"Mom! My elbow hurts when I bend it," cried the child.
"Then don't bend it," replied his mother.
"I don't like my job," complained his wife.
"Then quit," replied her partner.
"I've become overweight and unhealthy," lamented the patient.
"Eat less and move more," replied the doctor.
One thing that all of these scenarios have in common is a simple answer. Some might say too simple.
The response that the child, the wife and the patient might likely offer is, "It's not that easy." And I would say they are absolutely right - these solutions are not easy. But they are simple.
I don't mean to minimize the complexity of these issues; rather, I mean to point out the complexity of the problem as well as indicating the simplicity of the solution. And implementing the solution may be easier than you think. It all begins with a single action.
The mind will attach to any number of distracting details in order to avoid a challenging change - to avoid taking action. These distractions can also be called excuses and they are a dime a dozen. They range in validity from "not enough time" and "not enough money" (among the most common) to "I am too old" or "I don't know how." I've used all of these excuses at one time or another. The trick is to recognize them as excuses as opposed to realities.
We get mired down in the details of how we would go back to school in order to make a positive job shift: how we would pay for that education, what would our new schedule look like and is there a job for me when I finish - I'll be too old. We are overwhelmed with the advice from experts on what or how to eat: juicing, veganism, vegetarianism, elimination diets, organic, non-GMO - who has that kind of money? We balk at the prospect of moving for 60 minutes a day, five days each week or that taking the stairs rather than the elevator will actually make a difference (yes, it will!) - who has that kind of time? And we settle on a course of inaction.
Action is challenging. Action is difficult. Action is scarey. But to actually act is a simple and effective solution. Again, it is not easy. So how do we motivate action?
I had the opportunity to teach a health and wellness course this past semester. The first assignment required the students to create three goals to work towards throughout the semester. Goals are a way to focus your efforts in a specific direction. We do this at the beginning of each session on our mats when we set our intention for our practice. And then, we practice. We move energy in the direction of our intention. We take action.
They wrote these goals down. They created a step-by-step process for achieving these goals. Then, for the remainder of the semester they wrote journal entries reflecting on their progress and modifying any unrealistic expectations based on their progress (this is analogous to how we modify our poses on our mat!). By the end of the semester they were motivated, inspired and proud of their progress. They felt better about themselves and their lives. They successfully created positive change for themselves. It was not easy, but it was a simple answer to some of their most pressing problems. They simply took action.
What I learned from these students and throughout this course (yes, teachers are continuous learners!) is how to create effective goals and how to work in a positive way towards these goals. What follows is a simple way to create your own goals and motivation to act.
1. Consider some areas in your life that you would like to see improvement (physical health; mental health; emotional health; diet; exercise; personal relationships; etc). Write them down.
2. Choose 1-3 of these areas that you are most interested in improving and most likely to complete. Write them down.
3. Create a process for achieving each goal. The following is a process that my students implemented, called the SMART plan:
Specific: be specific about what you would like to achieve. If this is a large goal, consider breaking this goal up into smaller steps in order to give yourself motivational boosts along the way. (This is your opening meditation and setting of intention.)
Measurable: be able to measure this goal in order to manage it. For example, if your goal is to exercise more, plan the amount of time you will exercise each day or each week and keep track of your progress. For example, 30 minutes on 3 days each week. (We often count breaths as we hold a pose or even set a timer as we release into a Yin pose.)
Attainable: set goals that you can achieve over a few weeks or perhaps 2-3 months in order to recognize progress and maintain motivation. This may mean reducing a very large goal into progressive steps. (We do this on our mats when we break down an advanced posture into preparatory poses.)
Reward: honor yourself with accolades upon achieving your goal in order to recognize your efforts. (Ahhhh, Savasana!)
Timeline: set a start date and a finish date for your goal and then work towards it! (This is akin to practicing towards a feeling tone on your mat.)
You see, we've taken these steps on our mats with each practice. We can take these lessons off of our mat and into the flow of our lives.
Remember, when we move our energy towards a specific intention or goal, there is nothing stronger. We cannot help but be successful. It is just that simple.