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January 3, 2018

Honoring Our Intent (…to Achieve Our Aspirations)

Working on ProjectsBy Vega Subramaniam

I was talking to my friend Janeen a couple weeks ago about the fact that Mala and I are taking a month right now of what I’m ostentatiously calling a “sabbatical.” We are on a mission to move some projects along and get some writing done. And Janeen wondered aloud what practices I would put in place for myself to ensure that I “honor my intent” and indeed do what I said I would. And she used a metaphor that’s not uncommon in self-improvement circles, “the propeller to give you the airlift.”

For some reason, uncommon though that metaphor is not, her use of it that day cut through something. It excavated a deeply-buried and, quite honestly, random memory of visiting a couple dear cousins of mine, probably more than a decade ago at this point, after they’d acquired a remote control helicopter.

If you’ve ever operated a remote control helicopter, you know how infuriatingly sensitive it can be.

Too little force and it doesn’t lift off the floor; just a touch too much force, and it CRASHES into the ceiling. You need to sense the exact amount of force to apply to lift it off the floor without causing it to spiral out of control and crash and burn. It takes a light touch, a delicate hand, keen sensitivity. Vigilance, even. Recalibration at the slightest sign of fluctuation.

What did I need in order to fly the remote control helicopter?

  • I needed to slow my observation down enough to feel the lift of the helicopter in my fingertips.
  • I needed to be curious rather than fearful, knowing that even if it fell, I could try again.
  • If it didn’t lift, I needed to determine how much more power was enough but not too much.
  • I needed to start slow, but then quickly—but smoothly—pick up the momentum to avoid flaming out.
  • Once it was in motion, I needed to pay close attention and recalibrate as necessary.
  • When it got to its destination, I needed to give my arms, fingers, and most especially brain a rest.

Do you see where I’m going with this? I feel like there’s a lesson here for “honoring our intent.” (If you’ve got the words “habit change” in your head, please know that I will not be induced to reduce a soaring (get it?) metaphor to a two-bit b-school catchphrase. But OK yes, basically what I mean is “habit change.”)

Metaphors are powerful things.

Consider a totally made-up, hypothetical, completely fabricated possible new practice that someone I have no acquaintance with might want to incorporate—say, writing on a daily basis. What would that hypothetical person have to do, if they were going to apply this metaphor?

  • They’d have to slow down. Feel in their fingertips the sensation of writing.
  • They’d have to follow their pen’s curiosity wherever it took them, tugging them into the deep, dark crevices of its untamed meandering imagination.
  • They’d need to notice how much time is the right amount of time to give them energy and keep them motivated. And if they fell off the wagon, they’d have to determine what pressure points they could push against to get back on (choose a different time of day? Find a writing buddy? Handcuff a notebook to their arm? …Huh … ).
  • Ever so slowly at first, but then with increasing speed, they’d have to pick up the momentum until they’d achieved peak chirographic altitude.
  • They’d have to vigilantly notice and self-correct the tendency toward either avoidance (flame-out!) or frenzy (crash-and-burn!).
  • When they completed their project, they’d need to shake it out, go walk in the woods for a while, and look at birds. Birds are everything (hypothetically, to this hypothetical person).

Kissing Birds

What’s your metaphor?

What if you called forth a time when you were successful in an endeavor? When you think back on that time, how did that happen? What were your steps in that process?

In thinking about that time, what metaphor comes to mind?

And finally, when you reflect on a new practice you intend to build into your life, how can this metaphor help?

When you have an answer, please share! What’s your practice? What’s your metaphor?

And now, to help you honor your intention, I leave you with a Scribble from Sarah.

It's Practice

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All, Habit Change, ILP, Vega