A few years ago I thought I wanted to go back to school to be an Occupational Therapist. I knew I was going to have to take a bunch of prerequisite courses (a B.A. in Philosophy and Religion doesn’t really cut it) so I went to Montgomery College to talk to an admissions counselor.
The counselor was great; he helped me figure out what I would need to take to be able to apply for the OT program and then he had me take a math placement test.
I tested into Remedial Algebra. That’s a nice way of saying I needed to go back to 4th grade. Seriously. Suddenly my two years of prerequisite courses became four years of just math. Eek! Could I have studied up a bit and taken the placement test again and probably done better? Sure! Could I have powered through those additional courses? Sure! Did I want to? Absolutely resoundingly: no.
Here saying no was actually a yes.
I’m telling this story as a contrast to all of those other stories you hear about
incredible and far-reaching goals achieved with hard work and serious acts of willpower. We regularly hear those stories. Things like the story of Alex Honnold, my 10-year climber’s idol, who just happened to do the most dangerous free solo climb of El Capitan. No biggie. Ha!
But we don’t often hear the more common stories like mine. Those ones about regular folks who have an idea, realize how much work it will be to bring that idea to fruition, and then decide not to pursue the goal because it isn’t really worth it.
There’s absolutely something inspiring about seeing someone achieve their goals after lots of sacrifices and hard work. But I think it might be equally inspiring and perhaps more empowering to hear stories like mine.
We all have millions of goals, desires, interests, and behind every one of those is a certain amount of willpower to accomplish it.
If we acknowledge this and the choose with confidence to let go of certain goals, would it be possible to reclaim the willpower and energy that belongs to each of those goals?
There seems to be a kind of unspoken (sometimes very much spoken!) narrative that if you don’t go after your goals you are a slacker or a failure. But sometimes not going after your goal is about optimizing resources.
What could be possible if we could stop directing attention and effort at the things that aren’t really worth it?
In asana this can looks like making the appropriate amount of effort in each pose. This is not about working more or working harder but working differently. Perhaps it comes as a shift to some part of our skeleton, such as unlocking our knees and untucking our pelvis. Or sometimes it just means doing a pose in a different way so that there is a different load on a different part of the body.
Still other times it means doing something different with your yoga that might not even be asana at all. Maybe it’s time to revisit pranayama or to reconnect with your meditation practice. It is an 8-fold path and asana is just one piece of the puzzle.
As you move through the month of July, vacationing, working, summering how you do, consider what kinds of goals you have – the in-process ones, the yet to be started ones, the abandoned ones. How much willpower is there behind each of those? Could you be content with the ways that you have let go of goals that were too much work to achieve? I think you just might be able to redirect the latent willpower in those not-so-worth-it goals in order to move closer to what you really want.