I recently helped a friend finish a marathon, a long held dream in the making.
She was totally prepared. However, a week before the event, at the tail end of winter, she got a virus that developed into a chest infection. Despite this she was determined she would run.
On the day she started well but by the 26-kilometre mark, she started to feel deep fatigue. It was here that I joined her, to run a 5 kilometers stint and to boost her spirits. I could see she was struggling, so I decided to play ‘Chariots of Fire’ and other songs on my phone while we ran to keep her motivated and focused.
At about the 39-kilometre mark, she was quite literally out of breath, her body spent from illness and exhaustion and she needed to stop. I got her to the side of the road and an ambulance was called to check her vital signs. She received pricks to test blood sugar levels and some other tests to make sure she was okay.
After a short break she stated that she was determined to finish the race, despite her body’s protests. We were told by the medics she could run if someone was with her and so I agreed to stay until the end.
She had one more collapse but she did reach the finish line – her goal – and was thrilled to complete the race.
Her experience got me thinking about goal setting and satisfaction. When and why do we feel satisfied?
Some people consistently set themselves goals to measure their advancement. If I’m honest, it’s the way I’ve approached much of my life. I often set lofty goals, wanting my family, colleagues and peers to be captivated and inspired by my passion and success. But truth be told, this approach has also been the bane of my existence. My zeal has often exhausted me and rarely left me feeling satisfied.
Even when some of my rather far-fetched goals have eventually been achieved, I’ve been left and with a tendency to be hungry for more…It’s an exhausting habit! It is also a pattern that is contrary to the teachings of my ongoing yoga practice which focus on self-acceptance, listening to my body and equanimity. In fact, after 10 years of yoga teaching, practicing yoga for 25 years, and continually studying yoga for self-care, I must admit I am still very challenged in this area.
So in my quest to understand gaining a sense of satisfaction in relation to achieving goals, I asked myself what exactly is satisfaction? Can we still feel satisfied if we don’t attain a goal?
One dictionary definition that appealed to me suggests that satisfaction with one’s life implies contentment with ‘or’ acceptance of one’s life circumstances, or the fulfillment of one’s wants and needs for one’s life as a whole. Satisfaction occurs on both a conscious and unconscious level and brings us a sense of being in a balanced state.*
I found this particularly interesting, given my commitment to yoga, and its focus on a balanced life on and off the mat.
Ever so slowly I’m coming to the realisation that there is merit in cultivating feelings of satisfaction as we work toward meeting a goal, just as much as achieving the goal.
Surely, we would all feel more satisfaction and therefore feel more in balance if we could do that, if we could stop and appreciate smaller “wins” along the way.
Most of us can think of a time when we’ve set a goal. It could be in relation to sport, academic achievement, professional, community or personal goals, even birth plans! We all spend a lot more of the time in the throes practicing whatever we are aiming for than any eventual goal itself. There lies the conundrum, and the opportunity – as we can and should celebrate all of the hard work and practice along the way.
Life is uncertain and there are things that can get in the way of meeting our end goals such as personal injury or illness (like my friend), family matters, the environment, political changes, etc. and because of this, isn’t the journey as relevant, even more relevant, than the destination?
It has been a couple months since my friend ran the marathon and I recently caught up with her and asked how she was feeling about her experience, and whether pushing herself yielded a momentary or a continued satisfaction?
She reflected that with hindsight she probably shouldn’t have completed it for her health sake, but that she knows she would have felt an unrelenting frustration if she hadn’t been able to tick off the goal.
As a yoga teacher and wellbeing advocate I am aware that achieving a balanced state is different for everyone. I am also aware that a balanced state is impermanent.
We all need to work on how to move from a state of being unbalanced gracefully back into a state of being balanced, and be prepared to cycle back around again.
By working on our ability to gauge and address life’s obstacles, changing course when needed, we can cultivate an innate recognition of progress as we work towards our goals and enjoy the process no matter the ultimate outcome.
*Goldenson, R.M. (1984), Longman Dictionary of Psychology and Psychiatry. New York and London: Longman