During my Golden Era of Yoga, I was really in to it. I gladly walked the eight blocks back and forth to my favorite studio. I read books about yoga. I meditated. I attempted cleanses. At one point I could support my entire body, in a horizontal position, on one hand. I went to workshops where Ayurvedic physicians made sweeping statements about my personality characteristics after feeling the pulse on my wrist with three careful fingers. According to them I’m a “Triple Vatta,” which apparently dooms me to a frazzled life of anxiety, over-intellectualism and flightiness, and requires drinking warmed clarified butter and a strict avoidance of melon to counteract. Who knew?
Nowadays, I can barely be bothered to unscroll my mat and bow and stretch my way through a couple of sun salutations before moving on to something more important. I’d like to blame this on having had a child in the interim, but I can’t. It is true that pre-child I had what now seem like incomprehensibly vast and luxurious blocks of time to do whatever the hell I wanted, but now that he’s in school I really have no excuse.
The real difference between my life between then and now, in terms of my engagement with yoga, is the presence of my dear friend Liza. We were, and are, friends on many levels, but we were Yoga Buddies. I trotted the eight blocks back and forth to class because I knew she was there waiting for me in her flip flops and purple fleece. I did not blow off Ayurvedic workshops because I’d made a commitment to her that I’d go. We read books together and my understanding of many ideas was deepened through our discussions. My relationship to yoga came alive though my relationship with her.
After her husband’s job relocated them both to Chicago, I continued to go to yoga… for awhile. But the walk seemed longer and less appealing. So I practiced at home… until I got distracted by other things, like the silly-pants toddler gleefully rolling around on my mat during my downward dogs. So I confined my practice to the dark, contemplative hours of pre-dawn. Now, I’d like to go to the 5:30am yoga class down the street from me, but my intellectual Vatta nature compels me to spend most mornings netting ideas from the ether, transforming them into words, and then rearranging them into pleasing configurations instead. It just seems more appealing.
My relationship with Liza anchored me to yoga. Without her the forces of life bent my motivation and slowly pulled me away from yoga, carried off by the currents of life and other interests. Part of my would like to get back in to yoga, but I feel more strongly motivated to do other things — most of which do have anchors in my obligations to others.
I can speculate about why it’s so much harder to keep a commitment to ourselves than it is keep one to other people. A Freudian would tell us that we haven’t internalized the super-ego of a good parent. An Experientialist would tell us that we suffer from poor self esteem and are therefore feel unworthy of our highest and best efforts. A behaviorist would tell us that we need to fortify our routines with positive reinforcement. And a good life coach would tell us that we haven’t connected with the “big why” that would keep us motivated to keep commitments to ourselves. An Ayurvedic practitioner would tell us (or at least me) that it’s because I have the emotional temperament of a spooked gazelle and need to eat more curried root vegetables.
There certainly are ways of raising your internal motivation. Maybe someday I’ll write a post on how to change this natural tendency we all have to honor commitments to others over our commitments to ourselves.
But for now let’s just sit with reality for a moment and acknowledge the fact that our human nature is to be collective. We’re strengthened by our communities. Our relationships bring out the best in us. And this is not just my opinion, but borne out by research showing that having a partner for change makes the biggest difference in achieving goals and creating new habits. So instead of condemning ourselves for not “being more disciplined” and doing things for ourselves, I suggest that it would be more helpful to obey this natural force and simply decide to use it intentionally.
Stop beating yourself up for “being undisciplined” because it’s hard stay motivated on your own.
Instead, choose to create relationships that support your highest and best.
I am far from a perfect example, however I do use this natural law of motivation to help me follow through with many things. When I anchor an activity to another person, the simple knowledge that someone is expecting something of me rallies my motivation. For example, one of the reasons that I began sending notes to my clients (in addition to the fact that having notes from sessions is hugely helpful, IMO) is that when left to my own Vatta vulnerabilities I’d write notes inconsistently. But knowing that people expect to hear from me on Fridays with their notes focuses me like a laser, and I just do it without question.
Since Liza moved away (sniff) I haven’t found a new yoga buddy — but I could, if it was important for me to renew my relationship with that practice. In fact, when I cast my mind out to different areas of life I know that there are many others waiting to raft their boats to mine, and cruise together in a current of shared interest. So what about you? What is it that you’d like to cultivate in your life? Whatever it is, there are potential partners there for you who would be just as eager to commit to you as you are to them.
You have a wonderful opportunity to strengthen the parts of yourself that you want to cultivate, through your relationships with others. More than that, you get a chance to build deep and lasting relationships through shared activities. In doing so you’ll enrich your life far beyond what’s possible through just the activity itself. Try this: The next time you want to make a positive change don’t make a solemn promise to yourself. Rather, make plans with another person who cares whether or not it will happen… and then you will too. —- Lisa