Why I Started Rocking At Life When I Stopped Setting Goals
Uh-oh. It’s a new year. A new year, with all of its bright, shining potential. We've all been bombarded with advice about resolutions, fresh starts, and how to make things achievable. Most gurus recommend goal-setting as an important part of making changes that stick.
I, for one, have some of the same goals that so many others do: getting into better shape, restoring good habits which have waned, and checking new things off of my aging bucket-list. I lost my dad this past summer after a few years of his illness, and the love and support (read: ham and cookie baskets) which my family received began a long downslide for me.
It was the fall and winter of gluttony, sloth, and laziness. Plus cocktails. While there is a time to mourn, there is also a time to dance. Kevin Bacon said so in the original Footloose, and I believe him.
So, like many, I approached this new year as an opportunity to set and achieve all sorts of goals. I’ve gained weight, taken a weeks-long break from yoga, the freezing cold temperatures have prevented me from outdoor walks, and finally finishing college took up my creative writing time. I set out my lined paper and pen and planner and began to formulate the hard-lined goals for success: dietary restrictions…yoga class times…scheduled writing commitments.
But part of planning the year ahead successfully is looking at the years gone by reflectively. What had I accomplished in 2013? For that matter, what have I accomplished since I last made actual, written down new-year’s resolutions? That’s been a few years.
Well, I graduated from college at age 44 with top honors. I did Stand-Up Paddleboard yoga on a little lake, then a Great Lake, and then the Gulf of Mexico (that one with my best friend of 30 years). I learned to stand on my head. I forged a few really valuable new friendships. A website published my essay. I “took up” tennis. I tried vegetarianism. I volunteered at an animal shelter. I went to church more. I wrote to a person in prison. I bonded with my mom and sisters.
The past few years have been the richest in my life, and today I realized that I made all of that progress without goals. Shhh, don’t tell the goal-oriented people that! Being goal-oriented leads to success—all the job descriptions say so. I’m not going to refute that logic, but I made the greatest progress in my own life when I specifically did not set goals.
And it all started with yoga.
I did not start yoga because I was interested in weight loss, strength, exercise, socialization, or self-improvement. I began yoga to help me relax for an hour from anxiety, because both of my parents had health issues at that time. I went in to each yoga class with zero expectations for myself as far as poses, not caring what I could or could not do, not watching what anyone else could or could not do. It just felt good to be there, to stretch, to hear humble positive words. It was only in hindsight that I could see that yoga made me lose weight.
Yoga gave me physical strength. Yoga gave me the confidence to have the courage to even try to stand on my head, or get out on a body of water on a paddleboard. (I am not a swimmer.) It made me more mindful of my eating, my friendships, my possessions, my thoughts. It gave me an hour’s escape and a day’s worth of peace. I learned patience and appreciation for transition, enabling me to process the ending of my dad’s life. Yoga introduced me to new ideas, new people, and through those, ample fodder for creative writing. I talk, write about, and attempt to share yoga all the time.
But it's time for me to walk the talk and listen to what I say. I can’t go into yoga in 2014 to lose pounds, gain arm definition, or train for the next athletic endeavor or writing project. All that I have been taught by yoga and my mentor, Jane, is that yoga will find in each of us what we need, and help us to fill it ourselves. Yoga can tell us, we don’t need to tell it. That’s how we take yoga off the mat and into the world; not by setting the path, but by following it.