I have a single, driving goal in life: to experience joy.
I’ve discovered, through decades of trial and error, that there are certain practices that lead me to that end goal.
I’ve also found that when I lose sight of the end goal, I become burdened by the practices.
Are you burdened by a practice?
Let me give you an example:
I decide I want to lose weight. Why? Because when I’m heavy I feel less confident. I’m less agile. I have lower energy. I’m plagued with thoughts of self-doubt. Ultimately, when I let myself go, I feel less joy. And my end goal is always to feel joy.
So the practice of weight loss ensues. Maybe the practice involves eating food that’s more clean or nutrition-dense. Maybe it’s about counting calories. Or creating a better relationship with food so I don’t eat when I’m not hungry. Or running more miles.
Regardless of the practice, I begin the practice so I can feel more joy.
Somewhere along the way, the practice BECOMES the goal. I lose sight of why I’m losing weight – I lose sight of the fact that my initial goal was to feel joy — and my focus is directed solely on HOW I will lose weight. I begin to track and log the miles that I run. I judge myself on completion. Next it’s miles added per week. Then speed.
And before too long, the miles become a chore, an obligation.
And I begin to resent the practice.
I feel guilt associated with not doing the practice dutifully and completely. And then I quit, all together. I say, “F the miles!!” And I feel even guiltier.
The practice has become the goal.
Here’s another example:
It’s also a goal of mine to help our teenage son learn to find joy in his life. I’m not interested in how he finds it. Only that he learns, over time, to speak his truth and find his joy.
As a parent, I know that his learning to take responsibility for his choices plays a huge role in his ability to create joy. As a typical eighth grade boy, he chooses not to do his homework at times. In the moment, I’m frightened by that choice – by where it might lead him. So I decide to “make a space” for him to do his homework. I decide to make the homework a practice for learning good decision-making skills. I work to create an environment where homework is king. To build our evenings around the homework. And I begin to press him and to nag him. And I become nervous and resentful when he falls down on the job. And I feel a sense of hopelessness. And I hover.
The practice of homework becomes the issue.
And I lose sight – entirely – of the very fact that it’s in making his own choices that he will fall, and learn, and ultimately understand how to find his joy.
I lose sight, entirely, of that fact that I’m making choices for him.
And the end goal, it’s entirely lost. The practice has become the goal.
Tell me you’ve never done this. Tell me you’ve never gotten so wrapped up in a practice, that you’ve forgotten why you were practicing. Tell me you’ve never chased something and forgotten what you were chasing.
And I’ll tell you… I don’t really believe you. Because this, my friend, is part of being human.
One of my favorite quotes comes from the philosopher, Alan Watts. In his book, Become What You Are, Watts says,
“Once you cross the river, don’t try to carry the raft with you on your back.”
Once you’ve achieved a goal, or used up a practice in pursuit of a goal, you no longer need the practice. It becomes a burden.
Have you ever been stressed about going to the gym? Or doing yoga? Or overwhelmed about a party you have to attend? Or wished you could cancel on a friend? Ummm…. The practice has become a burden.
If finding happiness makes us unhappy, well then we’ve temporarily lost our way.
And this makes me wonder… How many rafts am I carrying on any given day? How many practices have I strapped to myself that aren’t serving their original purpose, because I’ve lost sight of that purpose?
How to overcome?
The solution is recommitment.
Our list of end goals, in any given game, is generally relatively small. In order to win, we must keep the end goals in sight.
Early in my marketing career, I had a boss who was a brilliant strategist. She had each of her employees create strategic goals at the beginning of each year. Five to seven goals – no more. And each month, we met with her to provide a status update on these goals. We were tasked with showing her, in detail, how we were spending our time. Repeatedly, she would say: “If you find yourself spending a significant amount of time on tasks that are not in pursuit of these goals, you need to ask yourself why you’re doing those tasks.”
Every month, we recommitted.
When I first learned to meditate, I learned Deepak Chopra’s method, which is called Primordial Sound Meditation. Every morning, the meditation began with what Chopra calls the “Four Soul Questions” – Who am I? What do I want? Why am I here? How can I help?”
With every meditation, recommitment.
One of the most beautiful practices I know is gratitude journaling. At the end of the day, you write five things you’re thankful for. And five more things that went well that day, along with your own role in making those things happen.
At the end of every day, a recommitment to your role in achieving joy.
It’s December 31. A day for making commitments, setting goals, creating promises, setting up new practices.
As you do so, make sure you understand your end goal. And create a system for recommitment.
How will you remind yourself, again and again, of WHY you committed to these practices? How will you keep the end goal in mind?
How will you prevent yourself from carrying a raft – or a tugboat for a whole bunch of rafts – on your back in 2016?
How will you recommit? Share in the comments below.