Have you ever wondered why your plans to lose weight, set better boundaries, or spend more quality time with friends often fail? Have you ever been troubled by the fact that despite your best intentions, your inspired aims to make a change become, at best, distant reminders of yet another botched attempt to achieve goals that you know would be healthier?
Most of us notice, with a great deal of sheepishness and shame, that several months (or even days) after we planned to eat more mindfully and lose weight, unclutter, do yoga regularly, or be more patient or compassionate, we are no closer to fulfilling our aspirations than when we began. We often assume, I think incorrectly, that we are lazy and undisciplined and need more willpower. We then say to ourselves that we are going to strive with greater intensity, only to discover that the distressing process repeats itself. We now have a new pair of problems: guilt and humiliation. And it seems we are further than ever from achieving what we want or need.
The answer to why our efforts don’t succeed lies elsewhere.
I used to meet with my best friend every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday at noon to play basketball. Factoring in travel and changing and showering, this took at least two hours. At the same period in my life, I was studying tai chi. Practicing the movements I was learning took only about 10 or 15 minutes a day. And yet, I practiced irregularly.
I wondered: Why did I play basketball, which takes an hour or two, consistently and practice tai chi, which takes fifteen minutes, erratically?
Clearly I loved basketball more. But there was another reason, one that offers a clue to transformation and flourishing. The Rewire Me moment for me was when I came to understand that the things we build into our lives—do unquestioningly—always get done. The things we fit in—like my tai chi—often don’t get done.
When we fit something in—we plan, for example, to meditate or do yoga sometime tomorrow or next week—we more readily get sidetracked by myriad distractions and interferences, from fatigue to competing demands to not feeling like doing it. And quite often we end up forgetting about and failing to achieve our aims.
On the other hand, when we build what matters to us into our lives, there is an established structure that supports meeting our aspirations. This structure—which demarcates a necessity and a time—is the boundary that sustains and protects our goals. When we truly perceive something as essential, like eating, showering, or sleeping, we make sure to do it, which safeguards against the forces that ordinarily divert us from our paths. There is less room for loopholes and excuses. After regularly building meditation and yoga into my schedule—making a commitment to myself to do them no matter how I felt or what competing demands existed—it became much easier to organize my day so that both got done.
If you really want to make a change, have a vision of what you want, set realistic goals, break them into manageable steps, elicit the support of people close to you, and build them into your life by making them an established, unquestioned part of your daily routine.