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  • Penny Muller

Moving Forward

Clarity comes from engagement, not thought - Marie Forleo

I'm going to talk about something more practical this week and I've included the above quote because I've found it to be one of the most useful pieces of advice I've heard. I think it's important to reinforce that we are not broken - that there are no broken people out there - so I'm going to say that although we can probably point out people who seem to be somewhat stuck in the crossroads of their lives, I'm going to assume that we have all had experiences of inertia, of not knowing which decision to make or which path to take, or not having the motivation to go forward. These will continue throughout life, as they are part of the human experience. There are times when this lack of forward movement might involve life as a whole or specific aspects of life such as work, personal goals, hobbies or relationships.

As I've said before, a lack of forward movement doesn't mean that we are lazy. There are times when rest is needed. There are also times for reflection, learning, planning, researching and discussing. Action that doesn't have inspiration behind it will most likely be ineffective, so it's better to take action on things that interest us or are aligned with our personal goals. Sometimes we are just not sure how much action we want to take towards a particular thing, for many reasons. It could be too much choice, or other people's wishes and priorities conflicting with our own. Maybe we don't feel that we have the energy or resources to invest in a particular activity or goal. It could be about how we're feeling in the moment or during a particular time of our life. There can be fear, anxiety, grief or depression. We've all experienced one or more of these.

Here's where the practical aspect comes in. If your thoughts are all tied up in knots, consider taking just a small step. Engage in something and you will feel your clarity becoming stronger. Think of the momentum that can build when something is given a little push. When I was younger and a lot less resilient there was something that I learned that I felt was very important. A little push - always coming from yourself, never from someone else - can be very healthy and helpful, but throwing yourself in the deep end is not always a good idea. Taking action that induces too much anxiety can render us powerless, particularly if we are lacking in confidence, sensitive or vulnerable. We don't want that temporary feeling of inertia to become a permanent state of fear and inaction. A little challenge to yourself is all that is needed to start the momentum. Think of a little push downhill rather than an uphill climb.

Now, all of this should be fun, so let's lighten things up by talking about some of the little things. Say you have planned to start a new hobby. You know you want to do it and you have bought all the materials, but you just never quite get around to starting. Try taking a small step. Take those materials out, set a timer for 5 minutes, and see how the action of it feels. Clarity comes from engagement, not thought, so engagement will tell you if it is something that you enjoy and want to keep pursuing. If you want to play an instrument, learn a language, write a book, sew a quilt, learn to cook or move your body more often, try a little engagement. Just get out and do it. If it doesn't interest you, you don't have to keep doing it, but if it's something that you enjoy you will be inspired to do it more often and the momentum will build.

If you feel stuck in the bigger things, try the same strategy and see if it works for you. Rather than trying to fix your life by thinking, just take one small step. You could go somewhere new, do something different or meet some new people. It's amazing how new experiences can make everything seem brighter. In new situations, the abundant possibilities in life start to become clearer. Travel is amazing for this, or moving to a new place, but new possibilities are available everywhere, even in your own home. People can inspire ideas. Being in nature can remind you to see the bigger picture. Engage in whatever interests you. Watch the momentum build. New situations give rise to new opportunities and the more you practice engagement, the more fun it will be to see where it takes you. Last week I joined a writers' society, went to the meeting, and had lunch with the ladies afterwards. One of them suggested that I come along to another group that was meeting on Saturday, so I did, and then I came away with an invitation to sing at a festival. You never know what kind of surprises engagement might bring.

I've been dabbling in learning Italian, French and German for years now. There's no timeframe and I don't expect super-speedy progress, particularly as I'm learning three at once and have many other projects on the go. I was introduced to Duolingo a couple of years ago and now I'm finding learning languages much more fun. Today I didn't have paid work to do so I did three hours of Duolingo, just because I was really enjoying it. And I have heard people say, "A better way to learn languages is ...... and ......". And I will say, "Yep. So what?" You know, I've learned a lot of things in my life and I've also taught quite a few things, and emerging from the last few years of tutoring, piano teaching and singing teaching, there's something that I wish I'd paid more attention to sooner. The way to move forward with something is to keep doing it - period.

Moving forward happens through engagement and action, and engagement and action happens when we are enjoying what we're doing. I now believe that the most important part of a teacher's role is to facilitate students to enjoy doing whatever they're doing for as long as possible. Until that momentum is in place, nothing else is really important. I used to allow my kindergarten children to build with Lego all day long and day after day if they wanted to, because I was taught that was how deep and lasting engagement became possible, and I had the research and observation to back it up. And if an adult beginner piano student wanted to play Für Elise straight up or a four year old wanted to belt out Celine Dion, I said yes to that too. You might try this with yourself. Start by taking pleasure in the engagement, and you will see the drive and the discipline and the level of skill increase.

I have found that the more I sing, the more I want to sing, the more I write, the more easily it comes, the more I learn, the more I become addicted to the process of learning, and the more I challenge myself, the more open I become to bigger challenges. With engagement, fear can become excitement and a feeling of limitedness can turn to the thrill of the possibilities. Start small if you need to. Start with a little engagement, or a small action. Start by dabbling. Start with what you feel like doing today. Maybe there's a little fear. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, fear is our friend. It will always be there. Tell it that it can come along for the ride. Fear is a sign that we're alive, and that we're really living. Soothe it, befriend it, but put it in the back seat. Don't let it be the one in charge. You're the driver. Hop in, turn the key, slowly edge away from the curb, keep going, and with time you'll be experiencing the joy of the motion and the wind in your hair.





Forleo, M. (2021). Marie Forleo official website. https://www.marieforleo.com/


Gilbert, E. (2021). Elizabeth Gilbert official website. https://www.elizabethgilbert.com/

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