We live in a goal oriented world, one where we are constantly working towards something. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others, their goals and their achievements. Sometimes that makes us feel good and other times it makes us feel absolutely shit. It’s our ego that gets inflated or our ego that gets hurt.
So what do we say in yoga about setting goals and achieving them? The most important lesson comes from the Bhagavad Gita.
“You have a right to the work alone, not to its fruits” – Bhagavad Gita 2.47
The sentence goes on by saying “You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself—without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind”.
Since the future is unknown, we don’t know what the outcome will be, we can only guess for it. When we set goals and we are merely focused on achieving that goal, without allowing it to be whatever it will be, we set ourselves up for disappointment, failure and suffering.
So what does this really mean? Let me explain this with a story:
I’ve planted an apple tree in my garden, because I would love to have apples that I have grown myself. I prefer my apples to be red and yellow, juicy and a little sweet. I did my research to find the perfect kind of tree and so with the upmost care I’ve planted it. In the next couple of months I’ve taken care of the tree, by watering it, by changing the soil, by protecting it from the wind, the hail storms, the drought, the termites, etc. I’ve put my heart and soul into it and I did my work.
One spring morning I wake up and there are apples on my tree. I am beyond excited, jump out of my bed, run outside and admire dozens of red yellow apples.
I pick a couple of them and take them inside. Before I a take a bite, I remember how I wanted them to taste, but I also realize that it might be very different. And so to not get disappointed or overly proud I tell myself the following:
- The taste of the apple can be what I wanted, it can be different but equally good, it can be better or it can be worse.
- Whatever it will be, I’ve put in the work every day
- I’ve tried to protect it from external factors caused by nature, but I am not sure what the effects have been.
- The soil I used was the best I could find, but the weather conditions in my region weren’t the perfect ones for this apple tree.
All we can do is put in the work in the moment. We can set a goal for ourselves and take the steps necessary towards that goal, but we should let go of the outcome. Which is easier said then done, right?
How is it possible to do something you care about without feeling attached to the result?
When you do the work for the sake of the work itself, instead of doing it for that one desired outcome, you are less likely to become disappointed if things didn’t go the way you had planned or hoped. You will suffer less from stress and anxiety about the outcome and are able to accept the outcome, whatever it will be.
When you get too caught up in the successes or failures, you trigger the negative side of your ego. You can become so goal oriented that you forget to maintain the integrity of the task. Or, you can become scared, paralyzed, freaked-out which leads to you making bad decisions or no decisions at all.
Detaching yourself from the fruits of your work, is detaching yourself from your ego. You are detaching yourself from your ego’s need to claim your successes or to the feeling of defeat or fear of failure.
Obviously this isn’t an easy task, we all get caught up in it and it is not something we learn overnight. We need to work for it; we need to create the awareness. And that work is done over a lifetime, week by week, day by day, hour by hour.
In the end we have to come to an understanding that you have to do what you love and love what you do. It is liberating, because there is space to be genuine. And if you can detach from the desired results, people will notice this and admire you for whatever the outcome of your work will be. Because every successful person has faced failure, but they have learned that failure is not something to be scared of, it is a way for us to learn, a way for us to move forward, it is simply another outcome of the work we have done.