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Ongoing Practice > Goals

January 2, 2019

 

The Goal is the Path and the Path is the Goal

 

Earlier this week I wrote about the power and freedom that comes with shifting from goals to practice:

I'd encourage you to think less of goals and resolutions and more in terms of practice. What are your core values? What specific practices work in service of them? How can you create an environment in which it becomes natural to regularly practice these values? How can you bring them to everything you do? Whom might you enlist to walk the path with you? What will you do when you fail? Can you show discipline and compassion toward yourself at the same time?

This is a topic I've been thinking about a lot lately. The whole piece is
here.

Something else that is important: Remember is that you are going to fail and relapse and move back nearly as often as you move forward on your path. That's fine. I love this quote from a Japanese Zen teacher: "The way practice works is that we build up our practice, then it falls apart. And then we build it up again, and it falls apart again. This is the way it goes."

Surround yourself with a strong community and also with a combination of self-discipline and self-compassion. The more space you create for your practice to unfold the better.

 

Coaching Corner: The Problem with Goals

 

I've grown to dislike goals.

I grew up with them plastered on my bedroom wall, written in my school notebooks, and front and center on my bathroom mirror. Growing up a runner, it was easy to come up with a concrete goal (e.g., the time I want to run in the mile), so the process came naturally. Over time, they stopped becoming guideposts propelling me forward, but instead signs of constraint, holding me back. Goals trapped me onto a path, minimizing any deviation from it because then I'd "fail." Over time, I realized that by setting goals I was really defining my success/failure point. A place for judgment.

Over time, I've realized how poor I am at predicting the future, which is essentially what goal setting is. Some years I wouldn't improve my mile time at all, others I'd drop 16 seconds. Some years I'd set out to write about a particular topic, and then a more interesting project would surface. Life is really difficult to predict. What path I'm going to take is really difficult to predict.

Falling in love with the process has become cliche advice in the self-help world, but when it comes to goal setting it holds true. Instead of listing out what I want to accomplish or what behaviors I want to change with my New Year's' resolutions, I do two things:

1. Reflect on where I was at the beginning of the year and where I ended up.
2. Prioritize interests to explore.

Reflection is part of the growth process we often ignore. We assume that we know how we've changed and developed, but our faulty memories don't function as well as we'd like to think they do. At the end of every year, I sit down with my notebook and reflect on what I've learned, what I thought was important, and where my creative practices took me. This shows the path I've taken.

From here, the next step is simple. I list out things that I want to explore. There are no time constraints, no benchmarks, no checking off completed tasks; just projects and ideas that intrigue me. The flexibility is crucial. It allows me to abandon a project or switch to something else entirely. To give an example, when writing my first book, The
Science of Running, I stepped away from it for almost 9 months, letting it rest as I explored other items.

This is my process. It's not magic. It's not a hack. It's what tends to work for me in the present moment. After a decade of goal setting, I came to realize that I don't need the motivation of goals to get things done. I'm naturally a 'pusher.' As you venture into the new year, find a process that works for you.

 

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