When I finally successfully quit smoking — again, after trying and failing seven times — one of the best things I did was make a Vow.
I made a vow to my wife and daughter that I would quit smoking and make the quit stick. I decided that I was making this change not just for myself, but for them. This felt more powerful than just doing it for myself.
In previous attempts, I didn’t have a good reason — I just thought it was something I should do, and so I would jump into the habit change without a powerful motivator and then give up when things got difficult.
Remember the Childish Mind: when things are uncomfortable, it wants to quit. When the urge to smoke got really strong, my Childish Mind would make up a million reasons why it was OK to smoke. If I was unprepared with a powerful reason why it wasn’t OK, I would easily give in.
But when I made a vow to my wife and daughter, it wasn’t so easy to give up. The dozens of times I felt like giving up … now felt like I was failing them. I made the vow to my wife because I knew that if I was smoking when her pregnancy was over, she would start smoking again, and that wasn’t good for her. So I wanted to protect her health, out of love for her. I made the vow to my daughter because I knew that if I kept smoking, she would probably smoke one day — the statistics show this. I wanted to quit to protect her health, out of love.
This was the deeper reason: I was doing it out of love for my wife and daughter. And this is an incredible motivator when the Childish Mind starts to rebel.
What will your Vow be? You’re making a change, but is it just because it seems like a nice change? Are you doing it for vanity or selfish reasons? Be honest with yourself. See if you can find a deeper reason, to do it for the benefit of others, out of love or compassion.
Some good reasons: you want to set a good example for others, or inspire them and show it’s possible, or learn something that you can then share with others, or be stronger so you can later help others. You do it out of wanting to help, to ease the suffering of others, to protect them, to show them they’re loved.
On not wasting this dewlike life
You might also make your change so that you’re making the most of your life and not wasting the gift of the days you’ve been given on this earth. Our time here is wonderful but limited, and therefore precious and valuable.
About 2,000 years ago,the Stoic philosopher Seneca said something that moves me to this day:
“You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply — though all the while that very day … may be your last.”
Thinking about the limited life we have, the fleetingness of it all, helps me to appreciate that we have to make the most of it.
Seneca also said:
“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. … The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”
And 1,200 years later, in feudal Japan, the great Zen master Dogen wrote:
“Students today should begrudge every moment of time. This dewlike life fades away; time speeds swiftly. In this short life of ours, avoid involvement in superfluous things and just study the Way.”
Avoid wasting time, and just study the Way — which, incidentally, is a study of the nature of change.
So make a Vow not to waste this dewlike life, to not act as if you have an unlimited supply of life. Make this small change you’re committing to as if it were the most important change of your life, as if your head were on fire.
Make the time
If you have a powerful reason and have made a Vow, you need to make it a priority. Schedule the time for your change, so that it doesn’t get pushed back.
When will you make the change? Be specific: is it right when you wake up, or after breakfast, or after you shower, or when you arrive at work? Visualize the time and place you’ll do the change.
If you don’t make the time, you won’t do it. So figure out when you’re going to do your new habit, whatever it is: your writing, your studying, your stretching, your meditation.
Mission: Pick a time & a Vow
Pick a time you’re going to do your habit each day and block off 10 minutes on your calendar and in your mind for doing the habit. Block off this time even if you’re only going to start with two minutes — you don’t need to take the full 10-minute block, but it’s best to have a cushion. Choosing a time is proof to yourself that this is a priority.
Now choose a reason why you’re doing the habit. Think about what motivated you to do the habit. Who benefits? Can you do it for someone else? Write down the reason in your Habit Plan with a Vow to yourself or someone important.