Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lessons from Summer: The Most Important Commitments are the Ones You Make to Yourself

I have been working out at the local branch of the YMCA for almost two years. When I started, I made a commitment to myself that I would go at least four times a week. With the exception of a few times when I've been ill or had to travel, I've followed through on that commitment. Part of why the commitment has worked is that I was realistic when I set the parameters. If I had promised that I would go everyday, I would have failed too frequently and that would have caused me to give up after a while. With my system, any day I go past four is like extra credit and encourages me to keep going. I also know that if I don't have built in breaks to any activity I do, no matter how much I love it, it will begin to feel oppressive and I will rebel. When attempting to play psychological games with yourself, it's a good thing to be well-acquainted with your own nature.

This summer, I became unhooked from any external schedule. After years of living a highly-scheduled life, it was a relief, but also a little scary. What would our day to day life look like? I needed to create some structure, but I also wanted to respect the fact that an important part of this experience was to be able to surf a little bit. Routine can be helpful, but it can also be a numbing agent that insulates you from having to inhabit your life.

There were some routines based on childcare that were naturally present, although I became a lot more mellow about many of those, too, as an easing of our regimented life. There were also some routines we stumbled upon, like the Tuesday Farmer's Market, that were so pleasant they hardly counted as routines. What became the defining routine of the summer for me, though, was a commitment I made to myself about writing on a daily basis. Upon leaving my job, I knew I wanted to focus on writing, but I also didn't want to focus on a specific product. Instead, I wanted to focus on the process of writing. I committed to myself that I would write three-pages of long-hand in my spiral notebook every week day. It was my modified version of Julia Cameron's morning pages from The Artist's Way. I didn't always write them in the morning, and I took the weekends off, but write them I did. I also committed to writing daily blog posts - again with the rule of weekends off, and occasionally allowing myself to skip a day so as not to foment rebellion (know thyself).

These two writing commitments have been the guiding force in my life. The "morning pages" have primed the pump for deeper creative energies and have served as a psychological workshop for me. The blog created the structure and public accountability that all artists need. I have been fiercely protective of my writing time. My children are used to me saying, "Not until I finish my writing." They respect it and it's good for them to understand that I have important things to do that have nothing to do with taking care of their needs. I look forward to my writing time just like my time at the YMCA (even though I struggle at times to honor both commitments). This is the basic maintenance in the care and feeding of me that gives me the energy to accomplish all other endeavors. No matter what else I commit to, I am always my primary and most important client.

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