How much time do you think you spend in life working towards some goal? Whether it’s working towards education, career related goals, relationship goals, personal development or fitness goals, much of our focus especially in modern society seems to be about achievement.
I’m not here to bash on achievement, because I think the human spirit is naturally pulled towards expansion in a really beautiful way. However when our push towards goals starts to mirror the mechanical, that’s when we start to have problems.
I’m also not here to bash on machines – after all we did create them – but since the Industrial Revolution and the massive expansion of capitalism, performance and achievement in all ways has morphed into this obsession with measurable outcomes and deadlined achievement.
God I feel tired just typing this out! I could argue that even one’s fitness or image related goals are based in messaging from capitalist markets selling you a lifestyle – and so you start measuring, planning, plotting and methodically trying to reach that goal.
Ok, I am actually in the business of behavior and lifestyle changes but what I teach is kind of paradoxically a practice of the opposite (it’s also research based to be more effective). Mindfulness practice softens everything. Mindfulness practice meets us where we are in our humanity (not our machine-like-ness). Is it important to have goals and desires and improvements? 1,000% However it’s HOW we go about it that counts.
Everything in the natural world has cycles. Your cells are constantly changing, dying, regenerating. Seasons shift, lifecycles come and go. Nothing is meant to hold a consistent state long term. We ebb and flow with our energy levels, emotional experiences – we are dynamic and ever changing. So efforts to be rigidly consistent with something are bound to be met with problems. Your internal state is going to bump up against that rigidity and cause problems.
“So Katy are you saying I should never do anything I don’t feel like doing and just go with the flow of everything?” Of course not. We have to hold ourselves accountable. We have to get up and do things we don’t always want to or feel like doing, or we might get discouraged at the slow rate of progress we make.
The key is to be gentle with yourself in this process and use your mindfulness practice to carefully take note of what your mind and body are truly needing. This takes practice to really notice if you truly need rest or if you are engaged in avoidance.
In the field of behavioral health and addiction there is something called ‘harm reduction’ which is based on the idea of normalizing falling off track with things. We all fall out of habit, it’s 100% guaranteed and normal, and knowing how to do this skillfully is where your power lies. When we judge falling out of habit as ‘bad’, ‘weakness’ or a ‘huge failure’ we spiral into discouragement, hopelessness and giving up. It’s then 10x harder to get back on track. We postpone getting back on track because we think, ‘OH well, I’ve fallen off so I might as well just stay off.’
The alternative to this is to just say ‘no big deal’ when you don’t meet a goal or fall out of habit. ‘OK, I missed a day or I fell back into old routines.’ Practice Lovingkindness (a mindfulness skill), compassion and gentleness with yourself. This acts as a lubrication to much more easily hop right back onto track the next day or at the next opportunity.
Mindfulness practice helps us stay fully aware of whether we have fallen off track & how long we have been off track, which then helps us take action to re-align with our goals. Without mindfulness we are in auto-pilot and can’t even be fully (non-reactively) aware of the fact that we’ve slipped out of routine or that we have a goal we want to achieve.
In the first way you hold yourself rigidly to a routine or goal for as long as you can, and then you fall off the routine at some point and get stuck off the routine for even longer before bothering to restart because you’re so discouraged.
In the second way, you allow yourself to fall in and out of routine gently. Skimming across the water like a skipping stone and going much further. You don’t bother beating yourself up or berating yourself. And you also know better than to whip yourself into machine like performance that only damages your health and emotional wellness (and then snowballs into relationship and work performance problems as well).
So remember, you are organic matter. You are life. You are fluid. Allow yourself cycles, and hold yourself accountable. The practice of ‘The Middle Path’ as Buddhism teaches for finding balance (also a practice of dialectics) is to be consistently inconsistent.
I promise, you’ll go much further and the process will be much more easeful. What have your experiences been with holding consistency and goal achievement? I’d love to hear your comments below!