My dad is the most reliable person I know. You need a ride somewhere at 4am? He’s your guy. Growing up he was often behind the scenes, running the all the logistics of whatever event was going on. If an unexpected expense came up, he got a second job. If the school he taught music at needed a math teacher, he spent nights looking for the best curriculum, best text books, and brushing up on the math he hadn’t studied since college. And here’s the kicker- ask any of the students he had in class for the 30 years he taught math and they will agree he was the best math teacher, making it accessible for students of all levels.
I can tell you about how he decided for his 70th birthday that he was going to take up running and do a half marathon. Done and done. It seems like his mantra of “if you’re not 10 minutes early, you’re late” applies to everything he does in his life, not just to getting places on time.
Reliable people, like my dad, follow through. If we look for an official definition, Merriam Webster defines reliable as “being able to be trusted” or, in scientific studies, “giving the same result on successive trials” (more on that later). Taking it one step further, follow through is defined as “pressing on in an activity or process especially to a conclusion.”
So why do I bring this up? Many of us identify as a reliable people. We get to work on time, every day, and do consistently good work. We take care of our parents or our kids, dropping off and picking up at the right time. We pay our bills, we brush our teeth. Overall we get stuff done.
So how come we are frustrated? We’re hitting all the bullet points, right? But what about all the other things we want, the things that we say are a priority but keep getting put off? That last 10 pounds, the daily exercise, consistently making time with the spouse or friends, making that garden you always wanted, taking the dance class, meeting with a financial planner. What happens to being reliable for ourselves?
We don’t need information on HOW to do these things. We know the HOW but life gets in the way. Then January 1st rolls around again and we just cut and paste our goals from last year into this year’s calendar.
What about smashing these goals/resolutions once and for all? Then, in 12 weeks, we can come up with some creative NEW goal for 2021 since we will be well on the way to finally taking control and following through.
Being reliable is more than just showing up. As Stephen Guise said, “ Reliability is the difference between living how you want to live and being dominated by your whims and bad habits.”
So let’s break this down.
1. Know how you want to live.
Have you really thought about this? Have you written a personal mission statement for your life? How can you live with intention if you don’t know where you’re going?
Not sure what that means for you? Picture a perfect day. What would it include? Write it down (no really, take 2 seconds and write it down, you may surprise yourself). What did you come up with? Time with family? Eating healthy? Making a difference in the world? Helping someone else? Exercise? Time to be creative? Spending time outside?
Now how much time are you giving to those things in your day to day current life? Maybe some more than others. Maybe some not at all.
2. Pick one thing to start with.
Reliability is a muscle that can be worked out and grown. But this needs to be done with focus. You can’t do 10 crunches, 10 jumping jacks, 5 bicep curls and a couple neck rolls and expect abs of steal. In real life terms we could liken this to managing our commitments. We can’t say yes to everything AND be reliable. It just doesn’t work that way. Set yourself up for success by picking one of the priorities that you discovered in the perfect day exercise and constrain to that one commitment. Once you are good and reliable with that we can add something else on. Work the abs first, then we can add on the arms.
Being intentional with this one priority will cut through the excuses that will 100% come up in the moment.
3. Plan how this is going to get done.
Don’t roll your eyes, we don’t need some huge flow chart but you do need a plan. If you are working and your kids need to be picked up from somewhere you don’t say, “I will figure it out tomorrow, it’s fine- it will work out somehow.” NO! You spend 10 minutes figuring out how to get it done!
You can pretend that you can do this without a plan but it just doesn’t work that way. Trust me on this one. I have tried time and time again. Then I consulted EVERY self-help source and they all agree, if you want to get things accomplished, you can’t just wing it.
Consider this the homework. If you take a class and never do the homework, the exam will be really hard and you probably won’t pass. So plan daily exactly when you will do the work and what the work is.
Planning ahead of time takes out the decision making in the moment which is WHY IT WORKS. In the moment, I guarantee that there will be at least 10 things that seem like a better idea. Tell yourself your plan is non-negotiable, like getting up in the morning for work. Of course I would rather stay in bed but I have decided getting to work on time is non-negotiable.
Practice this dialog with yourself when your yogurt and fruit doesn’t look like as good an idea as Taylor ham, egg, and cheese sandwich.
“My intention to live a healthy life (or whatever your intention is) is non-negotiable.”
The key is that if you didn’t plan the yogurt and fruit, the breakfast sandwich will win out every time. And even if it seems like stating your intention for healthy eating doesn’t feel motivating enough, try “I am being a reliable person.”
This speaks to your sense of self rather than an external goal.
Reliability as a superpower. It’s not about accountability to someone else, it may not even be helpful to think of it as accountability to self. It is about identifying as reliable as one of your core values. Reliable people do what they say they are going to do.
