grace + gravity

On Goals

If only "grace, gravity and goals" had as nice of a ring to it as "grace + gravity" does; maybe I could work it into my new branding! 

I used to seriously resent goals and goal setting. I was the one groaning in the back of every grade school class we had to set goals in, and I hated those life management type classes where you were pressured into reciting "in five years I will have a degree and I will get there by working hard in high school" or "in ten years, I will have a husband and two kids - one boy and one girl" or "in twenty years, I will have a well-paying job, a house, car and retirement savings plan". How was I supposed to know where I would be in five years, let alone in twenty? And even though I think romantically about the idea of having two kids, what if I can't have any (let alone two), or what if I accidentally have triplets?

This isn't to say that I wasn't ambitious as a young adult, because I very much was. I worked hard for good grades, I looked forward to university, was hopeful about marriage, and swooned over the idea of starting a family in my mid-twenties. I think I was just trying to leave room for myself to be realistic - to consider that maybe along the way, another path or door might present itself. One that might promise even more fun, opportunity and prideful accomplishment than what I had originally set my heart on. And I know now, after some seriously hard lessons, that that is a-okay!! 

So, why a post on goals, if I don't like goals?

Because I've smashed some really huge ones lately. 

There is something about achieving something that at some point in your life, you never thought would be yours to achieve -- it is EXHILARATING. And even if it may seem insignificant to others, it is a podium gold to you. 

Some back story, and a very recent goal smashing:

I never thought I'd "run" in my life. Those 20-minute weekly cardio run tests in grade school? I failed them every week. Only once did I barely-faster-than-walk jog one, but I never did recreate it, and it wasn't what I remember as a particularly prideful event. More often than not, my memories of gym class are much more focused around the sheer panic of blacking-out while playing ultimate frisbee or soccer. 

In junior high school I was diagnosed with exercise induced asthma, but I never found a successful strategy or method to manage it. So, I pretty much wrote off all cardio or endurance related sports and activities. I shied away from most sports in general. I couldn't run the length of a city block without my lungs seizing in sharp pain, and feeling like I would pass out. Worse, I would suffer for days after.

When I discovered my passion for exploring the outdoors, my lack of cardio stamina quickly became a huge and embarrassing hurdle. I wanted to go more places, see more things, adventure further and explore deeper, but my lungs could only take me so far. That's when my ambition eclipsed my physical ability. I frequently had to stop on trails to let other hikers pass, saying (between breaths) "don't mind me, my ambition is just so much bigger than my lung capacity!" I wheezed, trying to catch my breath and shake off the pain. It makes me emotional now to think that the outdoors taught me everything I know now about pushing through the hard stuff to find out what you're really made of in life. I have every panoramic mountain view, epic waterfall and alpine wildflower meadow to thank for showing me the value of truly persevering.

Ten, heck even five years ago, there's no way you'd find me in a gym by my own volition. Even just this past April in an interview for Eryn's Living Open podcast, I said you couldn't catch me dead pushing my goals on a treadmill. But I will climb literal mountains for a good waterfall. And now? I'm smashing goals I never thought I had... on treadmills! So I can get to more waterfalls!!

During the off-season (which, in Canada means winter), I started working out with a personal trainer on general fitness and endurance, trying to learn the basics so I could stay in shape for more hiking. I worked with him for about five months in late 2016, and then I set off on my own gym journey. I've been shattering personal records the whole way.

Back in November of 2017, I ran my first 20 minutes! It seemed to come out of nowhere, and I was SO THRILLED and so gobsmacked that I had it in me. For the first time in my life, I ran twenty consecutive minutes! Then, to my own surprise, a mere few days later, I ran my first 30 minutes!! I actually cried (on the treadmill), I was so excited. I never thought that I'd be capable of something like that in my life.

Yesterday (in February of 2018), I ran my first 40 minutes, which happens to also be my first 5 km run (and actually a little over, at 5.2 km). Words can't describe how proud I am, and how dumbfounded I am at my own progress. And the sensation!! Oh my goodness. Ten minutes later, I was chomping at the bit, thinking "I feel so great, I want to do it again!!" What a high! If you remember what I said before - running one city block used to put me out for days. My recovery has improved so significantly, and my experience has excelled in positivity; now I want to do these things twice in one day because I feel... GOOD?!

Sometimes, goals just take the fun out of things.

I'm sorry avid goal-setters, but they just do! They take the surprise out of things. Modern day, common goals - they build walls, they set parameters, and they blind you from opportunity. I didn't get on the treadmill yesterday thinking "okay, here we go - today is the day I break my 30-minute run record!" Instead, I got on the treadmill thinking "oh, this is going to feel so great", and then I listened to what was making me feel great. No parameters, no measurements, no goals. Just a feeling that I was doing something that I knew would make me feel great.

