I can be quite bad at doing things that make me happy, particularly when they are attached to a big goal.
Meditation, for instance. I love meditation once I’m doing it. (I also love how smug I feel afterward). And yet, when I’m having a busy or emotional week, I’m much more likely to spend a spare few minutes scrolling Instagram than getting Zen. I know it helps me… it’s the ‘doing it’ bit that’s hard.
Many of us have that thing we love doing we don’t make time for. It might be reading, cooking, craft or puzzles. It might be going to art galleries or watching Indie films.
For many of us – too many – it’s movement.
It took me a long time to make movement part of my daily routine. I used to let big goals lead the way – the bigger, the better. Whether it was losing 5kg or trekking to Everest Base Camp, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone often. But after falling off the bandwagon one too many times – and finding myself in an emotionally dark place – I started to realise these goals weren’t working for me. I dreaded workouts. I hated my body. As soon as the goal was over, I’d return to my unhealthy habits.
And then I took up yoga. Yoga was challenging – mentally and physically – but I really liked it. It felt good, it gave me a buzz and the classes were at night. A hunky yoga teacher was just the cherry on top. I started going regularly.
Yoga taught me to slow down – that the journey was the destination. That just coming to your mat – whatever you’re feeling – is enough. You can just lie there for 60 minutes if you need to.
This shifted everything, because suddenly it wasn’t about achievement, it was about practice. There were no setbacks, only forward motion. Every class I went to was a deposit in my bank of wellbeing – and every one I missed was a lesson in acceptance.
I started applying this philosophy to other areas of exercise, especially walking. I used to walk with real purpose and pace – with the goal of clocking up those km. I saw a walk as a lazy run, and if I didn’t puff up the stairs or get a sweat on I’d feel like it was a wasted opportunity.
And if you have a big fitness goal, this might be true. You need to push yourself, to improve your fitness quickly. If that works for you, you probably don’t need to read on.
It didn’t work for me. The big goal made me resentful of the practice. I was keen to achieve it partly so I could stop training so damn hard and have a sleep in!
I needed the habit. The regularity. I needed to just move in a way that felt good so I could stop the yo-yo thing and embed this for life.
Instead of pushing myself every time, I started tuning in and approaching my walks with more presence. Listening to what my body needed. Sometimes this meant walking for a bit, then sitting on a rock and staring at a leaf. Sometimes it meant embracing a burst of energy and racing into a run. Sometimes it meant chatting with a friend or listening to a podcast. And sometimes I was enjoying it so much I’d keep walking, and walking, and walking.
I realise now I was embracing enchantment, reveling in awe and wonder. It was less about the doing and more about the feeling, and that kept me coming back for more.
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Katherine May, author of Wintering and Enchantment, shared her tips on ‘How to Feel Alive Again’.
It’s not about fitness, but I resonated with her approach.
She focuses on noticing the world around you, giving in “to the fascination”. This is what I’m doing when I’m walking, or staring at a flower, or gazing at the moon or paying attention to a gentle wave lapping against my toes.
“You have to keep pursuing it until you get that tingle that tells you that you’ve found something that’s magical to you,” Ms. May said. “It’s trial and error, isn’t it?”
It reminds me of Julia Baird’s now iconic book Phosphorescence. For her, it was ocean swimming that ignited awe and wonder.
Adopting this approach, I was becoming a person who moved with ease and joy – no gritted teeth in sight. Instead of focusing ahead on the goal – my mind firmly in the future – I was connected to the present moment, into the small, quiet beauty of the wonderous mundane. This fueled and satisfied me in a way no goal ever has.
This doesn’t work for everyone. For our Chief Adventure Chick Di Westaway (otherwise known as my mother 😉) goals lead everything. For her, having a BHAG to look forward to pushes her outside of her comfort zone and helps her lead a bigger, healthier and happier life.
I’m okay with a smaller, healthier and happier life.
We’ve debated this difference and perhaps it’s generational. The era of the ‘girl-boss’ has lost its gloss, as younger millennials and Gen-Z realise burnout sucks and doing less might just make them feel better. Striving is officially ‘uncool’, which is hilarious to me because being an Influencer or Creator is the striviest thing imaginable. But I digress.
Perhaps it’s about life stage. I don’t have kids, so I don’t have the juggle. Self-care isn’t last on my to-do list. In Di’s experience, many mums need a big, hairy, audacious goals because without it, they can’t prioritise fitness at all. This makes sense to me. But it also makes sense that a big goal might feel so out of the realm of possibility, while a 10-minute walk around the block might work.
Perhaps it’s just because people are different. Goals work for Di, wonder works for me. Something entirely different might work for you.
If you do struggle to make a habit stick – whether that’s movement or healthy eating or getting into nature – keep trying. Give a goal a go. If that doesn’t work, try embracing enchantment and developing tiny habits that feel excellent – deep in your soul. If that doesn’t work, try a little friendly competition. If that doesn’t work, try a trainer or a program or a buddy or a gym or a meetup group.
As for me, I’ll be over here trying to meditate. Perhaps I’ll take up Di’s suggestion and give myself a meditation goal. Or maybe I’ll just watch a sunset and feel joy and remember that was the point all along.