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Goals are Overrated

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Do I have the yoga butt yet? Can I stop now? (Image by Robert Bejil Photography)

Do I have the yoga butt yet? Can I stop now? (Image by Robert Bejil Photography)

A goal is generally understood as a good thing. Goals inspire achievement, and who doesn’t like to achieve things? It’s bad if you haven’t achieved anything. It means you’re a lazy bum.

As an entrepreneur, I hear from a lot of source that goals should be SMART. You know . . .

Specific

Measurable

Attainable

Realistic

Timely

SMART goals are supposed to be the ones you can achieve. Like instead of, “I’m going to be President,” I say, “I’m going to send an opinionated email to my governor if I can find out what his email is . . . and also if I can find out his name.”

That makes a little more sense. And then I can pat myself on the back when I hit send on that email. There! I’ve just done democracy! Time for a cookie.

But I say most goals are overrated. At least, the way we approach them is overrated.

Living with a goal-focused frame of mind is very different from living with a practice-focused frame of mind. I guess they’re both fulfilling in their own ways. But with the practice-focused frame of mind, we have the opportunity to really focus on the moment, instead of constantly projecting ahead to the future—a wonderful day when everything will be better.

Ahh, the future . . . When we’ve finally lost the weight, and look the way we should. When we’ve finally graduated from school, and prove to others we’re smart and grown up enough to do whatever we suspect they don’t believe we can do. When we’ve finally landed the job, and prove we’re not lazy bums.

Every moment up until we achieve that goal is a journey. It’s a hard journey, with a lot of drudge work and setbacks.

Living with a practice-focused mindset is different.

In yoga, there is no goal. I’m talking about traditional yoga, not power yoga. Power yoga is the American’s yoga—fast, delivered in a sleek shiny package, and very goal-oriented. We want the yoga body without actually having to, you know, change our minds, or meditate. I mean, come on, we’re not “woo-woo” new age people. Does it really matter what we’re thinking about when we’re doing yoga?

Yes, as a matter of fact. Your mind determines your entire experience.

In traditional yoga, simply showing up to the mat is a success. Yoga is approached as a practice, and simply maintaining your practice is the goal. Having enough presence of mind to respect your body, your mind and yourself enough to try, once more, to work into a head stand.

The head stand is not the goal. The goal is that you show up and spend time with your body.

It’s the same with meditation. The “goal” is to quiet your mind, but anyone who’s ever meditated knows that when a clear mind actually happens, it’s usually a fleeting moment quickly followed by your brain crowing, “Hey, I did it! Did you see that? DID ANYONE EFFING SEE THAT? I shut up for like five seconds! Heh, I am so awesome.”

The clear mind is not the goal. Getting to know your thoughts and spending time with yourself is the goal. People who make meditation a practice are happy if they keep up their practice. It’s not dependent on whether their minds are in a constant state of zenlike bliss. (They aren’t.)

I’m a novelist. Early on in my writing days, I had to contend with the fact that I’d probably write somewhere close to 500,000 words before I was even close to ready for publication. Was publication the “goal?” Of course. But really, the goal is sitting down every day and writing. Meeting a word count. Letting my mind play and learn. It’s a practice, see. Now, the goal may still be there. But I’m happy as long as I have my practice.

Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent.

Practice is less dynamic than achievement, but its rewards go much deeper, and they’re much longer lasting.

You can make a practice of anything.

Cooking: The meal is the goal, but even if it turns out badly and you order Chinese, as long as you’ve spent time in the kitchen it’ll be worth it. Eventually, you’ll master the art of baking tilapia just right.

Building a business: Let’s say making a million is the goal. But that’s not your practice. Your practice is working with your clients, marketing, answering emails and running accounts. Eventually, that million will come. In the meantime, you’ll learn the art of running a business.

Having a practice-oriented mindset is a better idea in the long-term. Let’s say your goal is weight loss, because so many people share that goal. If you don’t reach your ideal weight in a month or two, you might get discouraged. You might switch programs or give up. Or let’s say you do reach your ideal weight, and you’re elated for a few weeks, until you slide back and gain another ten pounds. You’ll only stick with it if you really love your practice. It’s the difference between trying to force your body, and working with your body.

But what about our goals? Should we simply stop paying attention to them? Well, the thing about focusing on a practice is that, over time, the rewards we’re after naturally show up. They’re just the icing on the cake. And in the meantime, we learn a lot about the art of happiness.

***

L. Marrick is a historical fantasy writer and freelance copywriter. She waxes poetic about swords and the Renaissance Faire at her author blog. She looks all professional-like at her copywriting site. She eats too much chocolate and still doesn’t believe downward dog is supposed to be a restful yoga pose. You can connect with her at either of her websites.


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