When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce.”– Thich Nhat Hanh
I’ve started to change the way I approach things that aren’t working in my life. My previous default was to berate myself for not having enough grit (a popular buzzword these days) to stick with something. I’ve applied this mental punishment to the amount of exercise I get, how I pray, what I eat for breakfast, what books I read, and practically everything else! In Thich Nhat Hanh’s words, I’ve been blaming the lettuce.
When something has worked well for me, I’ve assumed something is wrong with me if I can’t just keep doing it forever. There are definitely times when I just don’t feel like doing something, even though I know it’s still a good thing for me. Those are the days where grit and perseverance are needed. But in other cases, I know that it’s no longer the right thing for me.
Maybe the reason something no longer works is not a moral failing in my character but is due to a change in my life circumstances. I’m now seeing that life has seasons, and things change. Just because something worked for me at one time doesn’t mean it’s going to be the right thing forever.
If something has worked well for someone else, it may be a good idea for me to give it a try. But I can give it an honest try while also keeping in mind that it might not be a good fit for my life. There’s no shame in letting it go if it truly doesn’t work for me. Although it can be helpful to examine why it wasn’t a good fit, it’s not a character flaw if someone else’s way of growing lettuce doesn’t work for me.
It’s also helpful to remember that it’s ok to stop doing something before identifying a perfect alternative. Just because I discovered one lettuce growing technique that doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean I magically know what will work. In some cases, it might be obvious, but in most cases, it won’t.
Instead, I can lightly hold both the decision process and the final decision. I can give myself the grace and space to experiment, collect data, and explore options. And I have to resist the temptation to believe that if I find another alternative that works, that will surely be my solution forever. Every gardener knows that one successful season does not guarantee successful seasons forever.
Some mental reframing is also helpful when I start calling myself undisciplined, lazy, or other not-so-helpful words. Instead of lacking grit, I am practicing resilience and agility (also good buzzwords lately). I am adapting to changing circumstances. I am creating new neural pathways in my brain by trying different behaviors.
Another thing that helps is remembering that God created me – not to be perfect but to be a unique combination of abilities and characteristics. I don’t have to be an ideal version of someone I think is “better.” I may not be meant to run marathons, drink kale smoothies for breakfast, pray three times a day, and write best-selling books. But I can always work to be the best version of just who God created me to be and share my unique gifts with the world.
A closing prayer
God, please give me the wisdom to discern between the things that aren’t right for me and things that I know are right, but I don’t feel like doing at the moment. Grant me the self-compassion to be gentle with myself as the seasons of my life change, and I learn to adapt my habits and behaviors. Let me see the goodness and beauty in myself that You created. And let me use my unique abilities to help make the world a better place. Amen.
* Thich Nhat Hanh was a Vietnamese Zen monk, poet, and peace activist. He wrote extensively (over 100 books!) on mindfulness and peace. He died in January 2022. For more details, see https://plumvillage.org/about/thich-nhat-hanh/