How our lives organize us.....
In Part 1, I wrote of "overcommitmentitis" and how identifying what is purposeful for me is regenerating when I have bitten off more than I can chew.
I am writing this Part 2 from a self-organised retreat, something I need to do more regularly. I told a friend I was on retreat and she asked me what I am retreating from…..I told her it was myself, mainly. How we laughed. And yet...
New Year is often the time when we come back to our daily lives physically recharged and full of good intentions to make changes towards healthier more fulfilling lives. We make resolutions and lists. We plan all the things that we are going to 'take up' to be better people.
I see this play out in my clients' lives too. One of the privileges of coaching is getting to engage in conversations with clients about stuff that matters to them: their intentions, things that are meaningful, things they wish to commit to, for themselves, the people around them and the world. They are composing the stories of their lives chapter by chapter.
My job is to help them sharpen the script, to help that story be deeper, richer and more complete. But it is also to help them identify and gather the resources to allow them to step into that deeper story.
Because the stories we ultimately inhabit are determined not only by the script in our heads - the bundle of intentions, thoughts, feelings, senses we have of who we are and what we want to do- but how we organize our lives to make that story happen.
When I worked as a Media lawyer many years ago, my boss was not only a lawyer but a film producer and one of my favourite tasks was reading scripts sent to him. Wonderful scripts, some of them. Yet very few of them ended up as wonderful films. Either they didn't get made or when they did they didn't reflect the magic and promise of the script. Why? The most mundane reason was lack of organization. In order to secure finance, or the right talent, a whole lot of ducks needed to be put in a row and the indie scriptwriters, developers or filmmakers who were seeking our services were not good duck-wranglers.
The "slip betwixt cup and lip" was the design of their lives. As Greek Poet Archilochos wrote:
"We don't rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training"
In the same job I had the privilege of working on the last movie produced by the legendary TV and film producer (Lord) Lew Grade, (who famously quipped of one of his expensive flops "Raise the Titanic": "it would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic!".)
He was in his 90's at the time and yet while I worked on his movie, most mornings I would arrive at my office at 8 am to find a note from his faithful assistant Marci to call when I got in - he'd already dictated his latest instructions on the deal for the day.
"Atomic Habits" author James Clear re-purposes Archilochos' quote for modern readers thus:
"You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems."
Lew Grade had great systems. His routine was organised around his productive hours and what worked for him.
We like to think that we can organize our lives when in fact our lives organize us. The shape I am in - mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually- is a reflection of the shape of my life. And much of that is only co-created by me.
My life, like that of many, is like living in a 'partly furnished apartment'. Some of the fixtures and fittings have been been chosen by me and continue to "spark joy". Some of the items are well-worn pieces thrown in by the the landlord with only utility in their favour. Some don't even have that. Regardless, most of us adapt to the layout, fixtures and fittings thrown into our lives more that we take time to think about how we might rearrange or replace them.
The key to regenerating ourselves is in renewing the fixtures and fittings of our lives: our routines.
Routines engender habits. Good habits build, maintain and preserve energy for the stuff we really care about. Bad ones deplete it.
The four areas of life that have an oversized effect in the area of routines are:
sleep, diet, exercise and stress control. These four pillars create the foundation for how we do life.
The tricky thing is that we can’t just ‘set and forget routines in these areas. Different stages of life, states of mind or body and many external factors will have an effect on our needs. Plus the factors interact, so we need to keep adjusting. Maybe you used to be able to drink four cups of coffee per day without it keeping you up at night or making you jittery, but you’ve been having a hard time sleeping lately and the caffeine isn’t helping. Maybe you are travelling a lot across time zones and are jet-lagged. Maybe your regular exercise activity was thrown off by an injury. The best routines have built in flexibility and allow for "if this, then that". They are dynamic and adjustable.
To be able to adjust we need to first observe effects. To do some experiments.
This is where retreats can be useful. One of the benefits of retreat time is that being away from our normal routines allows us to experiment in a time and space in which we can observe ourselves. It's like going to an Airbnb where there is no TV in the bedroom and you realised what a difference that makes to your bedtime routine so you can go home and switch up your own room.
Before we can 'take up' our new year's activities, most of us need to reflect and experiment on what we need to 'take out'. Spend some time observing which habit, routine or system no longer serves your intentions and rather than a New Year's Resolution you can stage a New Year's Revolution to overthrow it.
May 2020 be a revolutionary year for us all.