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« Future Developments | Main | The Best of GTD and DIT »

Wholehearted Living

This article was published in my newsletter several years ago. I am re-publishing it now as it continues to be very relevant.

I can’t remember who it was — but a year or two ago someone wrote on one of the email lists to which I belong that she had learned never to say “yes” unless she could say it wholeheartedly. Whoever it was, I owe her a debt of thanks because it is one of the best lessons that I have ever learned.

The context was how easy it is for our lives to fill up with responsibilities that we have taken on more or less reluctantly. When someone asks us to do something, it is often difficult to say “no.” So we end up saying “yes” against our better judgement. And one of the reasons why it is so easy to say “yes” against our better judgement is because we often don’t have a clear and easy way to tell what our better judgement is. The other person will often come up with highly persuasive reasons which make us feel that we will be uncaring or ungrateful or illogical or mean or reckless or whatever if we don’t agree with them. And since we don’t want to feel any of these things we say “yes” reluctantly — and regret it later!

By having a clear rule that we only say “yes” when we can say it wholeheartedly we can cut through all the guilt and manipulation and find the only thing that really matters — our own knowledge of what is right for us.

I have used this method a lot over the last year and more, and found it invaluable. So for instance the other day someone rang me up and asked me if I wanted to join a local group that met every month. I really didn’t want to but had the feeling that I ought to do it and that I’d be letting the other person down if I didn’t. As I wavered on the brink of accepting (and regretting it) I suddenly found myself saying “I have a rule that I never commit myself to anything unless I can commit myself wholeheartedly, and I don’t feel I can do so with this.” To my surprise the other person, though obviously disappointed, accepted my reason like a lamb!

I have also learned to extend the principle further than the original context. Now when faced with any decision, I always ask myself “Could I do this wholeheartedly?” And if the answer is “no”, I don’t do it. Faced with a decision between two or more alternatives I ask myself “Which of these could I do wholeheartedly?” and if the answer is “neither”, I then ask myself “OK then, what could I do wholeheartedly?” and start looking for further alternatives.

Another very valuable use that I’ve found for the principle is to use it to evaluate my daily actions. So I ask myself “What could I do wholeheartedly right now?” This is very effective because I’ve discovered that it is very difficult to do anything wholeheartedly when I know I should be doing something else. So the question acts as a very good way of filtering out busy work, displacement activities and general wheel-spinning. And it greatly increases the commitment that I bring to my real work actions and the enjoyment that I get from my leisure and personal activities.

So what could I do wholeheartedly right now? Ah, yes, send this newsletter out and then go to bed!


Reader Comments (5)

Thanks, Mark!

I wonder if this method could tempt us to avoid things that are less "fun" but need to be done anyway? (Even though I believe, and have experienced, that we can find enjoyment in almost any activity we "have" to do.)

What if we make the modification so that we ask of the *remaining* items on our task list for the day: "which of these can I do wholeheartedly right now?" and limit to choosing one of those items...until they're all done.

During the planning process of writing down tasks for the day, the better we are at using this Wholehearted Living method you've shared with us (by the way, .com and .net are already taken ;-) the more integrity we will have when it comes to deciding to do those individual tasks later.

Looking forward to additional comments if you have any to share.

I really appreciate your high quality blog postings!

George Kao
December 12, 2008 at 21:57 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Kao
Another great tip for great living! Keep them coming, happy holidays, TK
December 13, 2008 at 5:56 | Unregistered CommenterTK
I like this.

I guess we all have our values and our beliefs that we live from. The most important thing for me is to 'be true', that is the number one thing, everything is secondary. It doesn't really matter what anyone else does in response to me or anything i do, only that I remain true to myself.

Something I find helpful to ask is 'is this me?", when trying to make a choice or a decision. IF it's a fit, then it's all go, else it's NO!
December 17, 2008 at 18:37 | Unregistered CommenterSmarky
Thanks, Smarky. That's a good angle on the idea - I'll bear that one in mind!
December 18, 2008 at 15:30 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Where there is resistance to whole-heartedness - ie not feeling complete and whole - then it may help to recialm a part of your being still working on a conflicting goal.

A lack of ease in working on your goal may be due to a sub-personality being committed to a goal which is not in harmony with your intention.

A simple visualisation for this is to imagine yourself on a mountain top, so that you have a symbol for an overview of your life, and then inviting any part which is committed to some other (earlier) vision of your life to come and share in this updated vision of your life. This earlier part is typically the inner teenager, or young adult.

Conflict means that one's time, attention and energy is dispersed and scattered. Under such circumstances, it remains impossible to unite one's life into one single focus.
April 24, 2014 at 11:42 | Unregistered Commentermichael

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