The problem with SMART goals, pincha mayurasana, and why it's okay tofail

I read a lot of blogs. And research articles. And non-fiction books (I was interviewed recently about the personal training industry. I told the journalist I had a continuing education problem, but perhaps it's more of a curiosity problem). I always enjoy the writings this time of year because they tend to be reflective and/or hopeful, focusing on what was accomplished or where the author wants to go. An acronym that is thrown around frequently when people talk about resolutions is SMART goal setting. I wrote a blog on this years ago, when I was in the midst of a Wellcoach training program and convinced SMART goal setting was the only way. Needless to say, my views have changed a bit, although I think setting goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely are great for people that have daunting tasks ahead of them ("I will lose 5 pounds this month" is a much better goal for someone with 100 pounds to lose than "I will lose 50 pounds in 4 months." The person needs something within his grasp to experience success, rather than a seemingly insurmountable task). For some, the word "attainable" is synonymous with "safety," and this is where I think the acronym shouldn't always apply.

I have written before about the fact that I am stuck in PSP (primary series purgatory). This happens to individuals that are relatively inflexible Ashtanga yoga practitioners with limited access to a teacher. These individuals never get progressed because they aren't technically proficient at, say, supta kurmasana, so they remain in PSP for years. This leads to boredom and eventual exploration of other poses. I decided to work towards arm balances, because they look cool, and posed a physical challenge that I didn't think was impossible. I suppose it could be argued that this fact makes my goal attainable, but I never set a time limit on it, or even really had any other aspiration other than to do pincha mayurasana in the middle of the room. I started working on this two years ago (yes, you read that right. As I said, no time goals). My first attempt (done after several youtube tutorials and some floundering attempts against the wall), resulted in my falling. So did my second. And third. And when I tried again a couple of days later, I fell. I fell over, and over, and over again until one day, my legs were over my head and I was balancing on my forearms, almost certainly with a bowed back because I didn't have good shoulder girdle strength at the time (I know now), but the point was, I was up. I was able to repeat this pretty regularly, not always on my first attempt, but usually on my second or third attempt, until I felt like I could safely say I could sort of do the posture. Over the last year, I have rebuilt my practice with a neutral spinal position, the ability to engage my bandhas (it turns out, if you ask someone in an extended spine position to engage the bandhas, it's pretty close to impossible, but that is another blog), and a much better integration of the shoulder stabilizers. As a result, pincha mayurasana continued to feel steadier until one day, 4 weeks ago, when I kicked up with a fair amount of control and fell over. "No big deal," I thought, "I will try it again." And I did, 7,8,12 times until my arms were shaking, deep frustration had filled me, and I finally recognized my mind and body weren't going to cooperate, so I let it go and finished my practice.

This, of course, is the beauty of any sort of challenging, mindful movement practice. It teaches you to fail, walk away, and know that you can attempt it again tomorrow. It is also the reason we have to remember to set goals that are slightly out of our reach, maybe not attainable on the first try. When I was going through the process of opening my studio last summer, I found myself thinking at one point, "what if this doesn't work?" I had run numbers, looked at business trends, and consulted with someone I trust, but there is no way of knowing for sure whether or not a new business is going to fail. Opening my own space had been a long term goal of mine for years, and similar to my goal of forearm balance, I never set a timeline for myself. I simply put it out there as something I wanted to do (it was written on my regrigerator), and when the opportunity arose, I jumped with both feet. Rather than dwell on my negative thoughts, I acknowledged it, let it go, and instead directed that nervous energy at becoming an even better professional. Recently, while working with a client, coaching, cueing, and guiding, I realized, "I finally get it." All of those concepts I have struggled with over the last 13 years, watching people move, reading, listening to experts in various movement fields explain "how" to help someone move better, the systems that I have studied, all came together in this crazy way. This isn't to say I don't have more to learn, or that I know it all; I have only scratched the surface, but all of the time spent learning challenging concepts is allowing me to do my job better than I ever have before.

When I returned to my yoga practice a couple of days later, I lifted up into pincha mayurasana with ease. Each time I have practiced it since, I feel stronger and steadier than I ever have before. I have read about this with skill acquisition; often there is regression before there is progression. While I expect I will still fall, I am confident it will happen less and less. When setting New Year's resolutions, remember It's okay to fall, and it's okay to fail, as long as you pick yourself up and try again tomorrow. You will be better for it.

Wishing everyone a healthy, happy 2014.

Yours in health and wellness,