Saturday, February 9, 2019

About Commitment

Two Virtues

Last month, I attended a weekend yoga workshop taught by one of my excellent yoga instructors. Each time she does one of these workshops, she designs it around a theme taken from the list of 100 virtues. This particular workshop focused on commitment and self-discipline. 

As it happens, commitment and discipline are two areas in which I believe I am quite strong. Now, if the focus had been patience, tolerance, or confidence, it would be a different story!

In general, I don’t really struggle with making a commitment to something. And, once I have agreed to do something, I follow through and do it. Not necessarily quickly. The opposite of procrastination (promptness?) also is a virtue that I could use some work on. 

Similarly, with self-discipline. I am quite capable of being a stern taskmaster for myself. In fact, I remember certain times during my work life when I spent 14 solid hours at my desk to complete a necessary project, at a high standard, and met the deadline.

Hmm. 

In the yoga workshop, I found myself re-thinking commitment and discipline to take it to a deeper level than my initial smug response, which was, “Oh, I’m pretty good at those virtues.” And I have continued to ruminate on commitment and self-discipline in the weeks since.

Having strong self-discipline means sometimes pushing yourself to complete something for a deadline, or persevering with doing a task or activity even when you would rather be doing something else. With good self-discipline, a person can master new skills, develop behaviours that help achieve their goals, and follow through on commitments they have made. 

But doing that too much, day after day, is not a good thing. Head down, flogging oneself to keep going, ignoring the need for rest; that is when self-discipline can become excessive and unhealthy. I am sorry to say, that kind of single mindedness describes much of my past work behaviour.

Similarly, a problem that I have with commitment is not lack of commitment or failure to follow through on a commitment. Rather, it is over-commitment. I have a history of committing to more than I can possibly do. It’s not because I can’t say “no” to people, but rather because I have strong sense of duty, and a vastly over-extended sense of what I can accomplish. Pair this with a slight tendency towards perfectionism, and voila! A recipe for stress and burnout. 

So, my take-away from the workshop was, a virtue, taken to excess, becomes a problem.

Application To Environmentalism

As I continued to think about commitment, I considered one area in which I have been struggling to make a commitment. 

Like so many of us, I am very worried about global sustainability: climate change, loss of species diversity, environmental degradation, and extreme weather events. I have been struggling to figure out what to do about it. The problem is urgent, and also so massive. Although it might be the most important thing I could devote my time to now that I am retired, I feel paralyzed by helplessness. I can’t figure out what to do, and therefore, what actions to commit to.

HOW AM I GOING TO SOLVE CLIMATE CHANGE?

I’m not. Stated this way, it appears ludicrous. I am one little person. I am not going to solve climate change. I am not going to save the world (or, at least, the human inhabitants of the world).

So, another lightbulb moment in the workshop had to do suddenly understanding why I was having such a hard time deciding the best way to commit myself to supporting global sustainability. I was setting an impossible expectation for myself.

And when the problem of saving the whole world slid off my shoulders, I felt much more at peace, and also I was able to think more clearly about what positive steps I actually could do. I can continue to add one thing, and another thing, and another thing to what I am currently doing to be more environmentally aware.

So, here is a list of some new things I have already started to do:

- buy nothing in January (except consumables)
- cook a vegetarian dinner once a week
- limit cooking beef for dinner to no more than once a week
- discontinue using chemical fabric softeners for laundry (use dryer balls instead)
- read several articles per week that summarize current research on environmental issue and response strategies
- order the book “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming” by Paul Hawken, from the Library
- write a blog post this month on global sustainability (this is it)
- spend time in nature every week, thinking about and valuing the natural world

Island Winter

We have had a little touch of winter on Vancouver Island this month. Although it has not been very cold compared to the frigid temperatures across the rest of the country, we have had a bit of snow, and the ponds froze. So, I’ll end this blog post with some photos of our Island winter.

(I am writing this on a tablet, which limits editing, so please pardon any errors.)






15 comments:

  1. I hear you about commitment and self-discipline, Jude! Those are some of my strong points (and downfalls) as well. For some reason, I always think I can handle and do more in a day than I actually can,which leads to disappointment and feeling not enough accomplishment. Whether it is work-related, or marking tasks off my extensive library internet list, or finishing three things at once. I can so relate to putting too much pressure on oneself, needing to achieve impossible things so I’m constantly stressed out. Surely, making ourselves do one thing at a time without that self-imposed deadline helps. But then I worry I’ll never get it done. Sigh!

    You are doing some helpful soul searching here and I’m glad you figured out a way to make a difference in regards to climate change. Once those things on your list become a monthly habit, it’ll be easy to add more. I’ve been practicing a few of your goals on a daily basis, usually without noticing or planning to do so. Have a wonderful Sunday!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Liesbet! On the one hand, self-discipline and commitment really are virtues, and without them, I would not have accomplished half the things in life that I have done. But it truly is a matter of balance.

      My list of environmental actions that I posted here just represents the new actions that I have started doing since January. These actions are in addition to the others things I have been doing every day/week: e.g., composting, recycling, car-pooling, reusable bags, etc., which I have written about before. I have tried before to do more frequent vegetarian cooking (one dinner per week) but without lasting success. The issue is that Rob is a big meat eater, and prefers dinners with meat.

