Sound familiar? If you watch TV much you may have seen the silly commercials for DirecTV trying to switch you from cable to their satellite television service. The commercial make a good analogy. The point? Accepting shortcomings rather than challenging them. We stay up too late. We mean to apply for that promotion. We want to exercise more or eat better but we don’t. Sure, it’s easier to simply accept the status quo. It could be procrastination. It could be avoidance. Or it could be just settling. The things we settle for aren’t necessarily bad. Other things may well be more important. But if we settle for less, we’re missing out on better.
As a Buddhist, I am supposed to be aware of such things and make use of my practice to improve my life. But I too sometimes settle, at least as far as exercise and weight loss; that’s my remaining perennial problem. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to challenge yourself. If you are, you know that you are the one in control of your own destiny. If you don’t take action, no one will. But again, whether you apply the Buddhist practice to your life or not, the point is that you don’t have to settle. You just have to recognize when you have a bad habit you want to get rid of, make a plan to do so and execute it. You have a goal but it seems too much work or too difficult so you settle for what you have. That’s OK, except after a time you become inured to living with less vigor. You become satisfied with being less than you could be. If will were a muscle, this kind of thing can leave you with an underdeveloped one.
Contrast this with Maria Popova’s observations about self-comparison in a commencement address she recently gave [see Worth Noting, this issue].
But here’s the thing about self-comparison: In addition to making you vacate your own experience, your own soul, your own life, in its extreme it breeds resignation. If we constantly feel that there is something more to be had — something that’s available to those with a certain advantage in life, but which remains out of reach for us — we come to feel helpless.
What she means is comparing oneself with others; not comparing a present self with a past or future one. Yet the essential truth is that once we accept some chronic condition or habitual shortcoming we settle on a lesser self. A self unable to accomplish all of our dreams. We are diminished.
I always wanted to be a writer, now I am; it only took a few decades. Because I am frugal (some might say cheap) I learned to do minor
electrical and plumbing work in my own house. Ditto drywall and painting. Landscaping too. I had a decent paying job and my wife worked as well, but being a do-it-yourselfer funded wonderful family vacations. When I retired from the day job, I began writing. But I had more do it yourself projects on tap, like establishing and maintaining websites like this one. I also needed to design the dream house we now live in; I used a computer application to do that. All it takes to do anything unfamiliar is a will to learn and the discipline to succeed. I won’t settle for not doing something because I don’t know how. Challenges are just that. Obstacles can be overcome. Persistence pays off; victory over procrastination does the same.
Don’t be a settler!
We should never decide that something is impossible and buy into the belief, “I’ll never be able to do that.” The power of the entire universe is inherent in our lives. When we firmly decide, “I can do it!” we can break through the walls of self-imposed limitations. Daisaku Ikeda.