Rant 62 January 2012: Goooooaaalllls!!

December 26th, 2011  |  Published in 2012 rants, Rants  |  22 Comments

Oh, goals. How we love them in Western culture.

“Meet your goals in 2012,” says the advertising for a nearby gym.

“Let us help you reach your goals,” says another.

We all have goals, or should. Right? Goals are Very Important. Especially when it comes to fitness and nutrition.

And, so the popular logic goes, our goals should be SMART goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-limited

We should whip out the Gantt charts and plan our lives like it’s Mission Impossible. Then we will be On Top Of Things. Then there will be peace on earth and good will to all, for we will have arrived.

I recently read David Allen’s Getting Things Done. It’s a psalm for productivity. I flipped through GTD like people visit holy sites: with the panting hope that this – this formula, this system, this relic — would be the secret. That after I consumed this revered book, my inbox would be like unto a Zen garden and my mind would somehow be both a placid lake and a bubbling rapid of productivity.

Now, I’ve long been a fan of throwing things out. Try it. It feels delicious. Scary at first. But then… oh, so very, very yummy.

So high-fives to Allen for empowering us all to whip out the Glad Bags O’Justice on our lives. If we get nothing done out of Getting Things Done beyond mashing our hoarders’ nests into a pile and lighting the whole fucking thing on fire along with our teenage insecurities and adult pettiness, that would be quite enough.

I also love Allen’s idea of regular self-reviews, which I’ve done for a long time. At Precision Nutrition we are fond of asking the inconvenient question How’s that workin’ for ya?

In other words, look back on what you’re doing. Is it really working… or not? Really? Hey, no big deal if it isn’t. Just change it. Whatever the answer, the important part is that you know. And you can’t know unless you’re brave enough to look. Which few people do.

Especially not regularly. Think how much better your life would be if — instead of a frenzied, shamed, annual ritual of “resolution” — you simply allocated 5 minutes a day for a calm, compassionate, clear-eyed appraisal of your thoughts, feelings, and actions. An appraisal directed at intelligent problem solving, building awareness, or insightful reflection, not tiresome self-criticism or brain-hamster rumination.

Try this now. Whip out a piece of paper and set a timer. Spend 5 minutes just observing and reflecting.

  • What did you do today? What did you think today? What did you feel today?
  • Which choices were good? Why?
  • Which choices didn’t work for you? Why not?
  • What would you change?
  • How would you go about changing that, starting now?
  • Can you really change whatever it is you want to change? Is that the most important, most intelligent place to put your energy?
  • What are your patterns? Where do you get “stuck” or where do you “latch on”?
  • What are your routines? Do those work for you? Could you do more of what works?
  • As you do this review, how is your breathing? Are you clenching your jaw? What’s happening in your body while you contemplate?

Doesn’t matter if you don’t do anything with this stuff right now. Just tune in. Give yourself your undivided attention for 5 minutes. Trust me, you have time. In fact, this may be one of the most important things you do all day.

Then, why not throw something out? Even if it’s a snotty Kleenex? Get in the habit of throwing things away. Trust me, it’s diviiiine. Today, Kleenex. Tomorrow, the piece of crap that hangs over you like a nagging sword of Damocles, reminding you that you never finished high school Latin or that you still haven’t read that National Geographic from 2003.

Back to GTD. To be brutally honest, Allen lost me around the time he proposed having seven project categories. Suddenly, this system that was supposed to simplify my life was looking awful lot like a Baroque alchemist’s bulbously elaborate horoscope of mental disorder.

Nowhere was Do Less proposed. No, the goal was to Do More… just with labels and file folders for everything. Contemplating this dystopian future, I felt my eyes go as glassy as a stuffed marmot’s.

I refocused my suddenly-softened retinas and soldiered bravely onward. I composed lists of Next Actions.

I spent the next few days in a frenzied haze of Doing Things. My tickybox-checking burned holes in my post-it stack. I plowed through Next Actions with the singular intent of a silverback gorilla on crystal meth.

