The trait of sincere and steadfast fixity of purpose
The act of binding yourself (intellectually or emotionally) to a course of action
W hen I first met my wife, eight years ago, she told me what brave ideas I had, and how she was impressed with all the things I wanted to do; like drive through south america for charity (of course, it never happened).
But she quickly realised something about me which most people had found out a long time ago, and that was that I was full of hot air (loud and confused and empty talk). A real talker; but that’s all it was, talk.
Maybe I believed I would do all these great things, but maybe it was just a way to impress people. Either way, nothing ever got done. Lots of talk and no action was the story of my life.
Why couldn’t I just stick to one thing I planned to do, or should I say, the one difficult thing I planned to do?
I always did the easy stuff, but when it came down to it, I always just let the difficult stuff go. It didn’t matter; next week I would get another great idea I could impress myself and everyone else with.
Several years ago, while I was living in australia, I signed up for a charity that helped disadvantaged children (young people that were having a terrible time at home) amongst other people. The project I signed up for was called a breakfast club, where we would serve them breakfast in a hall, and play games for half an hour before they went to school. It sounded just like the sort of thing I wanted to get involved in, so I agreed that yes, I would be there at 7.00 am every thursday morning to help set up the breakfast.
I was quite excited about the whole thing; here I was, finally committed to something worthwhile – it was going to be great, I decided.
The only problem was, I decided to go out and get drunk the night before.
Needless to say, I rolled in about 5.00 am, and was in no fit state to go into a children’s breakfast club; so I slept until 12.00 pm.
When I woke, I felt guilty about letting them down, as I hadn’t even phoned them in the morning to say I wasn’t coming in. It wouldn’t have sounded good even if I had…
“Shorrry…Cann’t may-kit in, I’m prrriitty siick” or something like that.
Anyway to cut a long story short I never called them again, and didn’t answer the phone when they rang.
Soon they stopped ringing and I was pleased. I was embarrassed by my behaviour, and I hoped I wouldn’t ever bump into the woman I had promised I would help. Broken promises; it was the story of my life.
“Mum, I promise I’ll pay you back.” “Dad, I promise I’ll be there this evening.”
“I promise I’ll stop smoking.” “I promise I’ll stop drinking.”
“I promise I’ll get a job.”
Broken promises, that’s all that ever seemed to come out of my mouth.
But why did I make promises I didn’t keep? Why not keep my mouth shut, and not promise anybody anything?
Maybe because deep down, I wanted to do better, and thought if I actually made a formal commitment, I would stick to it.
How many of you have ever been in the same situation? Where you wanted to do something better for yourself or your family or others but just couldn’t stick to it when the time came… “I promise I won’t go the races and gamble on saturday. I promise,” and come saturday, go anyway?
On several occasions, I have planned a “cleansing fast” where I wouldn’t eat for three or more days; I am completely committed to it, but as the time approaches, I become more and more anxious, and when the day to start comes, say “Oh, maybe next time,” or start it in the morning and then give in by lunchtime!
I was stuck in a continual cycle of making a promise to myself or to others, being committed to it right up to the day before, then deciding not to do it.
What makes us behave like that? Why can’t we stay committed when we have made a promise? Perhaps promises are not worth the words or the paper they are written on. Perhaps making promises just makes us feel better about ourselves; what we could do if we really put our minds to it. If we come through on the promise, all well and good, and if we don’t, no problem, it was all imaginary anyway; it was just ideas projected into the future.
Maybe the promise we should be making ourselves is to stop making promises, even if we do plan to keep them; because they don’t exist when we make them, only when we fulfil them.
How many people have heard “But you promised…” I certainly have, a thousand times; and although I felt guilty, I knew that a promise was just talk, nothing more. So I gave up making promises to people. I figured it was better not to promise something I might not fulfil, and I gave up making promises to myself, just in case I couldn’t keep them! From now on, I thought, “If I am going to do something for myself or others I will do it, and if I decide not to, then I won’t be letting anyone down because I haven’t committed myself anyway!”
It was a good plan and it worked for a year or so, but then I realised I had just invented a way to justify not committing myself, and come up with a way to always be able to “hedge my bets” just in case.
Keeping your options open
I realised that the reason I could never commit was because I always kept my options open just in case a better offer came along – just as I did when volunteering for the breakfast club. I was going, then the pub came along. It was easier and required no thinking about so I chose it. It was a better offer.
I spoke to my father about this.
“You’ve always been like that, since you were a small boy,” he said.
“Oh yes, you’d be going to someone’s house to play and have tea, then another friend would ring and you would say I want to go to his house now,” he replied.
“Really?” I said, perplexed that this lack of commitment was evident from the age of five!
“How could it be that I have always been like it dad? You must have done something to me when I was little that made me unable to commit,” I said angrily.
