Russell Bishop Blog

#28 – Commitment, Imagination and Affirmation

Commitment: The Secret Sauce

You may have heard the old cliché, “99% is a bitch; 100% is a breeze.” My apologies for the apparently crude language; however, nothing I have ever heard comes even close to capturing the essence of this little cliché.

I first heard this back in 1973 in a Mind Dynamics seminar, which focused on the power of positive thinking. I’m not really sure how far back it goes and have done a bit of Google type research to find out.

There are many citations associated with my friend, Jack Canfield, and we used this phrase quite often when we used to teach seminars together back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. I’m sure it goes back a lot further, and it probably fits into the loose category of “common sense that has been known since the beginning of time.”

So what does it mean here, in the context of creating what you really do want out of life?

In many ways, it is connected to the notion of “trying,” something we have approached earlier on in this work. As a refresher: trying is about putting forth effort and not achieving the result where as doing is what does it. Curiously, doing something tends to take a lot less energy than trying.

If we pick up where we left off in the last section on imagination and energy following thought, commitment becomes one of the elements often overlooked.

And here we go again with one of those little word games; however, this one isn’t so clear.  For many words ending in “ment,” the “ment” part means, “requires action.” Very similar to words ending in “ion.” However, there are many more exceptions:  cement, casement,  and basement are easy examples.

Words like alignment are good examples of the “ment” meaning. So many times in my business consulting work, I have bumped into senior executives who theoretically are “aligned” on goals and purposes for the organization, but when you dig a little deeper, you find that their actions are far from aligned.

In many organizations, you can find executives who know the company mission statement, can recite their core values, and who rattle off key company objectives. However, if you really want to examine alignment, just look at what people are doing, not just what they are saying. It gets a bit complex to be sure, but if you look closely, you will often find people working at cross purposes, even in conflict with one another. Departments or divisions competing with one another for head count and budgets are just one small example of internal conflict between supposedly aligned groups.

So, back to commitment, then. The intent of the word is to commit first and then act accordingly. Commit in this usage has several levels of meaning (taken from www.dictionary.com:

  • “to pledge (oneself) to a position on an issue or question; express (one’s intention, feeling, etc.)”
  • “to bind or obligate, as by pledge or assurance; pledge: to commit oneself to a promise; to be committed to a course of action

In my work with individuals, groups and organizations over the years, I have heard so many wonderful statements of commitment that have been backed by so little actual action as to be remarkable. I guess that’s why I’m remarking on it!

There are several problems with asking people to “commit” to something, especially something like an organization’s values or mission statement. On the one hand, most corporate mission, vision or value statements are of the kind that it would be hard to object. “Respect for the individual” or “Honesty and integrity” or “World class customer services” are examples of how-could-you-possibly-argue-with-that kind of statements.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these are bad things. After all, how-could-you-possibly-argue-with-that? The difficulty lies in the lack of individual commitment to the actions that would represent actual agreement (another one of those “ment” words) or alignment.

If we ask someone to commit to a goal, purpose, vision, ideal, etc and don’t actually ask them to think about what it would look like if they were actually performing in alignment, then it is pretty much a foregone conclusion that we will either get a bunch of misaligned actions (remember the section on communication?) or no action at all.

The misalignment part would come about because each person who did choose to act, individually agreed with their own definition of the goal, purpose, vision or ideal. However, most would never check with others to see if (a) they had the same purpose in mind (b) if they had the same outcome (or vision) in mind and then (c) how they would act together to bring the purpose and outcome into existence.

So, there’s a brief note about what it looks like for a company, department or group. How does this translate for you as an individual in pursuit of your own life goals, purposes and outcomes?

Well, the first and most obvious question: do you have clearly defined goals, purposes and outcomes that you are seeking in life. Again, recall the symbols vs. experience section. It probably helps to have goals, purposes and outcomes clearly defined for both sides of that equation.

Yes, indeed, I am saying that it is helpful to have the left hand side clearly defined as well as the right hand side. Personally, I have found that I can pursue all kinds of goals that are of the in-the-world-variety (house, job, car, golf score, career, etc) and wind up pretty satisfied as long as I have the right hand side well defined.

In fact, the more clearly defined the right hand side gets, the more you might discover that by focusing on those qualities or experiences that you seek, those qualities or experiences actually become the means to produce what’s on the left hand side.

(A good friend of mine and former colleague at Insight, was fond of pointing out the old dilemma about the ends and means. You remember: do the ends justify the means. Terry use to say something like, “If you understand the ends that you seek, you will understand that they become the means to get there.”

In an oversimplified way of thinking, if what you want is more peace in your life, try being more peaceful today. Sooner or later, you should find more peace in your life. And, if you happen to have career or money goals in your life, you may find that there are loads of people who would love to create successes in the world with someone who can approach worldly goals with a peaceful manner.

This is another one of those that can be easily dismissed as nice-but-not-practical. My “gotcha” response goes something like this: “Have you tried it?” Usually not. Enter the “what if” game once again.

Personally, I enjoy producing outcomes in the “real world,” be they golf scores, business successes or plain physical world measures of success (lovely home, nice car, growing bank account). However, those kinds of accomplishments are only meaningful in relation to the underlying experiences I am after in life.

