Here we go. Starting today—and for the next few weeks—Apple is going to see a spike in productivity app downloads, the internet marketers are going to make a killing on cleanses, and it will become impossible to get a parking spot at the gym after 5 pm.
Over the next few weeks, we’re all going to resolve work a little harder, look a little better, and be much healthier people—and we’re going to base our resolutions on uncontrollable expectations: 6 pack abs, higher salaries, lower cholesterol numbers* (etc.). And these uncontrollable goals, my friends, are precisely why New Year’s resolutions suck.
What makes these goals “uncontrollable?” After all, aren’t these goals quantifiable? I can see my abs, I’ll know when I get a raise, and I can take a blood test to tell me what’s up with my health. I’d like to argue (and I don’t think anyone would disagree with me) that just because something can be quantified, doesn’t mean that it can be controlled.
When I first took on the Muscle and Fitness Hers 12-week transformation challenge that kicked off my third relapse with EDNOS (and finally earned me the classification of “anorectic”) in 2010, I had a (mostly) quantifiable end goal in mind: I was going to lose 10 pounds, have a six pack, and be muscular enough/at a low enough body fat to compete in an NPC body building competition. For 12 weeks, I ate clean, limited calories, lifted heavy, did extra cardio, and controlled and controlled and controlled** everything—from meal timing to supplementation—until I reached the end of the 12 weeks.
Yet, though I had lost a lot of weight, I wouldn’t have even gotten an honorable mention in a bodybuilding competition. Though I could quantify the variables to the best of my ability, my end goal was out of my control.
This is how we make resolutions: I have an end goal that I cannot control, but I want it badly enough that I will convince myself that I can control it. I can micromanage the variables, but the variables themselves are not my focus; I care only about whether or not I reach my goal. And if and when that goal doesn’t turn out the way I’d planned—because I have no way of controlling the outcome—I either punish myself by going further (as I did, which is how I ended up without a period) or swinging back in the opposite direction.
One of the most important things that Bikram yoga has taught me is how to set healthy, achievable goals. When I was bodybuilding the end goal—the unquantifiable possibility—was the focus, and I mindlessly went through the little every day steps (the journey) while focused on the uncontrollable outcome.
In Bikram, I have uncontrollable goals too—I want to touch my head to my knee. I want to balance with both hands in namaskar while in toe stand. I want to touch my full spine to the ground in wind removing pose. I want to strive for full expression of each of the 26 postures—but they are merely the ideals I keep in the back of my mind while I focus on the little steps (the journey) as I take them each day in class.
For example, in one class, when I was struggling with balance, Mike Mayle, the owner of Balance Yoga Center in San Jose, CA, told me to focus on my big toe. Instead of worrying about how beautiful my standing bow looked (how high was my foot over my head? how level were my hips? how low could I bring my body down?) I just thought about my big toe. For the rest of the class, in all of the standing postures that required balance, I focused my energy on my big toe, and I stayed standing. And because I wasn’t focused on the big goal (full expression of the posture), but on the microstep it took to get there, I was actually able to go deeper into my practice.
I wanted to write about this today, of all days, because on Day 1 of the new year, we’re focused on the “full expression” of our resolutions—the uncontrollable possibilities (bikini bodies, higher salaries, better health, etc.) instead of the the little steps that it takes to get there (showing up every day and [metaphorically] focusing on the big toe).
As Mike has said before, “You never forget your first Bikram yoga class.”
And he’s right: I remember that first class and many many many of the classes in between, because each class was a milestone on the way to achieving a different goal.
On day one of my Bikram practice, my goal was just to stay in the room. On day two, it was to come back. On day three it was to start memorizing the sequence. Two years in, it was to complete a 30 day challenge. A few months ago it was to focus on my big toe.
There is no start date, there is no end date; every day is another chance to set a small goal and meet it.
So, instead of focusing on your “New Year’s resolution,” here’s instead to 365 days of learning how to focus on the big toe.
In today’s podcast, we talk with Mike about goal-setting, yoga, and finding your authentic self. I think you’re REALLY going to like this one:
*Not advocating this one, necessarily. See Cholesterol Clarity by Jimmy Moore for reasons why.
**Or should I say “quantified, quantified, quantified?”