I actually was expecting the bubblewrap mailer that showed up in my mailbox shortly after Halloween. Curious as to what the promised contents would finally look like, I cautiously opened the envelope. Once I saw what was inside, I actually let out a real, spontaneous, Laugh Out Loud – it was a navy blue lettered sweatshirt, and there, emblazoned across the front in beautiful sky-blue letters, were the words:
Keep Your F*@king Promises!
…spewed straight from the mouth of my Inner Herr Führer, in those moments I accidentally let him slip out of his bunker. Spelled recognizably right, of course.
Frankly, Scarlett, I DO Give a Damn
This was a gift of gratitude from Scarlett, one of the people who’d completed my one-on-one Money Relationships and the Brain tele-connection offering. She was expressing appreciation for the hard-won realization that so much of her struggles with money boiled down to this one simple, frequently failed “aspiration.”
Not only did she make and not keep all kinds of promises to other people, but Scarlett also frequently made and didn’t keep them with herself. Which made her inherently untrustworthy both in the eyes of others, but even more importantly, to the Vigilance Networks in her own brain. In addition to monitoring the world around us, our Vigilance Networks – rooted in our threat-detection circuitry – watch everything we say and everything we do every day of our lives, 24/7. But if all the Vigilance Networks did was only watch, it wouldn’t be so bad. It’s the stories they conspire to make up in cahoots with The Great Confabulator based upon what they hear us say and see us do that are the real problem. Why? Because those networks then go about the work of unconsciously convincing us those made-up stories are true and have us act accordingly. We then unconsciously go to work, squeezed down and pressed upon, living our lives to our own lowest expectations.
In our work together, Scarlett focused on one simple behavior – she agreed to defer making any promises to herself or anyone else, until she had sufficient time to coolly and deeply think things over. And then, once she said “Yes,” that promise became carved in hearthstone, powerfully akin to an Irrational Commitment.
Two Simple Commitments
Different than the one-on-one work with Scarlett, I asked our year–long Money Relationships and the Brain experimental group to make two simple commitments (simple, but not easy, as we came to find out). The first was: there are 8760 hours in a year. The expectation I expressed was that people would commit 52 of those 8760 hours – one hour per week – to meeting together every Friday at 7AM through the internet. The second invited commitment was intentionally set up ideally to take advantage of the Power of Ritual. Once a month I wanted the participants to commit to sitting down, taking out their checkbook and mindfully writing and then mailing me a check for $20. To insure they would almost certainly fail, I invited them to … make the $20 commitment … for life! The main reason I suspected they would fail is the main reason we fail at most everything in our lives: we don’t … keep our f*@king promises (me included – one more example of me teaching what I most want to learn and practice). Currently, however, I keep more promises to others and myself than I ever have – eight years of researching and writing this weekly blog being but one example.
Most often the reason that I don’t keep my promises is: my brain makes up a story about why I can’t or don’t have to keep my word and then convinces me my reasons are absolutely true. And right. And best for everyone if I don’t, or at least best for me. It’s the way the teenage brain often operates. And mostly my brain doesn’t have to go to great lengths to get me on board with the promise-breaking program. It’s a good thing making and keeping promises has to be … a practice.
Most often the excuses for why the promised $20 didn’t show up were always “reasonable.” Any list of more important expenditures is virtually limitless, all of which the Vigilance Networks love to get busy and storyboard. The problem is, if I make a promise and I make the relationship with the person I make it to important enough, there are very few of us in this country who could not come up with $20 given thirty days. Ultimately, though, the real person I’m making the commitment to – and for – is me. For many of us, that’s a hard dot to connect and keep connected: the promises we make to ourselves and to others matter. Greatly. To our own mental, spiritual and neurobiological health and well-being. And as Scarlett is finding out, to our financial health.
No Fault, No Harm, No Foul
Before we began the group, life experience, together with my knowledge of the brain’s vulnerabilities, had me expecting that lots of different circumstances might play out. I rarely took such occurrences personally (except occasionally when I did), and there was no “penalty” that needed to be imposed. No one had to run laps or do push ups or pay a higher interest rate. From my perspective, few of us have ever been taught about the need for, or even how to skillfully forsake Rumi’s half-loves – these are just life lessons needing to be learned. The penalty for not learning is unfortunately, a very steep one, neurobiologically, financially and spiritually self-imposed.
Because all of the above is confounded and compounded by the fact that in every moment of our lives each of us is doing the absolute best our brain and the surrounding environment will allow – when our brain works better we do better – each of us in our little group has now recommitted to continuing through a Year 2 of Money Relationships and the Brain! Wish us well, as we try to live into zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki’s wise, smiley-eyed advice,”We are all perfect just as we are. And we could all use a little improvement.”