Goals

I had a terrible penchant. It seems lustrous and promising, but it all ends there.

Reading through two-years worth of notebook, I realized I loved writing goals. I wrote them down with enthusiasm but rarely did I make them come to life.

Maybe writing them, for me, instilled a false sense of completion. It’s a foresight of things I wanted to flourish but ended with distractions. 

I longed to write a blog on August 2015, but I started the year after. I wanted to eat well and exercise regularly but it took me a year to establish the habit.

It isn’t to say that writing goals is useless. Rather, there’s a fine line between aspiring and actually doing. Trying is faint; doing is acute.

Goals are mere goals until we go beyond the list. Unfortunately, we won’t ignite the engine until we cultivate a ‘big why’ – a core direction.

Why does it really matter to you and your one life that you engage yourself in a specific goal?

Why does it count that you exercise and eat well?

Why does it even matter that you write what you think and feel?

The more compelling the question and your answer, the better.

So a few months ago, I got back to my list, detailed, curated them, and concentrated on a few.

I’m impatient and I tend to juggle things. So I did slow down, focused on one goal at a time. Single-tasking, indeed, is the holy grail.

To get going, I imposed deadlines, too. Without it, I know I’d go haywire again.

To this day I’m content to be writing weekly for my blog, eating mindfully, exercising, and sleeping well. Since putting a good foundation in place, I can move forward on the few things I want to get better at.

The thing is, goals are okay. Whys are critical. Doing is the game-changer. Vital few is best.

Growing Taller

I’m no taller than 5 feet. First spurt of growth – and hope – was in 6th grade. I have a longer neck now. Maybe that counts as growth. I horizontally stretched in college. Then snapped back a year after graduation – my most slender yet. I’m 23, 4 feet, 11 inches. 

What’s taller, however, is not my stature. But how I feel. I let go most of my clutter (physical then mental) which helped me see what’s most important in my life. It didn’t happen overnight; it has  been a gradual purging of noise, of excess, of procrastination, of discontent.

I’m still running this marathon.

Struggling with resistance, our inner genius, is natural. It’s spooling stories in our heads, suppressing every inch of proclivity towards creation. It’s the raging voice in our heads telling us we cannot be more than we are now. 

But we can dance with this fearful voice. We can recognize it, tame it, and keep it at bay.

And there are no secrets.

We begin by just beginning. Turn down the noise, plant your butt, begin, and stay – stay for a while. Feel every bit of sensation in your rebellious body as discomfort diffuses in your nerve endings. Again, stay and feel the uncertainty. Notice the temptations, the old reflexes. Let it sink. 

But don’t listen to that voice.

For us to even scratch the surface of our goal is to not exit as fast we can, but to stay and enjoy the process, the simultaneous discomfort and power we gain. That’s how we resolve the conflict in our heads; that’s how we honor the calling in our hearts. 

It takes one step and staying with the uncertainty every single time – dipping, wondering, and growing with this voice. We don’t have to kill it; it’s our nature. But we can set that voice aside – probably in a bean bag beside us – while we create the work we’re meant to be doing. It can be a calm struggle this way. 

Growing taller means trimming the excess in our lives, making space for freedom.

Do One Thing

Do nothing – I followed Markus Almond’s advice. Except that a pen and a blank paper embraced the solace with me.

The ink as it first touches the inviting white space was revealing. It is thought coming to life. The fluidity of our hands and minds working in confluence – laser-beam focused on a single task of putting every stroke, letter, word, then thoughts – was just amusing.

Most days are usually mundane, mechanical even. Our bodies are built for habits, automatically making us get up, eat, work and snooze. Perhaps we have chips inside us designed to keep doing essentially a variation of the same things. Unwrapping novelty, excitement, and discovery requires an intentional muscle.

However, at this moment, catching myself feel, curiously prying into my consciousness, taking it apart, I felt I’ve put a finger on something tangible and freeing –  my breath, the coldness, the idle bright screen, the windows brightly lit, my sweaty palms, the solidity of the table against my pulse.

Immersing one’s self into the fine details of a plain event has stretched the time table, if only for a short burst of moment.

The moment, indeed, doesn’t have to be special. It can as simple as sitting still.

But being curious about it, taking the time to slow down, to do one thing, or do nothing at all, is what will spear us back to calm and eventually, to clarity.

There are no deadlines or any a sense of urgency that could rob me of the present moment.

It’s only me sitting, dissecting  the sensation, simultaneously wondering and grateful.

What doing nothing meant for me was indulging on the cellularity of one action.

Trickles

We all have free time but it’s becoming mechanical to exhaust it on whatever glows in our screen. Not that it is entirely wrong — it can be valuable if spent deliberately.

The trouble is that free time occupies intervals of our day, however busy we declare ourselves at times. If we spend these trickles in autopilot mode, of careening from point A to infinity, they just add up. How would it feel later when all our time has been gobbled up?

What wonders await us, instead, if we spend the bulk of our time on things that can make us more?

During these waiting times, we have a choice to just sit still, savor the peace, then fill our days with small activities — bursts of any creation, errand or habit. A poem, perhaps? Reviewing? Jumping jacks? Cleaning?

While it’s easy to ignore these time trickles as they seem so short, we can still stretch these minutes for things we think we don’t have time for.

While waiting on a queue, instead of whining, we can catch up with a friend. On a long haul, we can learn a new language. On a lazy Sunday, we can get back on a special project.

I actually started a draft of this blog while on a queue for a dentist appointment. I thought, ‘Ha! Downtimes! I can write an essay about this.’

Downtimes, when combined, give an ample room to rest our minds, think nothing about, gather our thoughts, sort them, or maybe solve a problem. We can even unravel something important or a funny memory can resurface during these in-betweens.

They have deadlines, too. And that’s a good thing. May it be short or long, expiration can nudge us to make the most of it. Okay, I only have half an hour to write, so get the time capsule running while I ruminate and pin down some thoughts.

We can even tie a habit to a particular downtime. While on a drive to work, I can listen to a podcast. Walking home, I can take pictures. On a break from class, I can take a long walk. On lunch times, I’ll do a quick research for a new recipe. Early in the morning while seeping coffee, I can get back on some reading. The day welcomes variety.

We only have so much energy to spend in a day. Downtimes, for this reason, can be used not to procrastinate or overwhelm us, but to lighten our loads and whittle the things worth accomplishing.

Imagine how much satisfaction we can derive if we begin using these trickles wisely to prepare, connect, learn, grow, rest and slow down.

Not Yet

It’s hardwired in us. We exit when suddenly things become uncomfortable. In school, I remember how we bow our heads in unison when suddenly the teacher asks us to solve something on the board. I was guilty of it.

Now, exercise.

Planking for 30 seconds with 3 replications has been my norm. I love it and believe that level is acceptable for toning for a small woman like me with a small physique.

One afternoon, however, something in me shifted.

Push ups appealed to me because I thought it was a good overall exercise, plus it appeared easy. So I tried it.

Though after doing it for days now with no success in sight, it was that moment of arduous battle against gravity that I heard my mind say: Not yet.

Positioning myself back to planking, I slowly counted to 30. Now breathing hard while waiting for the celebratory threshold, I allowed my body to react. How hard can it be?  Unpleasant comes in; I started to shake. I waited and sat with the pain in my arms, torso and legs. Aside from a possible injury, I realized, pain was a good indicator of stretching yourself to a new limit.   

We can think of pushing something to a higher level by not ignoring the discomfort but adapting an attitude of “That seems interesting!” For all we know, it can lead us to more possibilities.

Recalling the not-so stellar record of planking, I know now that two words can cheer me on: When it is not yet, it is bring it on.

Another curiosity was running. I’ve been at it for 2 years. Though that seems to be astounding for a habit, I haven’t been consistent because I like experimenting with other simple exercise routines.  Nonetheless, I’ve always liked the rush and so to keep it interesting, I had to do some tweaking.

Reading that intensity was a key to get the most benefits from exercise, I increased my pace and incline. Things are getting interesting.

My default for months was an incline of 2.5 and a speed of 9. While it took months of endurance to improve, I only had to be curious to try 4 and 11.5. I ran for a minute, took a rest for the next minute and did the cycle 4 times. I had to catch my breath and gallop as fast as I could. It was a different feeling. Escalating friction, pounding chest, lactic acid build-up, tension, and redeeming sweat took over my body.

I had to experience the unpleasant first before I knew that it was worth it, that I had to do it again. 

Existential

We’ve rehashed it so many times in our heads. What on Earth are we here for?

Having existential thoughts can be really silly and annoying. We’d rather think of the mundane and go on with our undramatic lives. 

I was alone and I looked out of the window as it bathed in the morning radiance. It felt palpably light for no reason. Cheesy but cellular deep down.

Because it’s easy to forget why we’re even here, I thought it was good, if not critical, to pause, converse with our thoughts, and dig some meaning. 

What’s notable in today’s age is how easy it is to get lost scrolling, waste time and be swallowed whole in discontent. Somehow, unknowingly, we wound up lost in the bandwagon. And suddenly it’s the norm to catch up.

There’s also a lot brewing in the background – in our glowing phones reside fake news, conspiracies, chauvinists, climate change and just the fad for excess faces.

It can be a mindless battle.

And maybe, when we leave the scene of madness, when we take a moment to see what’s really happening in our bodies, our thoughts, our actions, then maybe it’s going to make a little sense.

At the end of the day, I know well how I’m going to spend it: walk, cook, eat, watch, read and rest. It’s the same everyday with specks of difference. As an introvert, I like it. 

What probably makes a particular day count is when I care to be mindful. It’s when I take seconds to pause and sit with my emotions and have a conversation with it.

It’s during those moments when I smiled, noticed something interesting, did something differently, opened up, initiated, calmed down, helped someone, and got out of my way. These were moments when I was most in touch with myself. Aware and attempting to connect.

The practice could get arduous so maybe I’m better off with my pacifiers. If I slip back, however, I knew it was going to be easy, comfortable, but painful.

I realized that, unless I leave the autopilot, I’d never really know what it feels to be truly alive. 

 

You Think You’re Crazy

Do you get that sudden warm, radiating enthusiasm for life? Was it just a good day? Or did some spirit possess you?

My body has been so used to the fast lane, always chasing a hypothetical finish line.

When we’re in a hurry we tend to ignore the seemingly mundane moments that could potentially light us up. That bird in its full majestic span. That stranger who passed by and smiled at you. An old couple holding hands. Your loved one who stared long enough to breathe your presence. A boy enjoying his bike ride. The sensation when water hits your body. Or a mere speck of light that warms your skin.

It feels so primal.

Perhaps the fuzzy sensation began when I learned to let go of my worries, my tendency to punish my mind when things haven’t even happened yet. That’s wired in us and have kept us alive today, but most days, I realized, aren’t deadly or even problematic as we often as we think. 

I learned that when we start to be mindful, loosen up, slow down, capture the moment for its raw beauty, we can feel, deep in our nerve endings, that we’re humans. And even if that’s crazy, you can try for yourself and wonder, too.