Goalsetting and yoga

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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.

 

 

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Your way to freedom

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With the 4th of July festivities of last weekend, the concept of ‘freedom’ popped right back into my mind. I know it might sound naïve, but the idea and meaning of freedom only became clear to me a couple of years ago. I was participating in a program at the university, which was called: Leaders for Economic Change. We were a group of 30 young people from all over the world. My small group existed of 2 Dutch people, one British person, one from Bangladesh and one person from Zambia. The Zambians name was Gift, and a gift he was. We were asked to discuss amongst us what freedom means to you. As an eager Dutch student I started, talking about Freedom when you are off work, laying on a beach, watching the ocean, reading a book and sipping a cocktail. It all connected and corresponded with my reality, my sense of freedom.

Gift however, had something very different to share: freedom to him was when everybody had equal chances, when every kid could have a proper education and because of that, have a real chance in life.

And wow, did that open my eyes, I really thought my version of freedom was universal, except for when you are in prison or at war. How little did I know!

At the same time I realized how lucky I had been, that my version of freedom comes from a care-free life. And this concept of ‘freedom’ can show you who you are; the definition of freedom is personal. One explanation is not better than the other, it is just different, it is you.

I am sharing this, because ‘freedom’ is also a big subject in yoga. In yoga we strive to be free of suffering. In the yoga sutras there is no discrimination made between sufferings. Every suffering is real; every suffering can make your life miserable, even if your suffering seems minor in comparison to others.

The yoga sutras (2.15) gives us four main reasons for suffering:

  1. Parinama: change, modification or transformation; Change affects people, objects and the environment. In the end nothing is stable in our universe, there is constant change, constant uncertainty, which are factors for irritation, instability and internal misery. Any change creates an opportunity for someone to suffer by holding on to what was, instead of embraces, allowing or accepting what is in front of them.
  2. Tapa: regret, guilt, torture; The thirst of wanting something can create an unfulfilled desire, which leads to regret, guilt, torture. A bitter regret over what we have done, or not done. A burning desire to repeat the past. All sources of anxiety that wear us down.
  3. Samskara: Routine, habit, conditioning; Some of our routines and habits are deeply rooted in ourselves. They are like a deep groove in wood, you can sand it down a little bit, but when you don’t take care of it, it will continue to get deeper and deeper. These grooves push us to act in stereotyped manner. Make us repeat patterns, which might not be the right response in a certain situation.
  4. Guna: Fundamental energy, quality, substance; The gunas reflect on the fact that we live in our body and the fluctuations and instability of the mind. The instability in our mind leads to chaos, negative judgments and inappropriate responses.

Suffering is ultimately a state of mind, your reaction to what’s happening, your reaction to what overcame you. We will always be faced with difficult times, but we have choice how to respond to it. We can choose how much we suffer from it.

In yoga we work on not creating new suffering, by realizing that we can’t change the circumstances, we can’t change what will happen to us. But we do have a chance to change our own response to it, the way we hold it, the way we let it take over our mind, body and life and how we move through it.

This way we are refining the mind, redefining our relationship to the mind and defining freedom in a new way. Because in the end, freedom is personal, there is no discrimination for the suffering you have, as long as you remember that you have a choice. The choice is liberating, the choice gives you your freedom. The choice helps you to be free of suffering, that choice leads you to happiness and bliss.

Breaking apart

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I believe you have two types of people. There’s the ones that look at people that do just a little less than them and because of that they feel good about themselves. They have confidence and trust. The second type are the ones who look at the people he or she considers better, and see them as a goal, something to reach towards. The pitfall of the second type is that you often feel like you are not good enough.

One type is not better than the other, it is just a different approach, a different way to evaluate ourselves. How we pin ourselves in this world. And even though we know that comparing is often not useful at all, we still do it, as humans. Because we feel the need to fit in somewhere, we feel the need to know where we stand.

Me, I am type number 2. I always look at the people ahead of me, see what they do, figure out what they have done and see what things I can learn from that. It works for me, it makes me think about my plans and dreams in a bigger perspective. However, it makes me struggle too. Because I am also a type that sets their mind to something and then is determined to fix it, determined to reach that goal.

Yoga in the past few years has taught me that this way of looking at things also makes me suffer. Why? Because I am ambitious, I always try to reach more, and I have a goal in mind which should be a 5 year plan, but instead, I make it something I should achieve in weeks or months. And that is where the suffering comes in, I makes me feel like I am failing, like I am not working hard enough, that I am not good enough, that I am not worth of what I am trying to achieve.

At least, that what is was until a year ago. That’s when I learned and really connected to the idea of breaking it up, breaking the goals apart. Because how can you ever be satisfied if your goals are too big to achieve at once? So I have a system, simple, but clear: every big goal has at least 5 steps, 5 minor goals in it. And that minor goal becomes my real goal, my big goal for the moment. That way I can stay on track, stay happy and be content with my achievements.

So as a practical example: My dream is to one day have inspired enough people to be able to set up a yoga community. One where you can practice together, one where you can find your friends, one where you can share knowledge, share food, share drinks, share fun, share a passion.

I broke it up in steps, and the first step is my main goal: LEARN AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE for 1 year. Teach, teach, teach, study, spend time with teachers, work in the yoga world, get connected, and share it back.

I am now 4 months in and I am learning like crazy, teaching many hours, and I feel grateful. Yes, there are days that I lose this goal out of sight, days where I feel I have not done enough, days where I feel like a failure. But this has gone from almost every day to some days. I am happy, I am free of my own pressure, I am learning.every.single.day.

So why am I writing this? Because I believe too many people around me suffer from the same struggle. And the funny thing is, we often think it is the external pressure, from friends, family and society, to achieve these goals. Until you hit that moment where you realize, all the pressure comes from within, from our own beliefs, our own self-image, our own internal motivators and drivers. And just to be clear, this does not mean you cannot have big massive goals for yourself. Please do, they are immense and good internal drivers, but be aware of what they do to your state of mind and your daily happiness.

Break it up, break them apart and break through a cycle of suffering and break into one of happiness and a sense of achievement. Because you are worthy of anything you want to achieve.