In other words, having money, a lovely home and a nice car don’t matter too much if it what comes with them is tension, anxiety, fear, being isolated from others, etc. On the other hand, if I am experiencing myself as relaxed, at peace, loving, caring and intimately involved with others, it can be a lot of fun producing the home, money and car.

So, if you have a clear set of tangible and experiential goals, purposes and outcomes, the next question has to do with how you get there. Remember again, “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will do.”

With clearly defined outcomes and purposes, you will have more decision criteria when the road forks. Before the road forks, however, I am suggesting that you spend some time inside imagining what it would be like to produce those outcomes. Even more precisely, imagine what it would be like to be experiencing those outcomes.

The more time you can spend inside, imagining that you are already there, the more you will likely approach the process of creating those outcomes with increased clarity and focus, coupled with a sense of peace and relaxation.

We will return to the apparent contradiction of intensity that juxtaposes clarity and focus with relaxation. For the moment, let me reference my friend and former partner, David Allen, who has been fond of saying, “a relaxed muscle is a fast muscle.”

That is a principle found in the martial arts. I’m sure you have seen images of slightly built people, even children, breaking bricks and boards with their hands. If you dig a little deeper, you will probably find that it is not brute strength breaks the brick or board, but the combination of speed and focus of the blow and its release.

In other words, by focusing intently on the spot where the blow needs to be delivered, imagining the successful end results, relaxing sufficiently so that all available energy can be delivered to the point of contact (as opposed to wasting energy being tense or concerned), the martial artist is able to deliver a quick blow and release quickly so that the focused energy is delivered compactly and efficiently to the target, resulting in the amazing breaks we have all seen.

The imagination process begins the internal training for how to create the desired outcome. By imagining what it would be like to accomplish whatever your object of focus, you begin to create an internal comfort zone with the new reality.

The more internal practice you get with the new reality, the more uncomfortable you will probably become with the current, and soon to be old reality. Go back to the section on moving again – the more you focus on the new home, the more energy you have to get there.

The same is true for just about any goal. As you spend more time imagining, dreaming, day-dreaming, or whatever you want to call it, the more you are training the various internal aspects of who you are on what you want. The mind, emotions, imagination and, eventually, the whole body come into alignment and you begin to take actions that mirror or drive you to your intended out comes.

You have probably heard of affirmations somewhere along the line. So what is an affirmation? Yup, another one of those “ion” words.

Again, from www.dictionary.com, affirm means:

  • “to state or assert positively; maintain as true”
  • “to express agreement with or commitment to; uphold; support”

When you add the “ation” on to affirm, you get something about a positive statement of intent or direction matched with actions that support the intention or direction. (Don’t you just love all those “ion” words? Direction, intention, assertion – they all require action or they are just “lip service.”)

So, what, then, is an affirmation? Our friends at www.dictionary.com write:

  • “the assertion that something exists or is true”
  • “something that is affirmed; a statement or proposition that is declared to be true”

An affirmation is a positive statement asserting that something already is true. In our context, affirmations become ways of articulating our inner focus or intention, and of imagining the successful execution of our commitment.

So, you the recipe goes something like this:

  1. Create or establish your purpose, outcome and goal for a particular area of your life
  2. Commit to making it become a reality
  3. Imagine what it would be like to have or experience the object of your focus
  4. Affirm that it already exists, at least as an internal vision
  5. Hold the imagination and affirmation steady in your mind
  6. Return to the images and affirmations daily
  7. Take action on your purpose, outcome and imagination

There, now that’s easy isn’t it? Nope, another trick question. It may be simple, but it may not be easy.

Let me leave you with a simple example of an affirmation that worked well for me, one that is very simple, and one that may be illustrative of how the process works.

I used to have lots of problems with my teeth – you know, cavities, etc. As I got older, I started going to a dentist who had a “lovely” sign in all of his exam and treatment rooms.  It read: “You don’t need to floss all of your teeth, only the ones you want to keep.”

I would get regular admonitions about the value and necessity of flossing. I’d be somewhere between guilty or embarrassed and inspired when I would leave his office.  And I wouldn’t floss. At all.

Then one day, David Allen and I were talking about affirmations. He shared some great wisdom that went something like this: why not try affirming the outcome, but make no commitment to actually flossing unless you really, really want to floss.

We came up with this affirmation: “I love the healthy way my mouth feels flossing every day.” Now this won’t win any English grammar awards, will it Mrs. Wilson? (My sixth grade teacher.)

So, I wrote it on a 3X5 card and stuck it on my mirror at home and another on my desk at work. Whenever I thought of it, I would simply say to myself, : “I love the healthy way my mouth feels flossing every day.”

One day, as I was teaching a seminar that had a part about affirmations in it, I shared with the group that I was working on flossing and said my affirmation to them. Then I said it again. And again. And suddenly I became aware of feeling my teeth as though giant boulders were jammed between them. My mouth became so uncomfortable, that I called a break in the seminar, rushed to the hotel gift shop, bought some floss, and then flossed each and every tooth. And I LOVED the healthy way my mouth felt!

To this day, I keep floss in my briefcase, my desk drawer, in the bathroom, by the TV and by the bedside.  Because, “I love the healthy way my mouth feels flossing every day.”

We’ll come back to this subject again, but this might be a good start. What would you LOVE to experience (feel) every day?

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