Tuesday, August 13, 2013

When Force of Will Becomes Force of Habit

I advocate every day.
Every. Day.

This wasn't always so. I didn't ever really understand what advocacy was until my thirties. So, how does one go from not doing anything about poverty at all to taking action to fight it every single day? How did I go from overcoming my nervousness and writing to my member of Congress through sheer force of will...all the way to phoning my elected officials by force of habit? For me, it started with a Lenten promise and a ONE bracelet.

By 2001, I'd done plenty of fundraising and service charity work, but "advocacy" was an odd, scary sounding word to me...until I realized that it's simply speaking out about something you care about. It took some Bread for the World members at my church to show me that it could be just a simple act of writing a letter, an email, or making a phone call. Yet that didn't mean it was easy. I was rather afraid someone from a senate office would call me back to challenge me, saying, "What did you mean by that!?" For me to write that first letter was not the most natural thing. My heart raced when I made my first phone call to my U.S. representative.

Once I realized I could have more impact with advocacy than direct service and saw that it fit into my life better, I recognized that advocating for better anti-poverty programs was hard for me, but something I wanted to do more because of the potential to have so much more impact than serving people at the soup kitchen one person at a time. So, I decided that for the 40 days I observed Lent (a Christian time of reflection, discipline, and sacrifice), I would put the white ONE bracelet on in the morning. When I had taken some sort of action - wrote a letter, made a phone call, sent an email, wrote a letter to the editor, etc - I got to take the bracelet off. I found that once I'd come so far, I wanted to keep going. After 40 days, I was just used to doing it. I also learned from congressional offices that persistence is a critical characteristic of people who get their attention.

Some UK researchers concluded that it takes an average of 66 days to form a habit. I believe it takes the doing of something regularly and repeatedly to get used to it. Plus - and I find this with exercise - it is inspiring to set a goal and keep up a good habit. I'm reluctant to let go of my goal when I don't want to lose progress I've made. Hm...this is Alcoholics Anonymous strategy, too, isn't it? Well, I also found that when I was happy with myself and impressed with what I had accomplished, I wanted to do more. That's likely why the RESULTS core values resonate with me:
"Instead of waiting to be inspired to take action, we realize that being in action inspires us." 

Now, it's years later and I have even more reasons to do something every day. Now that I've even travelled to Uganda to meet families who need such basics as vaccines, clean water, education for their kids, how can I stop when I've looked into their eyes and shared smiles together? 

Insider Images

I love it when I find campaigns that encourage other people to be in action every day as well...like the Shot@Life Blogust campaign where leaving a comment on a blog each day in August unlocks a donation for a vaccine for a child in the developing world. I like promoting that campaign because it's fun and by sharing it, I inspire other people to get involved and take action every day.

Every. Day.