At the end of those days, I had, indeed, Gotten Things Done. The idea of Next Actions is, in theory, a good one: You simply break larger projects down into smaller, more manageable steps. One thing at a time. I dig that approach real good. In fact, it’s the basis for the Lean Eating coaching program I designed.

But after improving my productivity by Doing piles of Things I didn’t feel any better. I felt worse. I felt breathless, hurried, and paranoid.

I reviewed Next Actions constantly, vibrating on red alert and poised for execution. My world became a series of Next Actions awaiting attention. Shrinking my stride while sprinting sped up the footfalls of my Next Actions. If I skipped lunch I could knock off three steps. Besides, lunch wasn’t in the project list, and adrenaline is the perfect GTD fuel anyway.

I ended the week exhausted and panic-attacked, driven to hyperventilating hysteria by my Next Action list that bristled with three minute to-dos. When I had a full-tilt ribcage-crushing weep session after accidentally spilling tea on myself (to be fair, the tea was really fucking hot and I was wearing a sweater that nicely insulated said liquid’s blistering wrath against the delicate epithelium of my chest before I could untangle my sleeves enough to rip the woolen napalm off myself), I knew it might be time to re-think my new approach.

What the fuck? When did we all become so obsessed with producing stuff? Do I really want to be able to make more stuff, faster? I thought I left that shit behind in academia when I got off the Publication Purgatory treadmill.

Over at Zen Habits, Joshua Fields Millburn’s written a very lucid piece on 100 Days Without Goals. It feels almost naughty even reading it, doesn’t it? That slackass! Where’s his 5-year plan?

News flash: The universe doesn’t give a flying fuck about your plans. You can either kick and scream against this reality, raging against the dying of your mathematically structured light, or you can get real, review the available evidence from your own experience, and accept that life is a change sandwich between two slices of chaos.

Rushing through a manic haze of Doing Things doesn’t solve two fundamental problems:

Problem 1: Too often we are passengers in the speeding train of our own lives, ripping towards an imaginary destination (“arriving”, “losing 10 lb”, “winning the lottery”, “finally being happy”, etc.) with the blinds pulled down.

We aren’t paying attention. We rarely even peek out of the windows to watch the blurred scenery whip past as we hurtle to our inevitable demise. We are simply hanging on for dear life, with faint nausea and our eyes shut.

Problem 2: We don’t know what we really want. (Or we’ve lost touch with it.) Our daily actions don’t reflect our deepest values, principles, and priorities. Quick: What’s most important to you in life? Write it down:

  1. What’s most important to me is: _________.
  2. I live for: _________.
  3. It’s essential to me that I: _________.
  4. In an ideal world, I’d never go to bed without: _________.
  5. What brings me joy is: _________.
  6. I feel inspired and excited, and immersed in what I’m doing, when I: _________.

You get the idea. Digest for a while. In an ideal world, if you were to receive the Mensch Award, what would it be for?

So think about this instead. Rather than what to get done, think about why and how to get it done… and how you can be there for the entire process.

Why are you getting things done in the first place?

But of course, it’s January so you want me to talk about goals, right? Here’s what I suggest.

Set Be-Here-Now Goals rather than Someday Goals.

Someday Goals are externally imposed goals that focus on following rules or expectations. Someday Goals are punitive and dour, focused on enduring (or better yet, numbing out) misery while you wait for an imaginary utopia. Someday Goals keep you living in the near future. Someday Goals often involve outcomes or “If-then” statements, such as “If I am good then I can ‘cheat’…” or “If I work out then I can have…”

Be-Here-Now Goals respond to what is, right now, here. They are calibrated by your internal environment while you twiddle the knobs of honesty and deep compassion for yourself. Be-Here-Now keep you living in the present. Be-Here-Now Goals involve words like “mindful” and “feel” and “choose” and “accept” and “allow”.

Be-Here-Now Goals often involve turning towards unpleasant things to fully experience them, while Someday Goals often involve temporary anesthesia so you can get through to the next checkpoint.

