Learning to Be Less


I made this promise, this idea that I would not set any goals this year. And I made it because I spent 2013 locked in an epic battle of being exhausted from working too much and trying to do to much and also trying to learn to slow.the.f.down. In fact, I started berating myself for not knowing how to slow down. At one point I found myself racing down I-95 to get to a yoga class so I could relax, arguing with drivers in front of me who were, clearly, maliciously, keeping me from relaxing. I even found myself yelling at myself to balance, BALANCE! It was more than just a desire to do things. Many, many things. It was a desire to be more. More of a person. More of the person who runs races and makes it to yoga class and billed 10 hours that day. And published those articles. And made that homemade meal. And had a clean house.

And so, realizing that I had pinned my life down in small pieces by setting all these goals, like a biologist pins dried butterflies to a cork board, and had left no room to explore, I set about trying to slow down. I quit training for a marathon.  I quit trying to bill a million and five hours. I quit trying to do everything all the time for everyone. And it didn’t work that well. I still had weight-loss goals that I set up little bribes or rewards for myself to meet.  I still tried to set up running goals that were smaller. Maybe if the goals and achievements were smaller, I could do all of them, yes? No.

And thus, no goals.

So how is it going?

On January 4, (yes, three days into the plan of having no goals) I tried to revive a running goal. Reading through the Women’s Running Community on Facebook, I found a sweet post about a woman who ran her first 5K of 2014 and had a personal best time. Yay her. I wanted to set some records for myself this year, I recalled. Last year I set a goal of running a 5K in 27:30. I beat it by 10 seconds. So I decided to set another goal to beat that time by a minute. See something starting here? There’s never enough. There’s always something lower or better or faster.

Reading through the sweet post about breaking a personal time record, I said to my darling man that I remembered wanting to run in 26:30 (and behind that getting back to my college time of 21:30).  “That’s a goal.” He said simply. Right. It was. “How about, I’d like to run faster this year?” How about that. That is an intention. Something that might be fun to work on. Sprints in the winter around an indoor track are actually kind of fun. Or puke-inducing depending on how you do them. “That sounds much better.”

So I was three days into this project and already wrestling with need to set goals. How can I just run faster? Don’t I need some kind of end point? And what counts as faster?

In reality, the question I was really asking myself was “will it be faster for other people? Will it count for the Runner’s World articles on running fast? Will I win my age group at 5Ks?” All external measures of faster. The same as the definition of goals – something measurable with clear steps to take to achieve it. But that’s where the problem came from. The achieving of things. The dependence on checking items off a list to feel good about, well. Anything. Myself, my work up to this point. Anything.

So how do I figure out if I’m meeting my intention of running faster? Really? It’s going to have to be the uncomfortable and harder to deal with idea of feeling it. Going to the gym and simply running some sprints. Then doing 5ks that look fun. And having fun. Running with no plan other than to have a good time outside.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

And to be honest, letting go of those weight loss goals – the last 10 lbs, of a 50 lb goal – is super hard to do when we are bombarded with news and web ads and little birds carrying banners, no not the last one, but tons and tons of messages about Achieving your New Year’s Goals. Stepping on a scale still triggers the idea of how much more I have to lose, instead of I wonder how much water I’m retaining from last night’s delicious meal? But I know, just as with running, that there are always more pounds to lose after achieving the “goal weight.” There will always be something that can be fixed or tightened up or moved around. Letting go of a goal to lose means letting go of the idea that with work and focus and maybe even a little obsessiveness I can be more perfect and won’t have to walk around feeling sloppy or like people will assume I’m not trying hard enough, in other words, imperfect. Letting go of a goal of losing the last so many pounds means learning to live with being less than.  Less than the idea I have in my head of what a successful person looks like (hint: everything is ironed and never wrinkles).  Less than the idea I have in my head that if I can achieve whatever society/the media/the mean girls have decided is the correct way to look today (thin! no curvy! no thin! no superdooper cross fit buff! no curvy!) then I will be insulated from criticism from said society/mean girls.  So it’s learning to live with being less than perfect rather than yearning to weigh less and less and less.

We’ll see how that one goes as well.


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