Watch The Line: A Little Bit Goes A Long Way

The Nature of Committed Action and Perspective

"How do you eat an elephant", he asked. "One bite at a time". I learned this lesson on the tile floor of the kitchen in my childhood home and it stuck with me; The most challenging times of my life have been overcome because of the application of this principle.  

It seemed an appropriate memory to jump out at me as I was lost in thought, trying to justify to myself why I was voluntarily enduring this punishment. Boy, "Dadbod" was easy get and hard to get rid of.

 I switched into an easier gear and, looking up at the road, I couldn't help but watch the painted white line pass under my tires thinking "Just watch the line".

Cue "Walk The Line" by Johnny Cash in my head (I've posted it here for your listening pleasure).

It brought to mind the concept of committed action, one of the core concepts that I work on with clients. We all have elephants to eat, after all; many of them, in fact. Most of my clients are trying to change their experience of life, change their relationships, balance things better, be better at work -- that's a lot of elephant meat. Sometimes, it seems impossible to get it all done.

The bad news is that you won't get it all done today. The good news is that you don't have to. 

The concept of Committed Action is all about taking steps forward toward our "Full and Meaningful Life" in a way that is consistent with our values (even though it sometimes is difficult to do). 

Let's say that your goal is to have a better relationship with your mother-in-law. You don't have to charge into her living room, sit her down and hash out everything all at once! No, you get to break it down into smaller pieces so that every day you're moving forward. 

It may look more like this:

  • October 1: Text MIL something pleasant and thoughtful
  • October 2: Spend time thinking about what makes the relationship hard
  • October 3: Write down 5 things that I do that contribute negatively to the relationship

By the end of a week or two, you will have done so much forward moving that you may decide to call her up and express to her that you want a better relationship. Great!

Some goals are longer-term than others though. Sometimes it's a goal like getting in better shape (ahem.). Your daily breakdown might look like this:

  • October 1: Have a salad instead of your normal burger lunch.
  • October 2: Buy new running shoes
  • October 3: Go out for a walk
  • October 4: Go to the gym for 2 hours ----

But wait, that last day seems a little intense. What happens if you get to October 4 and don't have the time to do that?! This is where committed action is such a wonderful concept; you don't have to do that big step, you just have to do something to move you forward toward your goal. You could, instead, do 15 push-ups and 15 sit-ups. That might not "feel" like enough (which is a whole 'nother subject) but it is still moving you forward. Not doing anything would be the equivalent of sitting still. Eating 2 pizzas by yourself would be moving backward. 

Committed Action is all about making sure you don't get stuck in the mud, which ends up eating away at our psychological flexibility. It's also about helping us change our perspective on the things we have to do. When "Getting in Shape" looks more like "I Can Do 15 Push-Ups and Sit-Ups" one day at a time, it's a lot easier for us to walk the path toward our full and meaningful life. 

Your homework assignment, should you be so willing to accept, is to find a goal that you have for yourself -- something that is in line with your values -- and commit to the concept of committed action. If you want to write out a daily log with ideas for yourself, great! If you have another system that works for you, fantastic. If you're looking for a system that can be helpful, wait for my next blog post :)

Your life can be what you want it to be once you accept that challenge. Some days will be harder than others but you can do it!

Until next time,




Alexander Michaud