take time. Sometimes, you need to lay groundwork before your mind is ready for the kind of responsibility that jettisoning those excuses will bring. In my dad's case, he needed to land in the hospital with chest pain.

I believe you can speed up the process, though, by getting more reflective, which I've written about before. When you start to examine your own thoughts, impulses, dreams, excuses, you can analyze how to reinforce what's working for you and what's not.

Always making excuses about not enough time to exercise? Is it because you feel like you don't deserve to spend that time on yourself? Could you do something for five minutes, and go from there?

One of my writing friends once said that she felt like she needed to write, and that she hoped her husband understood. "Ultimately," she said, "we all die alone." She had kind of a blunt way of putting things, but I see where she was going. No one can do your deathbed accounting for you--when you get there, you and you alone must confront the kind of life you led.

What I wish for all of us is that the accounting is not a tally of excuses, but the sum of a life fully lived.

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