On October 25th I began a quest to create more consistency in my morning spiritual practice. As a way to keep myself accountable, I told my coach that for 21 days I would text him every day to confirm I had done it.
I shared my intention publicly on this blog post. Later, when I completed my 21 days, I shared some of my insights with my newsletter readers. They included things such as:
Having someone expecting to hear from me was key to staying on track, especially the first week.
3 days in, I started to notice a change but I also got the inner saboteur whispering in my ear, “this is boring. I’m not sure I want to do this every day.”
On day 9 I started to feel like I was in a groove.
By day 14 I was forgetting to text him. A new habit was forming and I liked it.
On day 21 I had a HUGE sense of satisfaction at completing my challenge.
My bigger intention was to create a consistent practice, not just complete 21 days. So I declared that my new milestone to complete 60 days.
Insight #1 for success: Set milestone goals
The huge sense of accomplishment when I got to 21 days filled me with momentum. I was reminded at the enormity of being able to celebrate a milestone on the way towards a much larger and immeasurable goal. My true goal is to have a lifelong practice.
Breaking my goal down to measurable chunks (first 21 days, then 60 days) gave me a reachable target at which to celebrate. So my next achievable target was 60 days.
Except it took me 81 days to complete my 60 days of morning practice.
In another lifetime (i.e. a few years ago) I would have likely been hard of myself for failing at the daily practice. But you know what? I am actually THRILLED to have completed my 60 days even if it took me longer.
My intention is consistency, not perfection.
Insight #2 for success: Discipline + compassion are a potent mix
Consistency gets you to the top of the mountain. It doesn't matter if you stop for a short break here or there. As with most things in life, getting to your goal is not actually a race.
I am very much a product of our modern achievement culture. As such, I used to always push for completion of whatever was at hand, no matter how uncomfortable it was. This was true when I was writing high school papers, and it's been true all the way through my professional life, working hard to push through the completion of projects. Things always got done, and it was always at the expense of my physical and emotional wellbeing. I'd end up depleted and with low motivation.
You probably know that feeling too: when you push really hard for really long, only to find when you reach your goal that you're so exhausted you can hardly enjoy it?
One of the effects of my morning practice is that I've been holding myself and all of my imperfections in life and at work with more softness and compassion.
Instead of berating myself on the days I don't keep my morning practice, I observe myself and I know that I'll get back to it the next day. I know well, that when we berate ourselves we strengthen our inner resistance. Practicing gentleness and self-nurturing helps me come back to my practice without any hardness or sense of "I have to."
I'm noticing that the combo of discipline + compassion/softness is translating into other areas of my life, especially my work!
Insight #3 for success: Surf the ebb and flow of life
I think (and this is a quintessentially yin/feminine point of view) that we should never hold intentions, goals or habits so rigidly that we break ourselves against our rules. Consistency can still be maintained with the ebb and flow of life.
I've noticed then that in my work I am more consistent in everything and more is getting done. But instead of holding onto fixed expectations of when things might happen, I apply the same softness and compassion towards myself at work.
Last week I had a goal to complete -by end of day Friday- the entire inventory of ALL of my program assets (all of my videos, every teleclass, every single EFT and meditation recording, every blog and more). Even though my assistant was helping me, come Friday afternoon I hadn't met my goal.
My brain was fatigued and it was time to end the day to be with my family, but I wasn't done. Close, but not done.
In the past I would have either pushed through until it was done OR I would have stopped while being hard on myself for not finishing. This time, I let it go.
I had a vague and somewhat begrudging intention to finish it over the weekend. But I didn't. I enjoyed my weekend. Then, first thing Monday morning, with a fresh brain and all of the energy to finish the project, I got it done in no time.
And you know what?
I realized that on Monday I had SO much energy, that I did a stellar job and categorized and organized things above and beyond anything I would have done on Friday evening. And I know it took me far less time to get it done.
My softness and compassion towards myself allowed me to return with full motivation and energy after I had recharged and replenished myself.
Insight #4 for success:
Practicing consistency with a balance of discipline and compassion is a winning formula in any area of life: nutrition, exercise, work goals, spiritual practice, marriage, parenting...
Paraphrasing Mahatma Gandhi, the way we are in one area of life is the way we are in all of life.
I am loving the consistency of my morning spiritual practice. It's giving me a solid anchor and foundation for every day. I now feel the difference on days I don't do it, which fuels me to continue.
I will also keep breaking down my overall intention (consistent practice) into smaller milestones I can celebrate. The next milestone is 100 days :)
I suspect I will continue to learn about the balance between discipline and compassion towards myself, and how it improves all areas of my life.