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Intention and low trajectory implementation...

Peter McCormick

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I called a friend/summer neighbor yesterday to reconnect as the long Vermont winter has turned the corner and is inching toward spring. Brian and I email occasionally but hearing the voice (and in his case, the laughter) is good tonic and well worth the effort. The words of my late friend Gordon Witteveen loom large with me: "If you don't work at relationships they soon go away." So I try to pick up the phone when the odds are good that the recipient will be relatively available. Sunday afternoons are a good bet. What turned into an hour-long conversation went by quickly.

We chatted about my progress with the guitar (he's my inspiration), his expanded musical horizons with his new dobro, family, mutual friends, all the usual. He also mentioned that he and his wife are one month into a plant-based diet regimen, a huge change for both. He has educational and professional credentials as long as his arm (PhD psychologist, retired Assistant Surgeon General and Rear Admiral in the US Public Health Service), so he's no intellectual pushover. He attended a seminar on the topic with about 50 medical doctors and came away impressed by the science of nutrient absorption straight from the plant versus pre-processing by a cow.

...impressed by the science of nutrient absorption straight from the plant versus pre-processing by a cow.

Knowing Brian has an appetite for a good steak and BBQ, I had to ask how it's going so far. "Well, we both like seafood too much to give that up, and I don't go nuts if a Caesar salad has a bit of cheese on it, but eliminating meat and dairy hasn't really been a problem so far. Donna is a good cook and uses a lot of Forks Over Knives recipes, so it has been OK.  My Achilles heel with other dietary programs," he continued, "has been feeling deprived. If I feel deprived or hungry all the time, it doesn't work for me. That hasn't been the case here."

We discussed the challenge of all good intentions lying in the implementation. Take the New Year's resolution thing, for example, of which on average 80% fail by this time of the year. Or the intent to learn the guitar from scratch, starting at age 60 (me, four years ago). Or an accomplished guitar player learning to play the dobro in his 70s (him, now). Trying to lose the 25 pounds most of us could stand to lose. Saving for retirement or a rainy day. Or coming home from a conference or seminar with a concept or idea we'd like to try to implement in our life or turf management program (all of us).

In my mind, successful implementation of good intention is all about realistic goals, reasonable time frames, and baby steps to get there... preferably with mini-milestones to celebrate along the way. Breaking a broad concept or goal into its component parts and starting with those will yield a much higher success rate. After all, eating an entire steak without first cutting it into bite-size pieces would be a little difficult.

In my mind, successful implementation of good intention is all about realistic goals, reasonable time frames, and baby steps to get there...

Had I gone into learning the guitar with the expectation that I'd be playing like Eric Clapton or James Taylor within a year, my guitars (now six) would be gathering dust and I wouldn't have a new skill (however limited, still) that has literally changed my life. I went into it knowing that I would be learning it for the rest of my life, and took pleasure in the small victories. Learn the basic open chords, and simple songs to put them together.  Traffic/Joe Cocker's Feelin' Alright has two chords; Bob Marley's Three Little Birds has three, with a reggae rhythm. I played the hell out of them in the early months, savoring the accomplishment. A low trajectory takeoff is always smoother than a steep one.

Having played the guitar now for over 50 years, Brian is struggling with the dobro, which also has six strings but a different tuning. That means completely different chord fingerings and picking patterns, not to mention that it sits in his lap rather than held normally. "I work at it for half an hour and then have to walk away, or pick up my regular guitar and play that for awhile," he said. "But I'll get there." I have no doubt.

I have another neighbor here in Vermont who proselytizes the benefits of a plant-based diet, and has been working on me. Having identified by process of elimination that dairy seems to be the root of my joint pain of late, my wife and I have toyed with the idea. We decided that the way to implement that change (if we do ultimately go "whole hog") is with... baby steps. One or two "meatless meal" days a week to start. A low trajectory learning curve for the cook(s) and for the body/mind to adjust.

One or two "meatless meal" days a week to start. A low trajectory learning curve for the cook(s) and for the body/mind to adjust.

Trying to put some money away for the future (emergencies, job loss, retirement)? Start with $20 a week, auto-deducted from your pay and deposited in an investment account. You will never miss it. Start that at age 22 and you'll have over $300,000 by the time you're 67.  And that's nowhere near enough, but better than the estimated 55 million Americans who have nothing saved. Witness the panic of the recent government shutdown. If you can do $50 or more, do it.

Want to lose 25 pounds in six months? Setting that as your goal is tough. You're better off with a goal of five pounds in a month, then celebrating achieving it in two weeks. And on to the next five, keeping the first five off. Low trajectory.

Same goes with those ideas gleaned from seminars. I have always felt that one good, new idea obtained from a seminar, conference, webinar  (or TurfNet Forum thread) and successfully implemented makes the entire effort worthwhile. Doesn't have to be five or ten ideas, just one. Doesn't have to be earth-shattering, either. Take one baby-step now and another down the road. Sooner or later you'll look back with amazement at the progress you've made.

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