“Where did I get that behavior from?”
I find myself asking that question often. Especially in those candid moments of self-examination that follow a less-than-optimal parenting episode, an argument with a friend, a nasty email to a coworker, or comment to someone online—all of which you instantly regret hitting ‘send’ on, proverbial or literal.
However, identifying where our behavioral unpleasantries come from is not nearly as scary as supposing where they might lead us if left unchecked.
“If I don’t do something about this, what kind of person am I going to be in another twenty years?”
The imagery can be unsettling.
A few days ago, I took a new route to work to change up the scenery. The additional five minutes to my commute is easy to account for by leaving that much earlier, but doing so gives my soul a new opportunity to examine the created world. A more than beneficial trade-off.
Halfway through my drive, I noticed a fascinating scene: a field of neglected hay bales that had grass growing on their tops.
I was so struck by the image that I turned around and snapped a picture, feeling that I wanted to write about it.
Whether the farmer forgot, the equipment broke down, or the land lease changed hands, it’s apparent that the elder hay bales missed their expiration date by several years. Left to the ways of nature, they did what they were programmed to do: grow something new.
(Whether or not the farmer will attempt to run a mini combine over the tops is fodder for another post).
If the fruit of our past is neglected, the compost creates food for new seeds of the same sort to take root. Replicating the errors of our past takes little energy. In fact, you might say that it is the most natural thing for it to do.
Instead, making sure that harvests are used in life-giving ways is challenging work. Having once owned horses, I know all too well the labor that goes in to haying a field, transporting bales, storing them, and getting them out to feed animals. It’s time consuming, exhausting, and dusty. But the alternatives are non-options for a committed agrarian: your animals starve mid-winter and your crop rots in the field.
Perhaps you see the way your parents treated you, unwittingly projecting the same on your children.
Perhaps you picked up the same hurtful rhetoric of a leader, negatively exercising it on your family, friends, or coworkers.
Perhaps you notice the nasty habit of your youth now gaining traction from your adult-sized income.
Whatever you’re facing, it’s probably due to a neglected harvest that now deserves your attention.
How do you deal with a harvest gone bad? Whether your burn it or mulch it, you’re going to put the rubbish to good use. You’re going to grow from it. Literally. Because the issue wasn’t the harvest, it was the seed.
Today is a day of planting with new seeds. The processes are the same, but the fruit will be different.
I once heard it said that what you do today is what you will do for the rest of your life. While the statement employs semi-hyperbole, the premise is worth considering: I must make decisions today that point me toward the kind of person I want to be tomorrow.
This could be apologizing for your actions toward your child form the day before.
This could be making some social media resolutions that are your new non-negotiables.
This could be choosing to speak life and asking friends to make you accountable when you start sounding like ‘the old you.’
Whatever your new seeds are, make sure you do the following immediately upon planting:
(1) Fence them in to keep critters out. Healthy friendships are great fences, and permitting people to point out interlopers (including you) will be the greatest guardians of your future harvest.
(2) Water them. Ingest good materials into your eye-gate and your ear-gate. Exchange talk-radio for intentional audiobooks. Swap mindless TV-wandering or YouTube-surfing for long walks of self-reflection. Take church sermons to heart by capturing and reviewing notes.
(3) Make plans for your harvest. The hopeful anticipation of the person you’re going to be is critical if you are to maintain a positive attitude when storms come. While you might not look like the person you want to yet, reminding yourself of how you’re going to behave and what you’re going to do once the plant has come to maturity is strong motivation. (If it’s not, you may want to reconsider what kind of seed you’re plating).
Perhaps the most beautiful part about the process of planting and harvesting is that once you get your first ‘batch’ done, the next ones are easier. Just like bad plants produce rotten fruit, good plants produce even better fruit.
What seeds are you going to plant today?
For more on this topic, I recommend The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.