Traditional goal setting often doesn’t work. The mindfulness you learn from yoga can help.

We begin with the best intentions, whether our goal is to lose 10lbs, run a marathon or work out five times a week. Recent research has emphasized creating SMART goals: goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

However, even these goals have a high failure rate. The statistics are dreary, with 80% of us not achieving our new year’s resolutions. What are we doing wrong? 

When we create goals focused on a singular outcome, they by their very nature set us up for failure. These outcome-focused goals can trigger resistance and frustration because we are constantly fighting against learned behaviours, old habits and prior experiences that create “negative chatter” in our minds. Instead of persevering when we miss the mark, we give up.

Adopt a yoga mindset

When we adopt the yoga mindset off the mat, we immediately shift our focus to the present, paying attention to how our body feels in the moment, instead of continually pushing for an end goal. Physical prowess may be a large part of the result, but the perseverance needed to accomplish it is 90% mental.

Yoga begins by simply checking in with our body and mind. Take a listen: Focus on how the body feels—today. Over time we can train our attunement so that throughout our practice, the focus is no longer on achieving the poses, but on the feeling we get from moving into them.

It begins with our breath, paying attention to the constant rhythm and flow of inhaling and exhaling. This slight shift in attention will minimize outward stimuli and create a sense of calm, allowing you to listen to your body.

This is called mindfulness and it does not happen overnight. It involves retraining your brain to dial in and receive continual feedback from your body. As this begins to happen naturally, your yoga sessions become more productive.

You will be more aware of your “edge,” the limit of what your body can achieve on that day. Indeed, it may be different for each pose. Your goals will need to evolve with how your body feels.

Small triumphs on your goal setting journey

The process of adjusting along the way is a powerful metaphor for any kind of goal setting. An end goal is often an artificial construct. Say our goal is run 10 kms at a moderate pace within a certain time frame. To attain the goal we may push too hard and get injured. If it is too easy, we may fall into erratic training habits. Making the numbers the focus can set us up for failure in many ways.

A more sophisticated approach is to shift our focus towards feeling healthy instead of fixating on arbitrary numbers. As we get healthier and more fit, we will find the numbers start to improve naturally, rather than the other way around.

The trick is to be aware of your body moment by moment. One way to stay mindful is by asking yourself questions while your body is moving. These questions will not only act as mini check-ins, but will also encourage you to keep moving forward.

Checking in along the way

  • How is my body feeling? Focus on the individual parts and then your body as a whole.
  • Where am I feeling power? Pain? Fatigue?
  • How does this feel different than yesterday?
  • Am I using my breath to help my body move? 
  • Is it my body or my mind that is telling me to stop? 

It is only when we pay attention to the information in our bodies, focusing on feeling first, that we can engage in the two-way conversation that leads us down the path toward results.

Elite athletes know they need to have options. After years of training they know their bodies and can vary their routines as needed. They know when to push and when to back off. 

Traditional goals may leave little room for discussion. Goals should be fluid, adapting and evolving with the needs of our bodies and minds. Slowly, like a jigsaw puzzle, you can retrain your triggers, check your progress and reclaim your path to getting where you want to go.

Author: Ann Green is a former heptathlon competitor, certified yoga instructor, and owner of BLiSS ann green yoga in Barrie, ON. She is a fairly regular contributor to Optimyz web and our print magazine.

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