My ultimate goal pro-tip.

Okay, so, I admit that goals are still good - they allow us to mark achievements, they set us up to be productive, and sometimes they truly do get us to where we want or need to go. So, my best advice for goal setting? You have to learn to let the achievement of your goal be reward enough. What do I mean by this? I mean that the outcome of your goal must be what you truly want! 

Let's look at a weight loss goal as an example: "I want to lose 20 lbs". Ask - why? What do you get out of it? Do you just want to lose 20 lbs because... you want to lose 20 lbs? What else is at play, here? Do you want to feel better in your skin? Do you want to feel fitter, lighter or be more active? Do you have to fit into a dress or a pair of jeans for a special occasion? Losing 20 lbs is not really the most productive goal, and let's be honest - it's never really what you want. The key is to start seeing your goals for what they really are. The outcome should be your ultimate goal.

I used to reward myself for achieving things in my life, most frequently with edible "treats". I nailed that presentation - going out for drinks! I finally submitted a response to that request for proposal - going to rest on the couch and order pizza!! I went to the gym three times in one week - totally justifies pigging out at girls night! I wasn't allowing the actual achievement of my goals to be my reward; I was using my achievement as an excuse to have something else. It's no wonder I wasn't feeling proud, or that I was feeling less and less motivated to work towards those kinds of goals anymore; I wasn't appreciating the true success I had achieved. 

I've had some pretty heavy experiences in the last year that have left me feeling like... well, I should be a lot happier about what I've achieved. I've really struggled with my career in particular. For longer than a decade, I had set out to become an interior designer. I tailored my high school course schedule around it, I chose a university early, I applied twice, achieved excellent grades, got my degree, and landed a couple of really great jobs. And then one day it hit me - sure, I got a piece of paper that declares me a graduate of interior design, and I've added some highly reputable names to my resume and references - but what have I truly achieved? Does that piece of paper give me what I hoped for? What had I hoped for? Now what? 

Now, my reward for being active five days in a week is being able to say, proudly, that I went to the gym/hiking five times in one week, AND it makes me feel great. Going home and eating pizza or jumping into the tub with a bottle of red wine - those things were never the reward I was after. If they were what I really wanted, I didn't have to go to the gym or work over time to get them. Seeing those things as rewards instead of acknowledging what I was actually accomplishing was building a pattern of excuse making. When it came to personal fitness, it was also self-perpetuating and a form of self-sabotage. If I rewarded my physical activity by going out for drinks or pigging out on a meal, I was actually completely negating the very thing that I had worked so hard for.

Looking at my goals in this light really changed my perspective. Nowadays, I'm not sure how much "being active five times a week" is even a goal; I'm pretty sure my only goal is a lot more simple: to feel great. Being active is a means to achieve that, and the achievement - not of going to the gym or getting out for a 16 km hike - is that charged up feeling of pride when I realize what I've accomplished by getting to that state of mind. Practicing the piano so that I can play an entire song from start to finish - the completion of the song is a means to realizing that my dedication to a single thing pays off, and that feels great. I don't need any other kind of reward when my achievements truly are what I set out to find. I know I've achieved what I set out for when I can stand in front of a mirror, truly seeing myself, and think "damn, am I ever proud of you!" I don't need a bottle of wine or a night out to tell me that. I no longer need a reward, because I get my high off of my true success.

So, I'd like to challenge all of you.

Really get after the intentions behind the goals you are setting for yourself in this bright new year. What are you really after? What do you really want to achieve? Is it really the number you see on the scale? If it is, then let the number be your reward and work hard to get there. If you're unhappy in the process, is achieving that number really the thing that you wanted? Is it really a business proposal that you need to accomplish, or do you just need an excuse to order pizza again? Be honest with yourself!

Lately, I've become a huge advocate of telling the people around me "if you want -xyz- badly enough, if you truly need something, you'll figure out how to get it", and I whole-heartedly believe it. You just have to take the time, listen to yourself, and get to the bottom of the things you really need. If you're having a hard time achieving what you want - do you really want it badly enough? Are you doing the right things to get there? 

Here's a hint: you are capable of a whole heck of a lot more than you think you are when you are on the path towards what you truly need. Me? I just want to feel great, and to keep having those "damn, I'm proud of you!" moments when I look in the mirror and see the sparkle in my own eyes. Sometimes that means doing hard, scary things, and sometimes it means doing things you never thought were possible - like running five kilometres.

Photos are my own. Please do not reproduce without my written permission.

First: Burstall Pass in Kananaskis, 2016


Coming soon; please hang tight for all the sweaty, dirty and exploratory details!

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