“Oh yes, keep blaming your parents, it’s always the parents fault…” he snapped.
“But it must be. I can’t see how else it happened.”
“Listen alan, I don’t know either, all I know is that you always let someone down, including yourself!” he concluded.
Wow. That was harsh! My own father telling me that for the past 38 years I’ve never had any commitment to anything I ever did. So I racked my brains to find a solution but none was forthcoming. I searched through my past to find an answer but all I could find was that I must be scared of commitment. Sure, I would happily sign up because the commitment was for a future time, but when the time came I ran. I came to the conclusion that I was definitely scared of commitment!
For those of you who aren’t scared of commitment, let me tell you about keeping your options open. Keeping your options open is always making sure you have a backup plan in case the one you are on isn’t working out. It’s like talking to the blonde in the bar, but making sure that the brunette at the next table knows you are available! Always have a backup plan. I always have.
So when my marriage didn’t work out, I knew I had other options, because I had planned it that way.
When my job wasn’t working out I left without a word, because I had a backup plan. This got me thinking. “If I always have a backup plan (even subconsciously) perhaps this means I am never living in the moment, for the moment; I am always planning a getaway. I am always somewhere else.” So just like eyeing up the brunette in case the blonde decides not to come home with you, I am focussed elsewhere. I am never present. I plan a three day fast but I am also planning what I will say when people ask me how it’s going… “Oh, yeah the fast, Nah. It wasn’t really for me. Some people might like it, but I don’t really…”
Blah, blah, blah.
So alongside the commitment (which is the plan) there is always a backup plan. There is always an out; all I have to do is take it.
At this time
So, I now knew what the problem was. It was chatting up the blonde, whilst keeping the brunette interested without the blonde knowing; and this I decided, could be applied to my whole life! Simple.
So instead of just enjoying myself with the blonde no matter what happened, I was determined to have it all. I wanted to have the maximum fun I could, no matter who it ended up hurting. So I planned to go to the children’s breakfast charity, but I also wanted to go to the pub, even if it meant letting someone down. If only I had been brave enough to phone the charity and tell them “Sorry I was at the pub last night, and I couldn’t get up,” it might have been different, but as it was, I just left them in the dark; like the blonde who doesn’t know your eyeing up the brunette!
Ok, I think that’s enough about the blondes and brunettes. Where were we?
So how could I get over this keeping my options open? How could I make a commitment and stick to it? First of all, I had to look at why I was making the commitment in the first place. Was it really something I wanted to do, or was I merely trying to fool myself and everyone else into thinking I was someone I wasn’t? I decided I was living in the future. I was living with the idea that I would be someone who did fasting or worked for charities, but in the present moment, I was someone else. So although I thought I was keeping my options open, what was really happening was I was deciding on what my future self would do!
Do you understand?
For example: “Last year I promised myself that next year I would stop smoking, but I plan to do it the year after instead!” It’s all just talk. The action is now. That is the only time that things can exist in reality.
Promises and commitments are about a future time, which gives us plenty of time to change our minds, doesn’t it?
So I decided that the only time to commit (engage in or perform) is now. If I wanted to do something I would do it now, not in the future.
And I started writing this book; a book that had been in my mind for some time. And where I had told people I was “going to write a book” which would probably have never happened, I could now say “I am writing a book,” being in the present tense, which is now. That changed me.
I realised how stupid I had been; keeping my options open, committing for the future, having backup plans to escape. That wasn’t living, that was constantly planning in case whatever it was I was engaged in now didn’t please me anymore. I had to commit to living now, in the moment, and enjoying every micro-second I was alive; and when I was talking to someone, I would commit to listening to them, not thinking about what I could be doing instead, or what to do later. If I was with the blonde at the bar (there I go again!) I would focus on the blonde; I would give her my time because that was what I committed to do when I sat down, not looking around for something better.
I realised in a flash that my whole life had always been about looking for something else; something more than I already had. I had a beautiful wife, but I always dreamed of finding someone better looking, or with a better personality; someone more fun, someone more sexy. Do you understand?
Instead of being content with my choices, I kept making more choices, or at least, was planning to make more choices.
So, commitment, as I understand it, is living in the present, which is now, now, now, and giving your all to whatever it is you are engaged in.
Whilst you sit at your office desk, engage in what you are doing, rather than dreaming about where you would prefer to be right now. If you want to be somewhere else, “be there,” but don’t just keep talking about it as I did. If you want to leave your job, commit to leaving your job, not in a year, but now. Do you see?
All action can only be carried out in the present moment. Any time we project into the future, whether it be five minutes or five years, we give our tricky minds plenty of time to give us other options. There is only one time to be committed and that is the present, any other time is just pure fantasy.
When you decide to do something, do it NOW.