Commitments: Why they don’t stick

Why is it so easy, under certain circumstances, to say, “I’m going to do this” and then we just do it, and under others, the thought escapes us, barely it has formed?

There is research about this: research about how to set and pursue goals that hold. One of most idiot-proof explanations comes from the people over at WOOP (that’s the name of their method. It stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan). It’s a science-based method for getting things done. (Here is a link to a Hidden Brain episode about it, in case you want to get things done while you learn about something potentially helpful to getting things done.)

I’m all for the scientific method, and knowing the science behind achieving goals is helpful. But, in my more art-than-science real life, remembering to WOOP can be challenging.

How WOOP helps me to post-mortem my summer goals

It wouldn’t be like me to just give a check-in about my summer goals without analyzing my failures, now would it?

The major point of failure for those goals that I did not meet was that I did not adequately comprehend the obstacles to meeting that goal. Because I could not have imagined some of the obstacles before I began, I was unable to prepare solutions because, well, once summer started and the overwhelm of too much togetherness set-in, what had seemed an important Wish (according to the WOOP method) fell to the wayside.

The culprit

The one obstacle I failed to adequately account for, across the board, was context. Whether it was making pretty food, or doing my Cirque+ circuits, I did not account for the when and the where and the how.

Context is critical. Context creates the circumstances to put the pedal to the metal, and context pumps the breaks. (I owe this imagery to Emily Nagoski, from her fabulous book about female sexuality called Come As You Are. No matter who you are, if you are a woman or love a woman, this book is an absolute must-read.)

I failed, for each one of my goals, to imagine how different our summer was going to look contextually from what it did when I made my goals. When I made my goals, all three of my men were still in school, so I still had several hours a day which I could spend alone, doing a 10 minute Cirque+ circuit between editing two chapters of a book. Back when I made my goals, I had fifteen minutes here and there between creating visuals for the Ideal Life exercises and sitting down to write my 3000 words for the day to run to the fruit stand and get some pretty color fruit for dessert.

Once everyone was home, these little “lost moments” became filled with the squabbling of two little boys whose ability to pick fights with each other is truly top-notch.

A failure of imagination

When I imagined my obstacles, as I set forth my summer plans, I imagined obstacles like, “I won’t feel like cutting the cherries.” I didn’t imagine that actually going out to buy the cherries was going to require mobilizing my entire staff, getting on shoes, helmets, dragging bikes down to the elevator, oops, someone forgot his sunglasses…wait! I don’t have a grocery bag to put the fruit in…”Did you bring my water bottle?”

Oof. After one outing like that I gave up on the fruit stand man. Unless it was possible to tack a trip to the fruit stand on to a trip to the park, (and it wasn’t. I can multi-task, but not that well.) this would never happen.

So there it is: my summer goals failed because I had a lack of imagination regarding what my obstacles would truly be. To admit that I had a lack of imagination is no small annoyance to me, believe you me.

Lessons learned

The goals I did accomplish (or at least made progress on) were goals that did not require anything from outside of our little bubble. They did not require input from anyone but myself, or, perhaps, one other highly-motivated person. They also were goals in line with larger, more well-established objectives that are rooted in my Ideal Life exercises. The Outcome (to use the WOOP terminology) was therefore something I could see as genuinely bringing satisfaction, not just as a one-off experiment.

Also, I think that I would have gotten more satisfaction out of success in the problem-solving goals (like the laundry thing, or the checklists thing) if I could have just seen them as that: problems to be solved, rather than goals to accomplish. A problem means that once there is a solution, I can stop thinking about it once the solution is ingrained. Instead, I kept returning to these on my little checklist, and felt guilty that I hadn’t thought about them again. This left me feeling unsatisfied.

Lastly, I didn’t plan a monthly check-in to redirect my focus and help alleviate some of the feelings of failure. This was a big, big woopsy. The next time I decide to engineer my summer, I need to plan for several trajectory adjustments.

Round-up

All in all, I would say that for a first Summer Engineering project, I did a lot. I learned a lot. Maybe not everything I would have liked to do or learn, but enough that I survived what could have been just a jumbled mess of lost days with a shred of dignity.

There will be more summers and more Summer Engineering projects!

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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