This was the topic I was recently asked to speak about at my second visit to a local fitness center.
In thirty minutes I tried to reframe a phrase that may have had very different implications for my audience than the ones that came to me and my shiatsu-brain.
My intended point - assuming that the topic was geared toward jumping on to the New Year's resolution bandwagon - was that there might be more to this goal-setting thing to consider, other than an arbitrary date, and to encourage folks to think a little differently and compassionately about how to meet their health goals.
I first invited responses from the group to the question, "What does the phrase 'smart goals' mean to you?", followed by my own impression that 'smart' could perhaps mean 'realistic'.
'Realistic', as in, setting goals that were achievable and based on conditions that came from within a person rather than from without, and which took other influencing factors into account - five of which I've which I've outlined here:
1) A sense of ownership. Where is the goal coming from? From your doctor? From magazine covers? From Oprah? I suggested starting with a larger vision. Can you find a phrase or word to describe the quality you're seeking to experience in your life? What is the deep 'why'. An internal connection to this quality would be more effective in getting you over the setbacks on your path than the adherence to an external standard.
2) Identification of the 'payoffs'. What is the underlying story or need that arises in that crucial moment of deciding between the thing that meets your goal, and the thing that sabotages it? What are you really feeding? Can you name it and be compassionate around it, without trying to push it away or judging it (or yourself)? We often make those 'setback' kind of choices in response to an older, deeper, and perhaps unexplored story that only rears its head in a moment of challenge. If you can name it, you can tame it - perhaps appease it and even come to some mutual agreement. :)
3) Current life circumstances. Is your life supportive right now of deep challenging goals? The sad irony is that when life is at its craziest is when the need for self-care is greatest. But whilst navigating a job or a change in living situation, or when dealing with difficulty on the home front - this is not the time to set major life change goals. Not with a great degree of success anyway.
Battling a nicotine addiction, for example, requires at least some degree of support from people close to you. My own self-care epiphany arose out of this realization.
Conversely, though, waiting for one's life situation to be perfectly calm is not the answer either. In fact, being the one to take the lead in improving oneself may be the impetus for challenging personal environments to change too.
4) Questioning what the path should look like. After long years of internal battle, I've recently been willing to admit that goals and plans are not evil, and maybe self-discipline is a Good Thing. However, I will still contend that sticking to an unexamined path simply for the sake of sticking to it - particularly if it's not getting you (joyfully) to where you want to go is just silly.
Checking in often with where you're headed (see #1) and if your strategy is leading you there is more important than the particulars. If you want to incorporate more movement into your life, but you're avoiding the treadmill like the plague, maybe there's another way to move.
My ex-husband relocated our new dryer away from the washer ... downstairs...down the hall ... in the garage, mostly because it wouldn't fit upstairs. A well-meaning friend of mine compassionately keeps offering to move it upstairs, but I have to tell him that laundry day is sometimes my only opportunity to get exercise lugging wet clothes up and down the stairs. Convenience has its downfalls, ya know?
5) Your body is a natural ally. And your body - being of nature - has innate wisdom, rhythms and can be trusted to have a pretty good idea of what's appropriate for itself. Resistance to sticking to a goal-oriented path may be more a matter of natural inappropriateness, than lack of willpower. Chinese Medicine (as well as other ancient health practices, the Bible, etc) agree that there's a time and place for everything, which may or may align with our self-imposed structures, schedules and formulas.
So, what does all this mean?
Well, that our paths to a better quality of life can be more graceful, more fluid, and just easier if they arise out of an understanding of who we are, where we are, and a willingness to listen to ourselves.
Easier said than done? Maybe. But not impossible, and indeed, less stressful and much more rewarding.
Comments? Questions? Just hit the 'post comment' link at the top or drop me a line.