For the Sake of What?

Joshua Tree, Superbloom, Susan Hendel PhotographyOne of the emphases in the somatic coaching program I’m now immersed in is making powerful declarations that orient us towards a vision of what is possible. A declaration or commitment anchors our growth and development. One of the critical pieces of the process of creating those commitments is having a strong why. One way to frame our “why” is to ask, “for the sake of what?”

At the end of the initial eight days I spent at the Strozzi Institute in Petaluma, I began working with an accountability buddy, a young man at a very different phase in his life than I am in mine and whose declaration reflects that phase, just as my declaration reflects mine. Our job, as buddies, is to text each other regularly and report on whether we’ve completed our practices. These practices include the “standard” ones that include centering, meditation and practicing an aikido kata as well as unique practices that reflect our specific commitments. My buddy and I began to sense, independently, on about Day Eight, that our practice were beginning to feel like a checklist, that we were doing our homework without a sense of purpose.

As luck would have it, I had a meeting with my program mentor just that day, and we had an opportunity to talk about practices and commitments. I shared the concern about practices becoming rote. His suggestion was to come back to the question “for the sake of what?” That simple addition made a big difference for both of us.Since that call, I’ve brought that awareness of purpose, my why, into practice and have both increased my commitment to completing the practices and the quality of the practice.

My commitment is, ultimately, for the sake of living fully and wholly in this second half of my life. It’s also about being a more present coach, more skilled facilitator and writing more. Both the existential and the more practical “whys” that inform my commitment allow me to prioritize practice in my day.

In his last book, Smarter Faster Better, Charles Duhigg suggested that we tie the small items on our to-do lists to their larger purposes. Even at this granular level, the question of “for the sake of what” can be helpful. A few weeks ago, I had to dive deep into tax preparation. I could no longer avoid it. Due to a year filled with hacked credit card accounts, I encountered a mess I was not anticipating and a spreadsheet of transactions that required hours more than usual to sort through. Even in the midst of this, I did my best to invoke a “why.” It involved my responsibility to my family and my commitment to be a good citizen. It helped a bit.  (As did a glass of wine after I did as much as a could in one evening.) Same question, different scale.

This week I was working with a group of leaders, guiding them in a group coaching conversation. The client realized that the way to address a challenge he was facing was to slow down (note: when in doubt that’s almost always going to be the our most helpful response) and be sure that he asks questions early on that will allow him to avoid problems later on. When this became clear to him, instead of feeling that he was making progress in the conversation, he was agitated. He could not imagine himself being willing, in the moment, to actually slow down. He couldn’t see himself doing the very opposite of what he was now doing–even though he knew his current response was getting him to a result he didn’t want. The need to move quickly, to get things done under pressure felt too great. Slowing down felt nearly impossible. Here, too, the question “for the sake of what?” can help.

When I asked: “For the sake of what would you slow down?” he said that it was for the sake of not doing rework later and for the sake of a good end product. He realized that if he could actively invoke his “why” or “for the sake of what” in the moment, he could do what would get a better result. A few weeks later, when we met again, he reported on a significant shift in both his behavior and his outcomes.

This small example also shows that, in the moment, our habitual patterns of behavior can be strong enough to override our desires for things to be different. Invoking our “why” can be a powerful tool in getting over that hump. (And, like all powerful tools, the key is to remember that it is available to you when you need it.)

So, the next time you set a goal or commitment for yourself or simply put item on your to-do list, take the time to ask yourself “for the sake of what does this matter?” Then, when the moment arises and it’s time to act, invoke your “why?” and see if it isn’t just a little bit easier to make the choice that serves you best.

[Note: This post is the third part of an ongoing series in which I’m sharing what I’m learning as I study somatic coaching at the Strozzi Institute. My first post, introducing the work can be found here and here’s my post on the practice of mood checks.Picture credit to my sister, Susan Hendel, who captured the super bloom in Joshua Tree. Seeing the photos and the immense beauty around us is a big part of my own “for the sake of what?” ]