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The Engagement Gap

How to Harness Your Attention to Make Lasting Change

"By disrupting our habitual ways of thinking, we create an opening that gives us a glimpse into the life we aspire to."
Recently I decided to try out a new yoga teacher and was shocked at how much resistance I had to changing my routine. In fact, it took me weeks to even get to that new studio. The first time was the hardest, but every week afterwards required a little inner cajoling to go back.

Adding something new to our routine is harder than it seems on first glance and getting ourselves to change how we do our days takes concerted effort. In part, interrupting our routine requires that we literally change how we think and – considering that for most of us, 95% of our thoughts are the same ones we had yesterday and the day before that – this is no small task.

There is a way in which our repetitive thinking patterns keep us perpetually behind both our shifting reality and even the personal changes we say we want to make. Becoming nimbler in this change process is about creating new mental pathways of engaging. This is an active process that requires equal doses of intention and attention. By disrupting our habitual ways of thinking, we create an opening that gives us a glimpse into the life we aspire to.

But this level of engagement also often feels like landing in a foreign country which is why it is so hard to sustain. The learning curve of becoming engaged with change is steep and requires a lot more energy than our old habits. Most of us can attest to this with failed diet plans, addictions we can’t get over, and even unhealthy relationship patterns that won’t let go.

Change loves company; in fact, it needs it. The most successful long-term shifts happen when we are part of a community which not only provides the connections to continue, but also provides a space for us to publicly declare our intentions. Think of Alcoholics Anonymous or Weight Watchers.

I ask myself what has to happen inside of us to believe we can make something different, better even? Where do we conjure up the energy and motivation to do something we have never done before? How do we break free from the repetitious and often negative thinking that keeps us stuck in our relationships and habits? There is value in asking the questions and being willing even for a moment to hold the uncomfortable dissonance between how things are and how we want them to be.

And in fact, that is my suggestion to you this week. Simply articulate one aspect of your relationship that you imagine could be better and come up with a repetitive thought that holds you back.
  • Where is your engagement gap?
  • What part of your relationship could be better?
  • What behaviors annoy you and/or your partner that with a little effort could be made less annoying?
  • Where can you find in yourself that little burst of energy to come to your relationship with more compassionate eyes?

Often, all we need to do is hold up the space between where we are and where we want to go to make a leap. Thinking of our relationships in terms of our capacity to change and grow opens the door to imagining the love you want. Define your engagement gap and see what unfolds.
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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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