Commitment, motivation, and practice

Last weekend, I took the second to last class in my meditation tradition’s second round of trainings. This weekend, I am retaking the very first course. Talk about beginner’s mind. That, though, is not the post I want to make today.

Instead, I want to talk about practice. As the About page says, I consider myself a practicer. I practice writing. I practice running. I practice meditation. I recall the words of a teacher I have been fortunate to have, “Practice makes practice.” That there is no perfect, either in writing, running, or meditation. And yet, I am finding that my skills of practice – showing up, doing the work, commitment to the practice – has been lacking in many areas of my life. That, though, is not the post I want to make today.

The post I want to make today is about that moment of initial commitment, then the follow through. Because I don’t think that commitment is a one shot deal. When I married my partner, it was an experience I won’t forget. I still smile when I think about it. That moment of commitment has transformed into a lifetime of days where I say Yes and I do, again and again. That the big time commitment everyone thinks and talks about it is a big deal. It was me saying This is where I choose to place my energy. That I felt confident in saying this is someone I wanted to make things work with.

Meditation (Photo credit: holisticgeek)

So, when making a commitment to my practices, I’ve begun to wonder if I’ve made that deep seated commitment, that these practices are worth it to me to make the daily choices to say Yes to them. Because, up until very recently, my practices have been very sporadic. I say that it’s something I want to do, but don’t have very much follow through most days. That it’s easier for me to make the choice to surf Facebook rather than close my computer and go to my cushion. That it’s easier for me to space out in front of the television than choose to sit down with my journal and write for 20 minutes. That having a snack is my choice over lacing up my sneakers and going for a run.

I think, in some ways, it’s been that I haven’t had a larger focus. That there is a sense that I know/knew that these things are good for me, that I should want to do them, but that I haven’t worked up the oomph to do them. I’m trying to not get caught up in the days that have gone by where I have not made those things my primary choices.

But, this morning’s talk at Level One: The Art of Being Human reminded me how important it is to have a sense of purpose setting out. That there is a path quality to meditation, but at the same time, if I don’t know why I’m on the cushion, how does it get me there? Will “Meditation helps me” get me to the cushion? How about “Meditation allows me the space to work with my mind,” and thinking about those effects? What is it, really, that motivates me to do the things I do?

I think this is an important question to begin bringing into my life. What is motivating me to sit down and write for twenty minutes? Rather than clinging to those answers, it’s worth exploring the whys, especially when I find it hard to cut the extraneous and do the things that matter the most to me.

What motivates you to do the things that you practice? How do you build your own practices?


6 thoughts on “Commitment, motivation, and practice

  1. I’m starting to play some with setting alarms (on my phone, where there can be lots of them and they can recur without having to think about them). I was doing it in the time between terms for appointments, because 2:00 on a random afternoon can totally slip by me. And for longer, I’ve had an alarm scheduled for when I need to get up on Sunday mornings to make it down to dance. I don’t always *get up* when that alarm goes off, but it’s there, every week, reminding me that I get to choose. And I’ve been thinking about how they could work for more practice-y things. Would an alarm in the evening when it’s cool enough to go for a walk help?

    And I think that some of the mental ju-jitsu that makes this work for me is that the alarm is a reminder of a plan, not an iron-clad rule. (Well, OK, for the dentist appointment, it’s more rule-like. But still.) It’s not saying I have to go to dance now, it’s saying that if I am going to dance, I need to start now, or actively choose not to. That either is OK, but I have to *choose*, rather than it just suddenly being too late to go.

    Although maybe I need to experiment with different alarm sounds, because I *do* still need my alarm to get me out of bed on school days. ;^)

    • I *love* this idea, because I think you hit on two really important parts of practice – intention and choice. I mean, I could choose not to practice, and it doesn’t mean I love that activity any less. And, with your example of dance, I think it’s important to be able to ping ourselves gently and say “Hey, this is a possibility.” And, for things that take some prep time, or walk-out-the-door-I-need-to-get-there time, I think alarms are important.

      (As a funny side note, I have to rotate the alarm sound every few months, because the guinea pigs get used to one sound and it’s THEIR alarm for veggies. It’s quite cute.)

      • The other thing I wasn’t getting into words was that it helps to manage “not-right-now-ness” in a very concrete way. If i think of something as I walk in the door, and am not ready to settle there, that’s OK — and I can set an alarm, to ask myself if I’ll be ready half an hour from now, or before bed, or whenever. And it could help to manage the way it is possible to fall into the internet and totally lose track of time, or how an episode of this on TV can so easily turn into three, or seven, and the day has disappeared. (And it seems to avoid the bits of pomodoros that just make me cranky — which a lot of my academic rav people swear by — the 20 minutes on task / 10 minutes off, repeat as needed thing, with a timer. I think that rather than saying “you can only do this for 10 minutes”, it’s saying “when the alarm goes off, it might be time to do something else”. Brains are crazy places. [And I get that pomodoros are handling a different sort of brain weasel, and do it very well… but that’s why it doesn’t work for me.])

        (Aww. Very cute!)

        (And I thought I was commenting on the next post. Silly late night fingers! It works here, too, though, I s’pose.)

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