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September 11, 2017

You Tell ME: Why DO You Always Do This To Yourself?

Conowingo Dam (MD)

Reflections on the water

By Vega Subramaniam

There are certain questions I hear people ask themselves out loud a lot:

“Why do I always let the mail pile up like this?!”
“Why can’t I ever get anything done on time?!”
“Why do I do this to myself, over and over again?!”

You get the idea.

I automatically go to counter-arguments in my head. “I wish you wouldn’t be so hard on yourself.” “Judging yourself so harshly isn’t going to help you to stop doing that.” “That’s not true. You don’t always do that thing.”

I suppose I could tune it out and wish people the best as they crumple into self-imposed (assuming there’s any other kind) hopelessness. That’s an option. I guess.

I could take people literally. Call their bluff. “I don’t know. Why do you always let the mail pile up?” “You tell me. Why can’t you ever get anything done on time?” I mean, I’m genuinely curious. Why aren’t you inspired to tend to the mail more immediately? Why aren’t you inspired to be timely?

I could turn the mirror toward myself.

Mala is as we speak completing the spreadsheet for our 2016 business taxes. For her part, she’s in her happy place when she’s entering receipts and {whatever else she does that honestly I have no idea please don’t die before me Mala}. For my part, I know that getting the taxes done requires that I do my (small) part. And I ask myself why I wait until the last minute every. Single. Year. Which then means I have to laboriously go through every single month of the past year’s bank account, credit card statements, calendar, receipts, so many things. It’s so tedious.

TAXMAN!!!

You want to know the reason I wait until the last minute every single year? Because I can bear it. I’m reminded of a Getting Things Done podcast episode I recently listened to addressing the two things we need for Making Change Stick: information and inspiration. How does Merriam-Webster define “inspiration”?

A divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation; the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions; the act of influencing or suggesting opinions.

And what does David Allen (the @gtdguy) mean by “inspiration”?

…inspiration doesn’t just mean I’d like to have it. It doesn’t even mean I really, really, really want to have it. What I mean by inspiration is: I have to have it. I cannot stand not having it.

Take doing dishes. We each get to a moment when we’re inspired to do dishes. In other words, we each have a limit after which we have to do the dishes RIGHT NOW because oh my god. It might be immediately after every meal. It might be when we’ve run out of clean plates. It might be when the stink gets to be unbearable. And that person, the one who’s only inspired to wash dishes when the putrid life forms growing on them threaten to carry them off under their own volition, that person might be wondering to themselves with every resentful scrub of the brush, why in the name of all that is holy did I not just get the damn dishes done last week, when it wouldn’t have taken so much damn time and eww gross and what even is this green…just, ugh.

But it’s too late. Our internal “range that defines when I need to do dishes” barometer was calibrated years ago and has operated flawlessly since. That’s why we always DO this to ourselves.

Same with the business taxes. You’d think the stress and anxiety of waiting until the last minute to do the accounting necessary to file our taxes would motivate me to help Mala keep our financial spreadsheets updated on a weekly or monthly basis. The problem is, I’m not inspired. The stress and anxiety that I’m used to stops causing me discomfort. I am, alas, used to scrambling to finish our spreadsheet basically on the day before our long-suffering accountant threatens to fire us otherwise. It’s my comfort zone. It would actually cause me greater discomfort to keep our finances updated regularly — because it would disturb my habit; it would dislodge my monthly schedule; it would mean I’d have to routinely take up the drudgery of data entry and calendar scouring and ugh god where’s my phone I’m just gonna disappear into Facebook for an hour or three now kthxbye. See you next September just before our accountant fires us.

I’m thinking we’ve got basically two options. One option is to accept our current calibration, accept when divine intervention finally inspires us to act in those places where we find ourselves eternally stuck, and in the meantime celebrate all the other ways we play like champs.

The other option is to figure out how to recalibrate; how to be inspired sooner.

I suspect this is where rules of habit-change meets myths about willpower meets identifying the immediate next action. Maybe with a dose of “how do you choose to suffer?” added to the mix.

Mala will be inspired to more regularly track our business’s finances when she has the right software on the right machine. And that, in turn, will inspire me to do my part to keep us current in our financial tracking system.

And you? What will inspire you to make the change stick?

I Want to Believe

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All, Habit Change, ILP, Vega