One Is Always Nearer By Not Keeping Still
This post requires a slightly uncomfortable confession. The confession is this: my secret fear is not that I’m not good enough. My secret fear is that I’m capable of almost anything, but that I’m lacking the discipline required to GET IT DONE. I’m one of those Jack-of-all-trades kind of people: lucky enough to have a natural facility for lots of things, but not single-minded enough to focus fully on any one of them. This frightens me. Because what if one day, towards the end of my life, I look back and find myself wanting? What if I realise that despite all my potential I never had the drive and dedication required to make something truly wonderful of my life? What if I spend too many hours watching Game of Thrones and not enough hours coaching, helping, writing, performing? What if I have to end up being disappointed in myself? What if I never get invited onto Radio 4??
It won’t be anybody’s fault but my own. I know I’m good enough, I just don’t trust myself to do the work.
One of the most powerful tools in Co-Active coaching is called ‘Captain & Crew’. It’s an idea used in various guises across several types of therapy, and involves knowing and naming different aspects of the self, i.e. the captain and crew members. You might have a Party Animal crew member who is always up for fun, and who encourages you to say yes to new things. Or a Cheerleader, who jumps up and down in your mind, reminding you how fabulous you are when you’re berating yourself for not looking like you just stepped off the cover of a magazine. Or a Wise Owl, who invites you to be curious and patient around other human beings and their motivations.
Meeting and knowing these crew members, and keeping them close to you at times of doubt and struggle, can make a tremendous difference to how you make decisions. Then there’s the captain – the truest voice you have within yourself, the voice that always gives you the right advice, if you take the time to listen. I have a lot to say about the captain (mine takes the form of a raven, hence the logo), but I’ll have to save it for another post, because this post is about a crew member of mine called Ivy.
During my Co-Active training, we spent almost a full day understanding and embodying our captain and crew. I was working with a colleague, a flame-haired power-pixie called Naomi, and she asked me which crew member I wanted to make contact with. “I need discipline”, I said. “I need a crew member who is going to help me get my backside off the sofa. Discipline.”
I’m into dance (one of the several hobbies I have at which I’m sort of proficient), so I imagined my disciplined crew member as a ballet dancer. I gave her a tight bun and defined lines from head to toe. She didn’t smile; she just looked at me with fierce eyes. Shoulders down, stomach in, buttocks squeezed so tight you could bounce a coin off them. Naomi and I stood stiffly in the room as I tried to connect with the energy my ballet dancer was supposed to transfer to me. I wanted to feel motivated and disciplined, to know that I was going to go home that evening and make something happen. But another little voice in my head was louder. It told me I was faking. That I didn’t have that kind of iron discipline within me. That I would fail. Naomi, as a great coach will, spotted my struggle. To help me connect, she asked me to bring my inner discipline to life. If she was a dancer, she should dance. Slowly, in my mind’s eye, she started to move. And as she did her lines softened, her limbs loosened. Her ballet garb was replaced with one of those black unitards favoured by contemporary dancers. Her hair fell loose. I started to connect. The more I swayed my own body, the more I felt in tune with her, and the stranger and less definite her movements became. Basically, she started to do the kind of dancing that won me zero friends at school (actually, one, awesome friend), but garnered me an A* in my Expressive Arts GCSE.
My little dancer moved freely, and slowly she began to change again. Her abstract, creeping movements turned into leaves and tendrils, climbing up a sun-warmed brick wall. She became like ivy. She was Ivy! Suddenly I knew her. I know her. She is never still, but she is patient. She doesn’t let anything stop her, but she has no hurry. She grows upwards. She follows the sun. She reaches out and embraces. And when she is cut back she always grows again, stronger and more determined.
Naomi stopped me. “Is this still about discipline?” she asked. It wasn’t, of course, and the realisation, somehow so simple, was also huge. Discipline was a stick I had been beating myself up with for years. Discipline, to me, meant rapped knuckles and shame. It meant I was lazy and unfocussed. And when faced with that narrative of disappointment and doom, it was hardly surprising that I chose to keep my head in the sand. Better not to do anything than to face the realisation that you weren’t disciplined enough to succeed.
Ivy is something else. Ivy is the knowledge that I just have to keep going, keep reaching forward and turning my face to the sunshine. Ivy celebrates every tiny moment of progress. She’s who I look to when I’m afraid that things are moving too slowly, or that I’m letting myself down. She never berates me. She reminds me to breathe. Ivy always knows what to say, and she often quotes one of my favourite poets, Thom Gunn:
At worst, one is in motion; and at best,
Reaching no absolute, in which to rest,
One is always nearer by not keeping still.
Thom Gunn, On The Move
My coach bought me face-to-face with the realisation that my obsession with discipline was having the exact opposite of the desired effect. It was making me feel guilty but not motivated. Somehow, since that day, it’s so much easier to make progress. And I already know that when I get towards the end of my life, I won’t find myself wanting. I’ve already done enough. Every single day, I’m doing exactly the right amount to keep me moving forward.
And the best bit? Ivy loves Game of Thrones, too.
Is there something you beat yourself up with? What if the thing that you think you’re lacking is just a phantom? What if you imagined, right now, that you already had every quality you needed to keep moving forward and making progress, to take the leap, to live freer and happier? How might it be to nurture and celebrate yourself, instead of punish yourself? Just imagine…