Episode 24 Casting Votes for Your Future Self

February 24, 2023

Well, I imagine that some of you listening are like me. You sign up for classes online and fall off the wagon.  Something seemed like a great idea. You love it. You sign up. You put your credit card in. Then, you never do it. I certainly don’t think it’s just me, but I do that a lot. About a year ago I said, okay, that’s it.  No more signing up for anything unless you’re really sure you want to do it. And so far, that’s worked pretty well for me.

Now I’ve signed up to do a writing course. It’s a 12-week commitment, and I was really excited about it only to show up to day one and realize that I had not carefully read the fine print. It’s not at all what I expected. It is a writing lab where writers working on something specific come together and do weekly check-ins, get some live coaching once a week, and basically have the accountability of the group. I think I was expecting someone to sort of whip me into shape.

I do write. I’m inconsistent, but I love to write, and I have huge resistance. So, when I showed up and I wasn’t going to get whipped, I thought Oh, I’m really faced with myself. Is this something I really want? Am I really a writer or am I just talking about wanting to be a writer?

Just to be clear, I can drop the class and only pay the first month. It’s not about money. It’s about asking myself if is this something I really want, and if so what do I want to get out of it?  Two things came up for me. The first is that one of the things I’m telling myself is that I want to be the kind of person that makes a promise and keeps it, and that includes to myself. So yes, I’m going to stick with it.  And the other thing that came up was somewhere in there, in the first couple of weeks, a memory came popping back.  It was about my report cards growing up. One of the consistent comments was that I give up easily. Now anyone who knows me would never suspect that to be true. I’m very tenacious. I know how to get what I want. I can be very, very hardworking and determined. But there is some sort of trigger – and I don’t know exactly what it is – and I just walk away and give up. Simply remembering that report card was cause for pause.

On the one hand, yes, I want to give myself permission to change my mind and walk away when and if necessary. That has been a huge thing to learn. Just because I say I’m going to do something doesn’t mean I can’t change my mind or change directions. But I think the writing is associated with that tendency to just give up.

It’s something that means a lot to me. It’s something that’s tied to my identity and how I want to walk in the world and how I see myself. That very fact makes the stakes quite high in my head. Hence the trigger to give up. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s like that desire to give up was a clue to me that I’ve set the bar too high. The stakes are high.

So, this morning I woke up and I said, I’m going to dial it back. I got out the James Clear book ‘Atomic Habits’ off my shelf and started reading some of the basic things he talks about; make it easy, make it attractive, make it satisfying. This is about when you’re trying to form a new habit. I’m going to read this one paragraph I found.

In a sense, every habit is just an obstacle to getting what you really want. Dieting is an obstacle to getting fit. Meditation is an obstacle to feeling calm journaling is an obstacle to thinking clearly. You don’t actually want the habit itself. What you really want is the outcome the habit delivers. The greater the obstacle that is, the more difficult the habit is, the more friction there is between you and your desired state. This is why it is crucial to make your habits so easy that you’ll do them even when you don’t feel like it. If you can make your good habits more convenient. You’ll be more likely to follow through on them. The less friction you face, the easier it is for your stronger self to emerge.   The idea behind Make It Easy is not to only do easy things. The idea is to make it as easy as possible in the moment to do things that pay off in the long run.  

That brings me back to one of the best James clear quotes ever, and it’s about casting votes for the person you want to become. Casting small votes for the person you want to become is just a beautiful way to think of making the choice to do things, even when you don’t really feel like it.

I also love this story in the book where he talks about this professor at the University of Chicago who divided his film photography students into two groups. One group was the quantity group. They were asked to take as many photographs as possible, and they were graded on the quantity of photographs they produced.  The other side of the class was the quality group. They would be graded on the excellence of their work. They’d only need to produce one photo during the entire semester to get an A, but it had to be nearly perfect.  I’m reading from the book here.

At the end of the term, he was surprised to find that all the best photos were produced by the quantity group. During the semester, these students were busy taking photographs, experimenting with composition, and lighting, testing out various methods in the dark room, and learning from their mistakes.  In the process of creating hundreds of photos, they hone their skills. Meanwhile, the quality group sat around speculating about perfection. In the end, they had little to show for their efforts other than their u unverified theories and one mediocre photo.

So he goes on to say, the best is the enemy of the good, as Voltaire once wrote. He says, I refer to this as the difference between being in motion and taking action. The two ideas sound similar, but they’re not the same. When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning. Those are all good things, but they don’t produce a result. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will deliver an outcome. If I outline 20 ideas for articles, I want to write, that’s motion. If I actually sit down and write an article, that’s action. If motion doesn’t lead to results, why do we do it? Sometimes we do it because we actually need to plan or learn more, but more often than not we do it because motion allows us to feel like we’re making progress without running the risk of failure. Most of us are experts at avoiding criticism. It doesn’t feel good to fail or to be judged publicly, so we tend to avoid situations where that might happen, and that’s the biggest reason why you slip into motion rather than taking action.  You want to delay failure. Motion makes you feel like you’re getting things done, but really you’re just preparing to get something done. If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection.

Yeah. It was good for me to reread this because this is what I was reading around the time I started Dear Constance.  You may have heard me say before. I wanted to create something called Lion Hearted. And then I realized I had set the stakes so high that I got caught in the motion of planning and I needed to get into action. My friend Susie Moore said, Constance, stop right now and drop me a WhatsApp voice message. And I was astonished at what I did in a three-minute message.  And that’s how Dear Constance came into being. She forced me out of motion and into action. I hope when I go back to re-listen to what I just recorded, it doesn’t sound too jumbled because this is really important stuff. Casting votes for the kind of person you want to become. Starting small. Repetition being more important than anything else.  That’s why I have on my mirror. Create something to edit.

That’s all for now. Until next time, from my heart to yours.

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dear Listeners,

Friends say I live my life out loud. That’s because I’m a curious, adventurous person and, as an appreciator, I simply love to share what lights me up. Consider this is your invitation into my fun, multi-faceted world.

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