By Mark Hyman, MD
Eat better, sleep more, exercise more, learn more, love more, love better, be a better son, father, friend, be a better doctor, reach more people, heal the planet, end obesity, starvation, and global warming – ARRRRRGGHHHHHHH!!
It’s enough to make me want to stay in bed and watch movies on iTunes.
How can I do all of this? How can I wake up and figure out what to do first, second, or third? How can I achieve even one of these things? I actually fail all the time. There is absolutely no way I can achieve my goals.
Our culture is awash with endless pressure to do more, do better, be skinnier, be richer, be happier, be fitter, and be healthier. We are offered endless lists of what do to, how to achieve more, reach our dreams, lose weight, attain the five steps to immortality, find the seven ways to stop wrinkles, or how to lose 100 pounds in ten days.
We go for these promises because we have this innate yearning to grow, to evolve, to improve, and to be better.
I am in the change business, the transformation business. I want people to feel better, live well, be happy, be awake, be alive, and to be healthy. I have to set goals for myself, and I help others to set goals for themselves.
Unfortunately, this leads to inevitable disappointment because we can never reach our goals. And once we do reach some desired result there will be another goal that will grab our attention. It is hard to do, but I have found that if you give up your goals magic happens.
In the striving, failure is almost guaranteed. There is a strange paradox at work in the universe. Understanding that is a powerful key to wellness and happiness. You can only reach your goals by giving them up.
But you say, “I still want to lose weight, feel better, get smarter, be better in dozens of ways, get this, do that or go there”. All of that is fine. We are human and it is our condition to want to seek, grow, and evolve.
But the trap is getting stuck on believing that what you seek in the future will make you happy. If you focus on that “never to come” future you will miss the magic of right now.
So what do I do about that? How do I deal with both having goals and also letting go of them? My yearnings to grow, learn, experience, and improve in every way will never go away. Yet I don’t want to make myself unhappy and miserable by never getting to some final imagined destination.
For me, a few simple ideas help me reset how I see my life’s journey. It is how I get off of this endless treadmill of setting goals and failing to achieve them.
I start out by getting clear about what is important to me, what guides me, what is the most essential, authentic and the truest expression of who I am and what my values are – love, service, kindness, being awake to the moment, and showing up fully in my life.
Then I focus on ways in which I can live those values every day. My choices are guided by my values and it almost doesn’t matter what happens because if I show up and am present and authentic in each moment, with each person, in each action, everything seems to work out, even if it wasn’t how I planned it.
Yes, I have goals and dreams, but they are more like peaks in a mountain range — something I am moving toward. But the journey is the best part. And when I get to the top of one of the peaks there will always be another and I won’t be able to see what’s on the other side until I get there. So how I am in the journey is all that matters. Then I can relax and just enjoy the ride.
And when I go unconscious (which I occasionally do), or get too caught up in the striving, I get warning signs that I have learned to listen to such as anxiety, sleep problems, sugar cravings, irritability, and fatigue. I have learned to recognize these signs as friends.
They are like the little alert warnings on your phone that tell you that your battery is at 20 percent. I usually ignore that one and wait until it’s at 10 percent, which I don’t recommend.
I have learned very simple techniques that help me reset and recharge so I can be fully present to my life. When I show up fully, then I am happy because I am already where I am going.
The paradox of reaching toward your goals and letting go of them at the same time is the secret to happiness and achieving them though they may not be what you imagined when you started on your journey.
Those who know me well know I have crazy, insane goals. But at the same time, I have realized if I focus on those goals and miss the moment, then I can’t reach them (and reaching them isn’t really the point anyway).
So here’s how I manage to simultaneously have goals and let them go. I hope these tools help you as well. Here are my mantras for managing the illusion that I have the power to reach my goals using force or will:
- I am not in control of my life or those in it. If I think I am in control I am always disappointed. Magic happens when I relax and just show up in every moment as authentically, honestly, and lovingly as I can.
- Trust in the perfection of the unfolding of my life. Sounds corny, but it goes along with not being in control. And whatever happens there is something magic in it. I don’t have to get anywhere because everything is already perfect. I just have to notice the magic, beauty, and perfection in everything, in everyone, and in every moment. Yes, there are bad things, bad people, bad events, and meaningless suffering, but I do what I can to change the things I can that are around me. In my daily life my happiness depends on just showing up and trusting.
When my ability to let go of control and to trust is impaired, it is usually when my battery is at ten percent or less. Here are my strategies to get back into the moment and let go of striving:
- Simplify My Diet. Clean, simple, easy meals of whole fresh food and cutting out stimulants, such as caffeine, sugar, and alcohol, quickly resets my biology and helps to calm my mind.
- Move. Getting back into the physicality of life. The feeling of moving, of being in my body, sensing my muscles, breath, and energy brings me back to now. My favorite things to do are a hike, yoga, or a run in the woods.
- Do Nothing. Google encourages its employees to goof off 20 percent of the time while at work. This allows the mind to re-calibrate and shift out of doing into being. It stimulates creativity and clarity. I am really bad at this but I try every day to take time for myself. My favorite thing to do is to take an UltraBath (Epsom salt, lavender oil, baking soda, and hot water) and soak every night.
- Do the Next Thing. Losing 100 pounds starts with losing an ounce. With the next bite, the next step, or the next thought every moment is an extraordinary opportunity to begin again. There is never failure, just the next choice.
- Sleep. When all else fails, sleep. It is a powerful antidote to feeling disconnected from the moment, a natural reset, a way to recharge and repair your brain and your cells.
So, in a way, the methods I employ to achieve my goals are quite simple. I have them, I set them, but then I let them go and just do the next thing, showing up as fully as I can with who I am, wherever I am and in whatever I am doing.
It is then that goals are achieved automatically, except they may not be the ones you think you want. And that is perfect.