Yesterday, we talked about the ubiquitous One Days in our lives. You know, those things we promise ourselves we’ll get around to One Day. And, sometimes, yes, we just need to make the decision to make one day today. But, sometimes, our One Day isn’t really what we want. It’s the idea that we like, not the actual experience. So before we all go take matters into our own hands with our One Days, how do we know if we really want to make that One Day real for the right reasons and if it will bring us what we imagine on the other side?
Let me tell you a story.
For years, competing in different athletic events always showed up on my annual birthday list. Run a 10k. Train for and complete a duathlon. Do a century ride. Finish a 5k in X amount of time.
I didn’t grow up with the opportunity to play sports– my family couldn’t really afford for me to consistently play, and the effects of Title Nine didn’t really hit my high school until well into my high school career (ie: we didn’t get a soccer team, the one sport I would have played, until my junior year and, by then, I was into other things) . But I was always a big sports fan and had a good analytical mind and so when a dear teaching friend approached me to coach women’s soccer with him when we were both first year teachers, I said yes. We were a natural team. I knew the game like the back of my hand (I’d played when I was young, and my brother is a Division 1 coach so I can talk the game and strategize), and he was a natural athlete. Together, we could put together a training plan and strategy. Anyway, once I became a coach, I needed to be able to demonstrate plays and moves to our girls and so I took to getting into the shape that I needed to do that. Soon enough, I was signing up for women’s running classes, working out with trainers, learning how to swim for the first time. I call this my adult-onset athleticism.
I live in a fairly athletic town and have fairly athletic friends and everyone around me was doing races. The way everyone talked about training for their races and the jolt they got from them, I thought, “hey, I should do these, too.” And so I started signing up for races. And hated every minute of them. I could run the same distance on a Monday morning before work and LOVE the run. On Saturday, at the local 5k race, I HATED the experience. Part of it was that I am slow. I have endurance for days, but, seriously, I am not going to break any land records. The other part of it is that running, cycling, and swimming for me are so rooted to a spiritual practice– they put me in sync with nature, with the world, with the God of my understanding, with my thoughts and prayers, with the dear friend who I am waxing poetic with over the miles. Races just didn’t offer me that. To me, they were about finishing and not the process. And I am a process girl. If competitiveness was measured on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give myself about a 2. I’m just not all that competitive- not even with myself. Moreover, I am a raging (and this will come as a surprise to some but it’s absolutel true) introvert. Showing up at a start line with thousands of others just sapped my energy before I even took a step. It took me years to realize this. In the meantime, I ran a boatload of races and showed up every race morning thinking WHY, OH WHY. I was like the kid whose parent forces her to keep taking piano lessons when she hates music. Except that I was the bossy parent, too. Finally, I thought, what is it that I want to prove with these races that I put on my annual list? That, as it turns out, is just the right question to ask. When I asked myself this question a few years ago, I realized that the answer wasn’t about the race at all. I wanted to be healthy enough to be capable of covering those distances. Well, heck, I thought. I can just choose an amount of time I wish to be able to run and work up to that on my own. I don’t need a race to prove that I can run for 45 minutes. I just need a watch and practice.
Turns out asking yourself WHY your One Day goals exist, what exactly you want to get out of them, is just the right question. And don’t just take my found-out-the-hard-way word for it.
I’ve been backlogged in magazines for months but have recently been flying through my stack. And the timing couldn’t be better as I just came across this piece by Martha Beck on improving your goal setting in the January issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.
The Cliff Notes version of Beck’s piece is that our noun/ verb goals only tell us part of the story. So, for example, we might say we want to run a 10k race (ahem, been there, said that). But a noun/ verb goal doesn’t really lead us to happiness or success because noun/ verb goals bring to mind imagined situations (the glory of crossing that finish line) instead of, as Beck puts it, imagined experiences. What we want, Beck says, are experiences. Not situations. And the way to figure out if our goals are giving us the experiences we want is to go through the exercise of generating the adjectives we most desire in our dream-come-true situation. Three adjectives to be exact.
For example, if I had asked myself what I wanted out of competing in a duathlon, I would have said that I wanted (physical) endurance, confidence, and satisfaction. And here’s the rub. Doing that duathlon, just didn’t do that for me because running in a mass of people wasn’t confidence-evoking or satisfying for my personality. But being able to run six miles in general, on one Monday morning on my own and on subsequent mornings for my work-out, would have absolutely done that. For too long, I thought I needed a race course to validate the six miles. I didn’t, though. In fact, the race course was contrary to my personality and will. And, what is more, it wouldn’t take just six miles to help me build endurance, confidence, and satisfaction. There were so many other things I was doing at the time that could evoke those experiences for me, too– weightlifting, yoga, Pilates, swimming, hiking, cycling with friends, etc. I wanted the experience of being physically robust. I didn’t need a timing clock to give it to me. And that, Beck says, is the essential next step. Take your noun/goal statements and figure out what three adjectives you want each experience to yield. Then consider if those goals can really yield those adjectives. Next, consider your life as it is right now. Are there opportunities already available to you that can yield those adjectives in your life? If so, your goal may be different than what you think it should be, but it should absolutely yield the life you imagine.
Now, take some time to consider all of your One Day statements– those goals you have expresed in noun/ verb statements. Consider what you want from those experiences and define those desires in adjectives. Next, consider whether or not the original goal yields those adjectives or whether or not something in your life now could yield them. Go from there towards the One Day of your imagining.