Friday, March 27, 2015

Why Don't We Do What We Should?


As a former educator I have been thinking about persistence and motivation for twenty years. As a human, I suppose in some form or another I have been beating myself up with this topic my entire life.

Why don't we do what we should?

Take this blog, for instance. I haven't written a single entry in three weeks. It's not that I have nothing to say; what's in my head could fill an editorial calendar with daily blogs for months. So why don't I write?

And yoga. As I twist myself into pretzel-y shapes at yoga this morning, a class that I love but still had to drag myself to, I was even considering why it is so hard to push ourselves to do even the most basic of things we know we should do. Some of them, like folding laundry and putting away the clean dishes, are just mundane tasks that are no fun, but even those simple things take no time and yield small pleasures like clean clothes and eating utensils. In our house, we will sometimes nearly empty out the clean dishwasher by using the cups, plates, and spoons (always spoons), piling dishes in the sink until we can't take it anymore (which is a long time if you are a teenager, less long if you are her parent).

I don't think I will ever fully embrace folding laundry or emptying the dishwasher, but there are important things I am not doing. Knowing that yoga makes me feel better and writing is deeply satisfying, why is it still so hard to do it?

For me at least, this goes way beyond laziness or lack of motivation.

Reflecting on myself, The Teenager, other people around me, and the literally thousands of students I have taught, I have come to believe that it is a complicated mixture of fear and insecurity that keeps us from doing the things we love.


There has long been a theory that human behavior is motivated by two things: fear and love. Fear is a powerful block to pretty much anything in the world, just as love is a powerful motivator. When I don't write, or I don't throw myself fully into yoga teacher training, it's not love that is holding me back. It's fear. What if it doesn't work? Or *gasp* what if it actually does? What if all of my wildest dreams come true? Then what?

I can't turn this blog into a motivational speech. All I can do is speak for myself. If I actually do all of the things I say I want to do, the world will open up in ways both frightening and powerful. There are days when I am just not ready for that; I am not ready for the responsibility of living up to the life I say I want. Then there are days when I look around at the routine I have built for myself and shudder to think of me doing the same thing, 20 years from now. Both imaginings are rooted in fear, one of not living up to my own expectations and the other of  living up to my own expectations.

See how I did that?


Fear's bastard cousin is insecurity. This is the anti-cheerleader in my head, that bitch who follows me around chanting about how I can't possibly think that my writing is good enough and who do I think I am? It's the one that looks in the mirror and judges things others miss. It makes commentary on my walk, my voice, my face, my writing, my progress in yoga. It's judgmental and loud.

Insecurity is rooted in instability, in the idea that at any moment the world could change and things could be different. It's why we have bedtime routines for kids and take our dogs for walks at the same time every day; the routine is reassuring. But what happens when the routine is suddenly, violently changed and everything you knew to be true and planned for is swept away?

Get over it, right? It has been two years since Dane died. Move on, yeah?

Unless you have experienced a similar death, it is hard to understand what it feels like to have everything you planned for change in an instant. As to the stages of grief, I am still struggling with acceptance in that it is still very difficult to reconcile the life we had planned and the life we have now, especially as we are still not 100% settled and are still moving around a bit. Even becoming a mother was easier to adapt to; yes, I became a different person in many ways with different priorities, but at least there was planning and time to adapt. Even two years After The Crash the idea that everything could be gone is still ever-present.

Insecurity is also deeply tied to fear. As I get ready to send The Teenager to Paris for a week, I have had to work hard to not give in to every awful fear I have about what could happen.

So insecurity makes me clinging and grasping in some ways, holding on to what stability I have. It's like all of the balancing poses in yoga. First you have to hug into the center of yourself, and then when you feel stable you can expand outward. Like a turtle, I am not sure how stable I feel yet, and because of this it is very difficult to expand outward.

It has taken me three weeks to write this, which speaks to how hard it is to admit and to also put into words. Hello, everyone: I am a raging ball of fear and insecurity. Not necessarily a confident introduction.

But the first step is to admit you have a problem. Hi, my name is Suzannah, and I am deathly afraid of both success and failure and deeply worried about losing the tenuous grasp on reality that I have worked really hard to cultivate in the last two years, one month and 11 days.

Hi, Suzannah. Keep coming back.

I guess the plan is to keep coming back. The key is to feel the fear and insecurity and do it anyway (like sending The Teenager to Paris or writing this down). I spent the first year after Dane's death saying "yes," and that has changed; these days I have to force myself to go out of the house, to explore, to engage, to say "yes" when I just want to go home and take a nap. I am getting bogged down in the minutiae of daily living and find myself thinking if this is really it for the next ____ years until I am dead.

That, as they say in the parlance of the 12 Steps, is stinkin' thinkin'.

Still working on steps two through 12 on this path. Thoughts and suggestions? What works for you to move past whatever holds you back?



  1. Oh Suzannah,

    I know it's so hard to learn to trust life again, and really you never can because anything can happen at any moment. I personally think that trusting life is more about trusting our own ability to respond to life circumstances and even trusting that life takes us where we need to go, even though sometimes the detours are heart wrenching. It takes time to heal, and I hope you can forget about society's expectations and timelines and give your heart space to feel and grieve as long as it needs to. I was crazy for three or four full years after getting cancer. (Although only destructively so for about two.) And I didn't have children to pull through for, which I'm sure has forced some emotions beneath the surface. Two years is not all that long when you're talking about losing the love of your life and learning to live and thrive as a single mother.

    It's so brave to put your story out there like this. I hope it was cathartic for you. You can inspire so many people.

    I feel for you and hope that you can find kindness in your heart for yourself. Do you meditate? I found that profoundly helpful. And please don't take any of this as unsolicited advice. I hate hate when people do that. I'm just writing human to human and sharing what my heart wishes I could inject directly into yours.

    All the best. I'm here any time you need to talk. I mean that. I've never lost a husband, but I did lose a father and a sister very prematurely, and am always willing to lend an ear.

    - Suzanne

  2. I do yoga at least 3 times a week, and I am actually in yoga teacher training (not to teach, necessarily, just for more). Yoga probably saved me when I started in January 2014. I don't know where I would be if I hadn't started.

    I am so sorry for your loss, and I appreciate your reply. <3