Be-Here-Now Goals are about living and experiencing. Living and experiencing your values, your priorities, your full range of experiences and sensations, and your daily life, no matter how banal. Be-Here-Now Goals are like the way a little kid navigates the world: looking, smelling, touching, tasting, manipulating, playing, picking things up and inspecting them, licking them, throwing them to test their weight.

Frinstance:

Be-Here-Now Goal Someday Goal / Task
  • Savour each bite of food, slowly.
  • Notice and observe tastes and textures.
  • Be present in my body, just for now. Accept whatever sensations are there.
  • Feel hungry if I’m hungry, and know that I will be OK.
  • Feel every drop of sweat during a tough workout and know that I earned each one.
  • Allow my discomfort to be present but choose to continue anyway.
  • Walk into the gym with my head held high, feeling a bit awkward but proud in my right to be there.
  • Choose mindfully what I want to do, in this moment.
  • Be OK with doing less. And knowing that that’s enough.
  • Forget about all the complex crap and just lift a damn weight. Feel that weight through every inch of its trajectory. Treat movement like a way to know myself.
  • Look at my body and self in its totality and love the shit out of each lump and bump, as-is, right now. (And if I change it later, fine. We’ll worry about that whenever it happens.)
  • If that’s too much, love my elbow. Over time, I’ll add something else I can love.
  • Flow with change.
  • Drink lots of water first so I don’t feel hungry.
  • Burn 800 calories during this workout so I can have the brownie.
  • Lose 25 lb for my wedding.
  • Be really “good” today (or be really “good” tomorrow because I was really “bad” today).
  • Lose weight before I go to the gym/beach so I don’t feel like a doofus.
  • Buy a new outfit when I finally get that 6-pack of abs.
  • Add more tasks, more elaborate systems, more complex routines. If I can do Crossfit/5×5/Hypertrophy-Specific-Training/SuperSlow/Pilates on a ball/a 7-3-7-2 rep speed, then it will work.
  • Eventually accept myself. Eventually love myself. Eventually be OK with myself.
  • Force change. (But end up in frustrated hamster-wheel loops.)

I’m not arguing you have to spend all waking hours in a state of Memento-esque amnesia, unaware of past or future. Some Someday Goals are great.

Frinstance, “Climb a mountain” is cool. Just break it into a Be-Here-Now Goal of “One step at a time, with full attention” instead of zoning out during your climb, daydreaming of Everest. Then, each single step will be a small joy. (Or painful. But at least you’ll remember each step.)

Be willing to accept the presence of the full range of human experience, right now. You don’t have to love it. Just be there with it. In this moment. Now.

And hey… why not do less in 2012?

Take things off your plate instead of adding them. (Unless you’re a chronic under-achiever. Then try adding something new to your plate while accepting the inevitable presence of mild discomfort that change brings. Your Be-Here-Now goal is simply to experience and be present with this discomfort. The end result is largely irrelevant compared to the victory of expanding your change tolerance.)

Seek contentment and presence, rather than “achievement” and “outcomes”. Have more unstructured, “empty” moments that allow creativity, synthesis, play, and “flow” to flourish.

Occasionally, seek getting nothing done… and simply experience your life in this rare moment of pause and silence.

Now that’s a goal I can get behind this year.

Responses

  1. Traci Peterson says:

    December 26th, 2011at 9:50 am(#)

    I am in lust with doing LESS this year… With finding my minimum and sticking with it most of the time.

  2. jen says:

    December 26th, 2011at 10:07 am(#)

    I totally agree with throwing stuff out. So far this holiday I’ve culled 3 bags of books and 3 bags of clothes.

    We also went for a cycle ride yesterday, just for fun, not because I’m training for anything, or trying to lose weight…

    Refreshing!

  3. Roland says:

    December 26th, 2011at 1:27 pm(#)

    You pretty much always write about my thoughts just as I have them Krista. Now could you do me a favor and let me know a few minutes before I do stupid shit?

