steven ivory

Steven Ivory

*“This is it,” he declared,  with  the kind of  procrastination-busting mettle I wish I could say I’ve never heard from him before, but that wouldn’t be true.  “Enough of the BS, man.  I mean, REALLY. This is ridiculous.  This time, I’m going to do it.  GOT to.  No one and nothing will stop me.”

I wondered if that “no one and nothing” on the “will stop me” front included himself.  The way he spoke,  you’d  think  massive Peterbilt trucks, the biggest ones they make, were arranged side by side across his boulevard of dreams,  obstructing the path to his happiness; that army tanks and assorted artillery, or  at the very least,  an old fashioned Highway Patrol roadblock,  stood between him and  all the good things he wanted for himself.

The truth is, in all the years I’ve known this guy, the only thing that ever stood between him and what he wants in this life,  is him.

He’s been down this  road,  no pun intended,  time and again. It’s always the same: with  great fanfare and heartfelt commitment,  he’ll  plunge into something and do it for a while before  his  enthusiasm slowly fades. Pretty soon, everything he was  excited about has grind to a  halt.

In his mind, there might be a myriad of reasons why that happens.  None of them, however, make sense.  Especially when,  at the time he pulls back, he’s making progress.

My man is not alone.  Plenty people do this.   Like “Stop To Start,” that  syrupy  early ‘70s R&B ballad by Philly vocal group, Blue Magic, we stop something that’s good, only to start all over again.

Remarkably, why we stop often has more to do with how we feel about ourselves than the challenge  at hand.   Sometimes, even  as we consciously root ourselves on, subconsciously, a little voice is insisting, “You’ll  never be able to do this.”  There can be a part of us that, for whatever reason,  simply doesn’t feel we deserve the positive result of our toil.

So, we sabotage our progress.  Or we just quit.  But we do want good things  for ourselves.  Thus,  once we stop, after a while, we start  over again.  And again. It becomes a familiar, insidious cycle.  Dysfunction at the junction.

I’m not saying that starting over is  a crime.  Indeed, it’s infinitely better than not rebooting at all.  However, the down time between   threatening to get back in the groove and actually starting over can be a guilt-filled abyss that feels insurmountable. Self-loathing is powerful, relentless and unforgiving.

Alas, there is something stronger than quitting, better than beating oneself up and struggling to start over.  The answer?  Brace yourself.   Ready?

Here it is:  If you’re tired of starting over, stop giving up.

I know.  Rather  unsophisticated.  And you’ve probably heard it before. But it’s a real answer.  You’re wondering— where’s the magic?

The magic is in the consistency:   So your workout wasn’t as hard and long as you planned it;  whatever you did is better than not working out at all.

In your quest for  new employment, one week you didn’t contact as many perspective  employers  or email as many resumes as you said you would.  If you sent out one, that’s better than sending none.

That relationship you just escaped  was more toxic than the BP Oil Spill.  You know damn well that leaving was the best thing you could have done.  And yet, daily you do hand-to-hand combat with the urge to call or text. Resist the notion with all your might,  knowing that everyday   you don’t, is another day that you won’t.

Stop giving up.  When you say  you’ll just take a break,  one day can turn into a week, a week becomes a month and a month becomes, “I-don’t-deserve-the-goodness-I-desire.”

And stop hearing the word “Can’t.”  That is, unless it’s accompanied by the words,  “I” and “stop,”  as in “I can’t stop.”  Or, “I can’t BE stopped.”  Granted, it’s hard as hell.  But—AND–it can be done.  And the more you do it, the more you DO it.

IF YOU’RE TIRED OF STARTING OVER, STOP GIVING UP.  In other words, suffer the pain of discipline, or suffer the pain of regret.

Speaking of regret, mine  is that I didn’t explain all this to myself, uh, I mean, to my friend,  a long time ago.  But then, as yet another time-honored  adage goes, “I’m getting in the position to get ready to get it.”  I know.   Indulge me.

Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love  (Simon & Schuster),  has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected].