Cat Herding and the Need for Structure

If you are anything like me, you wake up each morning in a different mood. I would argue that this is basically the same as waking up as a completely different person, each day. Who you are today is in many ways completely different from who you were yesterday. Your emotional state is completely different, and as a result you could be capable of completely different outcomes than you were capable of yesterday.

There may be only slight differences in your emotional state on some days, but on other days, there may be a big difference. Getting all of these different “people” to work together is often like herding cats.

Wikipedia has the following to say regarding Cat Herding:

“An idiom denoting a futile attempt to control or organize a class of entities which are inherently uncontrollable – as in the difficulty of attempting to command a large number of cats into a group (herd).”

It is difficult to herd a group of cats.

When its time to get all the cats rounded up, some of them want to come with you, some of them want to play, some of them want to leave the house, others are upset with you for no apparent reason, they all have their different agendas and your agenda doesn’t always matter to them.

Herding Cats is a difficult task and it is important to have structure in place to help get all of the cats on the same page. We can do this through behavioral training, rigid dinner times, positive reinforcement and many other ways, but at the core, it is the structure that helps us herd these independent creatures.

As humans, we have all sorts of different emotions and in a given thirty day period, we probably have more than a dozen different types of common mood patterns that we wake up with. I would argue that all of these emotions are important, but many of them can act as obstacles to our goals if we do not have structure and habits in place.

In a given thirty day period, we may wake up with any of the following emotional states and maybe even more:

  • Angry at ourselves, others or our environment
  • Sad with how a previous event turned out
  • Hopeful about the future
  • Excited for our day
  • Frustrated with an obstacle we are facing
  • Challenged about our schedule
  • Anxious about a meeting with someone
  • Peaceful and wanting to meditate for a while
  • Tired and wanting 2-3 hours more sleep
  • Lazy and wanting to play video games or watch a movie
  • Motivated and wanting to start a new big project
  • Scared and no desire to leave the house, but also scared to stay home all day
  • Physically, we might be in pain
  • Existential and questioning our life’s purpose
  • Replaying painful past memories

The list goes on…

These emotional states, or “versions” of ourselves, come and go and a lot of the time it feels like we don’t have control over them. This is a lot of different “people” to deal with. Only some of the people want to get out there and get things done and the rest of them have other agendas.

We need a way to get all of these different people on the same page and headed in the same direction if we are to accomplish anything over a 30, 60 or 90 day period and certainly any larger time frame.

Since any given day we may be faced with a different person who has a different attitude about what direction the day should take, we need to implement daily structure into our routine so that on any given day, there are specific minimum things that must occur, regardless of who shows up.

We add structure in the form of habits, our “Daily Habit Structure”.

The “Base Minimum Habit” is built into this structure.

We are adding structure to our lives so that we can get “everyone” working in the same direction, regardless of their emotional state.

What we crave as humans is freedom to express ourselves, but the great paradox is that we are not fully able to reach our individual potential for creative expression until we master aspects of ourselves through rigidity and discipline.

“So in order to do cool things… I have to practice?!?!”

Yes, I’m sorry, you do.

There are many ways we can implement discipline and rigidity into our structure, but the most important factor is how we handle the daily changing frequency of our emotional state.

Having a practice frequency that is any less than every single day will not account for these ever changing emotional states and will leave us closer to quitting entirely on our endeavor. We must dedicate ourselves to the practice regardless of the emotional state and this is why we must expect ourselves to practice regardless of how we feel on any particular day.

This is why it is important to develop habits that become part of our life style that we do on a daily basis, so that we can train our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves to follow a specific set of habits regardless of how our body feels, regardless of our emotional state, regardless of what our mind wants to wander to today and regardless of where we are at with God or our purpose in life.

The book, “Atomic Habits”, talks about how we must take on an “identity” if we are to keep consistent motivation with our daily habits, our daily discipline.

If we are a painter who doesn’t paint, then we are really not a painter. If we are a painter who doesn’t paint, then maybe we don’t really like painting. If we like painting and we don’t paint, why are we doing that to ourselves?

Pick your identity and get the daily practice structure in place so you can become who you desire to become.

Structure is like the field and boundaries on a soccer field. Without the boundaries, there is no game, it is the boundaries and the rules that make the game fun. We are allowed to express our creative freedom within those boundaries and it “forces” us to use our inner resources to write our “story”.

The fundamentals of your dream come down to learning through practice and progressing on that practice every single day of your life. There is no other way around getting your dreams accomplished. Some people may do it differently, good for them, if it works, don’t fix it.

But this is you we are talking about, the quitter. We need to police you into sticking to your goals this time around because what you desire is greater than the part of you who talks yourself out of everything.

I am not advocating beating yourself up by any means, but I am advocating that you simply accept that to follow and live out your dreams, you have to devote your life style to it. You have to put in the time every day so that each day you live, you are enjoying a fraction of your dream via the process of pursuing it, and as a result of the process, you get closer each day to your dream goals.

I am not advocating giving up important things like family, friends, fun, etc. But I am advocating that you find the 20-30 minutes a day that you need to devote to creating the life you want to be living.

Sleep faster if you have to.

We all have the same 24 hours in a day.

Our Daily Habits are the cover to our book, the intention behind our prayers, the canvas to our painting, the clothes to our body and one of the highest expressions of self love to our entire being.

It is our daily habits, and only our daily habits, that truly allow us to move in the direction of our individual creative potential.

There is no room for missing days.

There may be extenuating circumstances, do your habits anyway.

There may be days when it is impossible, fine, restart tomorrow, but this should happen no more than 3-4 times in a year.

If you are missing your daily habits, you need to go through a refinement phase and figure out how to make yourself and your environment more conducive to implementing your daily habit actions.

There is a cue, habit, reward pattern that comes along with our habits once they are engrained in us, and this is helpful, but the true reward is the embrace of the process and this may not always feel like a “reward”.

The pain of the process is our friend and our teacher. Exposing ourselves to this pain is the gateway to our dreams.

As time passes, it becomes apparent that the true reward we have been looking for this entire time is progress, the satisfaction that you have grown into a new “dimension”, that you have progressed in your skill and ability, this feels good to us.

Tony Robbins has been quoted as defining happiness this way, “Progress”.

Taming ourselves is very much like herding cats. Let us rely mostly on our inner strong cat to keep us on track.

Here is a good visual on what we are up against.

We must add structure to our lives and in a way that is reasonable and yet rigid enough that it keeps us on track towards our dreams, even when we feel like shit.

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