    I’ve thrown out a bazzillion goals these past three weeks. Ironically it is GTD that helped me to do so.

    Similar if one weighed oneself everyday, it can cause stress galore right! Unhealthy mindset, unhealthy choices. Throw out the scale right?

    Is it really the scale? Or is the scale revealing deeper issues? GTD revealed the shit I needed to let go of.

    When we are indeed working on what matters it is really nice to have list of action steps that I WANT to do while online, or while making calls, etc. I don’t want to think more, or track more in my brain, I want to dump all that and know that I’m doing everything I WANT to do to achieve my real goals.

    Imagine eight appointments this month. Imagine trying to remember them, tracking them in your brain. Now that is stressful. Thank God I have a calendar that I trust. It can track them. Same with GTD action lists. The list has it, I don’t need to worry about it. All I need to do is decide what is worth doing.

  4. Roland says:

    December 27th, 2011at 11:15 am(#)

    BTW, on my third read I am still learning. What a beautiful piece.

  5. Katey says:

    December 27th, 2011at 11:41 am(#)

    Krista,

    After 30-something years of having my New Years thoughts filled with all the big things to improve upon in the coming year, with losing lots of weight being at the top of the list…last December I found myself a bit lost without that seemingly forever goal. If I no longer had that number one goal…what was I to focus on in the new year?

    After much thought, I arrived at pretty much what you list here. A goal of living in the moment and not letting life pass me by as I strove for the next big thing…or even a bunch of measurable little things.

    It’s December again…and I can say with certainty this has been the happiest, most content year I’ve had in a while…even though it’s being completed wirhout a big pile of listed accomplishments.

    Instead I have a wonderful sense of peace…which came not from losing tons of weight, but from what you say above. Living in the moment and going with whatever life gives me in that moment.

    Thanks putting this out there :)

  6. Leo S says:

    December 28th, 2011at 7:16 am(#)

    that’s excellent!

  7. Anna McConnell says:

    December 29th, 2011at 8:37 am(#)

    Many great suggestions for getting off the wrong track and refocusing. I loved the suggestion of taking things off your plate instead of adding them. Then try adding something new to your plate while accepting the inevitable presence of mild discomfort that change brings. The idea of a ” Be-Here-Now” goal is refreshing. How many of us really simply experience our daily activities without a presence of discomfort. Our society provides many vehicles to be more comfortable.
    Everyone should copy the fine points of this article and hang them up on your mirror.
    Stay positive and be your own best friend…always
    Anna

  8. BethK says:

    December 31st, 2011at 12:57 am(#)

    Nice. I’m a very goal/plan-oriented person, and honestly feel a little weird if I don’t have a goal or plan, even if it’s planning to go to the grocery store, so this is good medicine. :)

  9. Trishy says:

    December 31st, 2011at 9:19 am(#)

    This is fantastic. I have worked hard at not feeling like I have to be accomplishing something all the time … it’s perfectly okay to just sit and enjoy, and not only on vacation. It is always good to hear a reminder like this :)

  10. Carol says:

    January 1st, 2012at 11:22 pm(#)

    Hi Krista,

    Please if you can choose to make time, post more often. I find you inspiring, and find that I need inspiration, speaking honestly.

    Happy New Year and years to all of us, and thanks for your blogs, they help inspire me.

  11. Mistress Krista says:

    January 2nd, 2012at 10:02 am(#)

    @Carol — I guess “post more” should be MY New Year’s Resolution eh? :)

  12. leah says:

    January 2nd, 2012at 8:57 pm(#)

    Can someone give this mistress an A-MEN.

    Punch The Sky, woman. You should get together with Oprah and fuck some shit right up.

    Most excellent excellent post. I am just jumping on the couch over here reading this.
    Once again – you are ten steps ahead of the pack – and right in our midst – all at the same time.

    Your humility in leadership is rock solid. Shit damn.

    Happy New Year indeed.