4. Think independently.
This is one of the traits that Ralph Waldo Emerson promoted in his 1841 essay, Self-Reliance. It seems silly to say because most of us feel like we are independent thinkers. But the thoughts of society, or our parents, or our friends have a way of sliding in and can sabotage us? Want some sneaky examples?
“You have to exercise to lose weight”
“Everyone at work should work equally hard”
“It’s irresponsible to change careers”
“Good moms ___________ (fill in the blank)”
Decide what you want to be true in your life and let go of the rest.
5. Make your own decisions AKA be honest with yourself.
No one is forcing you to do anything. Period. The end. We tell ourselves that we need to or have to do something and then we rebel because we “don’t want to”. We somehow create a story that we are doing it against our own will. Here’s the good news/bad news. Once we accept that every single thing we do, we do because we want to (or we want to avoid the negative consequence of not doing it) then we can stop rebelling against some unforeseen tyrannical power. No need for rebellion, the only person to blame is yourself.
Of course, the term “blame” isn’t helpful as it implies wrongdoing. We have complete power (a nicer way to think about it than blame) and we are deciding what we want to do in the moment. If we reframe it like this, we can follow through by being honest about why we do what we do.
Choose intentionally and don’t resent the choice. Love the choice as something that you decided above other things.
Here’s a quick, real time example. My plan was to get this blog done by 10am (It’s now 10:55). Distractions came up but I wrote them down and stayed focused. After all, what good is it to write about reliability if I can’t even do it myself. And then my college age son started texting me. Sure I could have silenced my phone and texted him back later. But in that moment, I weighed out my options and my priorities. I intentionally decided that communicating with my son was more important than my 10am deadline (anyone who has a college age son knows that communication only happens on his time and only when you are lucky.) I am not sitting here angry about it. I am finding a way to do both.
6. Plan for surprises (hint: if you plan for them, they won’t surprise you).
Have a contingency plan. Not a lot of explanation needed here. Think about the obstacles you might face and come up with solutions ahead of time. My decision to prioritize my conversation with my son was not a big deal because I actually planned some “empty time” from 11:30-12:30. I could push my schedule back and not lose ground. Again, try and avoid having to make tough decisions in the moment. Make them ahead of time when you aren’t going to be swayed by emotion, or fatigue, or hunger.
7.Recognize that this isn’t a one-and-done process.
Follow through doesn’t have to happen to completion in one setting or session without setbacks- it doesn’t have to be all or nothing while you practice it. Remember the scientific definition of reliable? To reproduce the same results in successive trials. Good news, we will have trials every single day. We can practice over and over with a different set of variables, learning how to adjust for changes in the “experiment.” Which brings us to the next step.
8. Review from a neutral perspective.
One key to becoming able to rely on yourself is dropping the judgement. No one rises to the occasion when judged, attacked or belittled, even if we are doing it to ourselves. This type of feedback does not inspire action to improve.
We need to look for the data of why something did or didn’t work. Too often, in an effort to make ourselves feel better (which incidentally doesn’t work at all) we tell ourselves that we just don’t follow through.
It’s who we are, genetically, a non-follow-througher.
By doing this, we are trying to let ourselves off the hook. But the problem is, if this is true then we will never accomplish anything above and beyond what we are accomplishing now. By trying to make ourselves feel better by resigning ourselves to having no control, we rob ourselves of the joy of looking forward to achieving great things.
The crazy thing is, there are plenty of areas of our lives that we are 100% reliable. We go to work regardless of if we want to in the moment. We pick up our kids (ok, that may be closer to 90% of the time). We pay our bills on time so our utilities don’t get turned off. We don’t sit around then saying, “Oh well, I never follow through. “ Stop catastrophizing! We follow through when we have decided something is non-negotiable, when the reward for following through is so great or the consequence of not following through is too severe.
Use the hack of changing the dialog. Instead of saying “I never follow through,” try
“I am practicing following though”
“I am learning how to follow through”
“I am building reliability for myself (or if you want to be fancy like Ralph Waldo Emerson, self-reliance.)
I am living intentionally toward my personal mission statement. I am not going to be buffeted around by the distractions or theoretical obligations in the day to day. Someone else’s drama does not constitute an emergency for me.
The idea of self reliance is so appealing. To not depend on anything for your own success or happiness. This isn’t to say you’ll never need help, or shouldn’t accept generosity. Our lives are so enriched when we work together with others. But if we don’t have the support of others, we can be totally ok. It may be harder but maybe I can practice having my own back, the way I have the back of my friends. I wouldn’t let anyone sabotage the happiness or success of my family or friends. I wouldn’t let someone talk down to them or belittle their efforts.
What if I treated myself like that?
What if you treated yourself like that? Nothing but support. Nothing but compassion. Nothing but honesty when that is what is needed, but honesty without judgement. Nothing but follow through.
The truth is, we are all reliable. We just need to prioritize what is important, make a plan, and then focus our reliability on that.
I promise, it’s that easy.
And now to dream about what new resolution I can concoct for 2021, since these goals are as good as done.