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.


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.


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.)