  13. Carol says:

    January 2nd, 2012at 10:43 pm(#)

    Hi Krista, and “ha” to you. As I believe you know, my comment was meant just as a request, not a requirement! Best to you, Krista, always

  14. Jenni says:

    January 6th, 2012at 4:44 am(#)

    Hi

    Just read this and it reminds me of the book ‘When Happiness is Not Enough’ which is really all about the balance between achievement and pleasure. Most of us are too focused on one or the other. I did not realise that I was too achievement focused (even though I’m retired) and now try to do more things just for the pleasure, and it has made a huge difference to me – I feel much better.

  15. Esther says:

    January 6th, 2012at 6:24 am(#)

    This is lovely. Deep and inspirational. Thank you for this Krista.

    You know, as a 15 year old girl I was pretty intuitive. I didn’t think about it as such, but I used to take a walk every day and reflect/tune in to my day’s feelings, choices, motivations. It strengthened my life – but I somehow got ‘too busy’ as I got older. Actually, not too busy – too emotionally lazy really. I’m going back to that.

    Letting go of my frenetic anxiety driven goals are where I’m at.

    One of my deepest desires if I sit and get rid of all the other ‘million goals’ I put on myself (stupid shit really) – is to REALLY know my kids – and for them to know that I know them, have TIME to know them. I gotta let go of my ‘I will be super-woman’ goals or I’ll just keep rushing them to finish their sentences and ‘get to the point’ (um they’re 2 and 4….) I’m not sure what the date is today, but NOW is when that starts.

    In the process, I want to find what its like to find creativity again; to find depth of thought again; to be excited by thoughts of possible achievements – but only because of the part of it I can hold today.

    Thanks for beautiful inspiration Krista. May your day be joyful and lovely.

  16. Esther says:

    January 6th, 2012at 6:28 am(#)

    Having said that, doesn’t mean I don’t still have places I want to go that are important to me – physically, geographically, mentally – things I want to improve – but I’m not waiting till they’re done to be happy.

    I want to be leaner, stronger, faster, fitter. I want to make my brain work faster, more creatively. I want to know more stuff; read more books; renovate more houses; play guitar better; sing better. Heaps of stuff. But not frenetically anymore. Enjoying the process is where its at – and I think ultimately that makes for more direct progress anyway – less burn out, more direct journeying………..

  17. Ingrid says:

    January 9th, 2012at 12:13 am(#)

    Thank you Krista! Mindfulness it is then…

    I went to a leadership seminar in October which focussed a lot on this. I learned a simple exercise that helps you focus on the here and now, which, at the same time, reduces anxiety and the manic haze experience you describe so wonderfully. I have used it regularly since then, and agree that mindfulness really is the thing… You just need to remind yourself of it very now and then!

  18. Jenn says:

    January 12th, 2012at 12:02 am(#)

    This is a good post. I wrote about my New Year’s resolutions and the moment I hit publish I knew it had some bullshit in it. I’m not sure how much I really care about those 5 holiday pounds. On a more authentic note, I moved into an RV a few months ago to travel the country for a year and with the move I got rid of an obscene amount of stuff. We also said to heck with schedules. The freedom I feel is almost scary after being trapped by my schedule and stuff.

  19. Patrick says:

    April 11th, 2012at 9:52 am(#)

    FUCK YEAH, MINDFULNESS. Also, brilliant take on GTD.

  20. Jameal says:

    June 19th, 2012at 9:43 am(#)

    Loved this article. Thank you so much for sharing!

  21. Richard says:

    July 23rd, 2012at 12:55 pm(#)

    I know this is an older post, but as I am now catching up, I thought I would share:
    http://zenhabits.net

    a great blog, and there is a book out there from the same author on Zen to Done. his take on GTD – but simplified.
    I recommend both, the site, and the book.
    Keep up the great site, I recommend it to anyone who will listen.
    Thank you.

  22. Julia says:

    August 30th, 2012at 5:52 pm(#)

    Thank you, as always.


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