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Beware of Wishes!

February 25, 2021
What is the impact of wishes? I went cross country skiing for the first time in maybe four years this week. I pulled out my equipment and noted how the fabric on the collar of the boot was disintegrating. They felt a little tight initially until they warmed up and stretched to accommodate my foot.

I got to the trailhead, clipped into the skis, and started off in fresh snow. It was a treat setting the track and looking at the marks of a lone jogger and the woodland critters.

I started slowly because I knew I had been sedentary for the prior four months and I hadn’t been on skis. The path began with a gentle incline allowing some gliding even though I purposely did not try for the full extension. The feeling of enjoyment of being in the woods on the bright sunny morning started to have company. I was reminded of the balance necessary and control of the skis were fleeting. I succeeded, really more like survived, the slight down hills. Probably over-crouched, definitely not loose in the muscles and grinded my way along the path. With time the fatigue accentuated the sloppiness of my technique and I expanded the ways I fell. The fear of loosing control or concern about tracking a curve on the down slope became dominant increasing the stiffness in my body. Not surprising then my pace on the trail slowed and my attention left the expanse of the woods. It narrowed to the next obstacle in the trail. With this my enjoyment diminished and was replaced with a sense of drudgery and irritation.

What made this so difficult? The conditioning of my muscles is what I pointed to as the root of my problems on the trail. However, the true cause was my memory of what I have done. I remember needing 6 to 8 miles to get an adequate workout. This day I was only doing 5. It should have been doable. I picked the distance and the pace based upon what I used to do. The problem with deciding based upon my history is I am not the same person I was six years ago. My equipment has changed with time as well. And the most deceptive logic I applied was grounded in memories that have me remembering the good and minimizing the bad. Up until my mid to late 40’s I could use my history and memories to pick the distance and course without problem. I was still growing in my physical prowess. A combination of applying wisdom that compensated for the dropoff of my body’s capabilities.

My performance for the first time out was predictable and not the true source of my frustration. My frustration with myself and my body had more to do with my expectations. My expectations were heavily influenced by my memories and my judgement of how capable I should be. The truth is I was never that smooth on skis. That “memory” of being awkward is not where I start. I start from who I thought I was and who I want to be. The gap between these two and how I relate to the gap speaks to how I will experience the workout. It is the core to learning how we experience our lives.

How to set goals not wishes

Regardless of age, we all can have expectations or ideas or goals which exceed our capabilities to achieve or deliver these outcomes. Our disappointment is linked to coming up short. Our dissatisfaction can be grounded in not recognizing or accepting our skill level relative to our objective. If I recognize I am 64 doing what I did, I am quite proud and know most 64-year old’s wouldn’t even attempt it. If I want to match my expectations, I must also embrace the work needed to develop the skills, which means practice. I would need to do this more than once. I would also benefit with adding in some weight training to increase my strength and balance. The point is, I won’t know how close I can come to my expectations if I am unwilling to put in the work, the practice, the effort to gain the balance and stamina to transform the experience from surviving the 5 miles to thriving as I travel along the trail. This is the difference between judging my life based upon the wishes I have for what I want to do and setting a goal I will work to achieve.

An element of sustaining a life of joy requires working at something, striving to improve. Knowing I am doing something that has purpose and that also gives me pleasure. These are the elements to identify and include in my day. Having what I do today be something that gives me pleasure, that demands effort from me, and holds purpose for me. Allows me to enjoy today and every day, not just when the goal is realized.

This is the formula to having a life of sustained happiness. This is the key difference between living a life of wishes that leave us constantly disappointed and living a life of goals that give us pleasure and purpose. Learn the difference and see if this doesn’t affect your experience of your life.