Goal Setting: Stretch Yourself Without Breaking
My yoga teacher said something awesome the other day: “If you push yourself to do a little more than you want to do each time, the results are amazing.”
The reason this struck a nerve with me is that I exhibit some “achiever” patterns. I wasn’t a perfect student in school, but I tried really hard to be. The same goes for work, relationships – practically everything I do. (Funny, though: despite all of this practice, I’ve never *quite* achieved perfection. It kinda bugs me.)
As an achiever, I’m constantly questioning whether I’m pushing myself hard enough in my goal setting and accomplishing. Am I setting the resistance high enough on the elliptical? Should I be going to a yoga studiorather than my gymto make more progress? Should I be meditating twice a day? Should I be setting a no-exceptions-allowed time in the morning for me to work on my own projects?
This hint from my yoga teacher gave me a flash of insight. As long as I’m doing a little more than what’s comfortable, I will make progress. There’s no need to obsess over it. This simple guideline allows me to stop tracking my progress in obsessive mental charts. It also allows me to walk away from my inner narrative, which questions whether I’ve done “enough” every time. All I have to do is use this rule of thumb—and a kind one at that—to help me make those decisions without running it through the mental washing machine.
This is perfect for me because one of the big parts of my journey in this lifetime is to learn to be kinder to myself. One of the ways I realized this was in hearing what I call the “too tight/too loose story.”
So (apparently), the Buddha met a monk who was super, super vigilant in his practice, so much that he walked in meditation until his feet bled. The monk happened to be a musician, too, so the Buddha asked him to think about the stringed instrument he played, which was a bit like a lute.
How did the lute work when the strings were too tight? the Buddha asked. How about when they’re too loose?
The monk answered that they worked best when they were somewhere in the middle, to which the Buddha replied that our practice should be just like that: not too tight and not too loose.
Believe it or not, I’m a “too tight” person. (Ha!) Four years in St. Thomas did something to loosen my strings a little, but I’m always reminding myself to dial it down a bit. (See: achiever complex above.)
“Do a little more than you want to” is a great middle road. It’s something that will support my goal setting, and yet ensure that I don’t stretch myself so far until I break.
One quick postscript to this story: before my yoga teacher shared this tidbit in class, I was actively wondering whether his class pushed me enough to reach new levels in my yoga. This insight is proof positive that you can still benefit from yoga that doesn’t challenge every last shred of physicality.