      Jude

      Delete
  2. Very thought provoking. I agree about virtues taken to excess becoming problematic. Retirement has certainly eased that for me! I’m still committed and conscientious but have clear rules in my head for what I will and will not take on. I recognise the paralysis too when you look at a problem so big your own small contribution won’t make much difference. The temptation is to give up but your solution is better. If we all do our individual little bits they add up. (I’ve been a vegetarian for about 35 years so I’m cutting myself some slack there 😉.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Something is better than nothing when it comes to one’s personal contributions to the environmental crisis we are facing. Each person’s actions add up. But it seems like so little given the massive problem in front of us. Within the developed world and globally, we need to make substantial structural changes. But it is much harder to hold corporations to account, change governments, alter trade patterns with less wealthy countries, and support regulations that will negatively impact our comfortable lifestyles than to use a little less plastic packaging or eat more lentils. As a vegetarian for many years, you have reduced your carbon footprint, which is great. Rob and I are happy omnivores, and that is not likely to suddenly change. But, given that, shifting our diet toward more frequent low-meat and vegetarian choices, and especially away from beef (which is the most land and carbon intensive red meat) will help, I think.

      Jude

      Delete
  3. Hi Jude - Like you, I believe I have strong self-discipline and commitment. However, I've learned to do things in moderation and let go of self-inflicted guilt. It's a work in progress but I think I'm getting better. Regarding application to environmentalism, I think you've got it right, to take steps within your control in day to day living. I've been practicing something similar, too, such as walk near nature 6x/ week, recycle as much as we can, reduce non-consumable purchases, eat more plant-based food, etc. Together our efforts make an impact. Thanks for sharing your Island winter photos. Have a beautiful week!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Natalie, just reading about your regular weekly fitness routine makes it clear to me that you are great at committing to goals and that you have the self discipline to follow through. You bring up a good point about guilt. Sometimes commitment is motivated by negative emotions, like guilt, regret, or fear of saying no. Is something still a virtue if it is done for all the wrong reasons? Food for thought.

      Jude

      Delete
  4. Hi Jude! What a great takeaway from your workshop. "a virtue, taken to excess, becomes a problem." It is so easy for us to overlook the fact that ANYTHING taken to excess can be problematic. I'm a bit like you in the fact that I often over-commit and then get resentful ,or discipline myself to my 'commitments" and then feel cranky about them! Far better to be more aware and consciously choose our actions from there. And as far as finding where to best help and be of service...My most recent post reminded me that instead of thinking I have to fix EVERYTHING that is going wrong in the world is to do like you suggest, pick the thing that feels most dear to us and what resides right in front of us and do that. We don't have to heal everyone, just one person when the time is right. Thanks for the reminders. ~Kathy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kathy, it sounds as if you and I share some similarities in how we manage our commitments (or over-commitments). And I must confess that I have always had a bit of a “save-the-world” mentality, which must be annoying sometimes to the people who live or work with me. Feeling duty bound to fix EVERYTHING can be quite overwhelming.

      Jude

      Delete
  5. Hi Jude. So smart to break things down into achievable chunks. I am a big list-maker and love it when I can check things off as I go along. Now that I'm retired, I find this even more important. I like your sustainability goals. I don't use chemical fabric softeners but your "dryer balls" are intriguing. I'll have to google them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Janis, I bought the dryer balls at a Christmas Craft Fair. The local woman who makes them has somehow felted wool into balls. They are a little bigger than tennis balls. You put three to five of them in the dryer with the wet laundry. You can use the same balls over and over for years. The balls are tossed around with the clothes, and the weight of the balls flings the clothes about and helps the clothes dry faster (thereby using less energy). She also told me that the balls reduce static and eliminate the need for fabric softener. I have done a not very scientific series of comparisons, and she seems to be right on all counts. So as of last month, I will no longer buy fabric softener. And, although I already have a high efficiency washer and dryer, and use the energy saver mode for drying, saving even a few more minutes on each load is good. Apparently, some commercially marketed dryer balls can also be purchased in stores, but I have not seen them.

      Jude

      Delete
  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi, Jude - This post completely resonates with me (as your posts tend to do). I agree that balance is the key. I am finding this balance much easier to achieve in retirement than I did when working. I like your list of environmental practices. Small changes really do add up to a huge difference. I look forward to catching up again soon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Donna, yes, I agree that it is easier to be more balanced in my choices now that I am retired because I am less stressed and have more time. However, the tendencies and habits of a lifetime don’t just go away!

      I am still trying to convince myself that small individual changes add up, environmentally. Truly, I don’t think my small efforts are enough. As a society, and as a species, we have to start making big changes, fast. I have been an environmentalist all my adult life, and that has shaped how I vote, what I buy, and where my donations go. But maybe it is time to become less of a passive supporter and more of a radical activist?

      Jude

      Delete
  8. Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting. I enjoyed browsing on your blog as well. Looking forward to reading more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Galen, I have visited your blog a number of times in the past, but I don’t think I have commented before. Thanks for visiting my blog too!

      Jude

      Delete