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Wednesday
May092012

The Kick is Good...Enough

I grew up on football. The only child of a Bears season ticket holder, every December during the mid seventies my mother would bundle me up while frowning, my dad would fill a thermos with hot cocoa and we’d head downtown to a deep freeze game where—at the gates—they’d be handing out white paper bags with eyeholes cut out that said “Unbearable Bears” so you could watch the game and not worry about being ridiculed if friends identified you on TV. The basic gist before the ‘85 season was this: be a Bears fan, but reluctantly and with great shame.

 

I get football. Each play has a clear goal: you’ve got four chances to move the ball over the line and if you do, you get another four chances to do it again. And if you keep plugging and don’t screw up, then eventually you get a touchdown.  Baseball always perplexed me, although I dated a die-hard Sox fan for years. Where was I supposed to focus? Everything seemed so scattered. I always seemed to be looking at the wrong thing. Sure, you could get to a base, and then what if a fly ball got caught? All that work getting to third—undone in a heartbeat. And yet I think that as much as I like the more clear-cut structure of a football game, life is a little more like baseball, in that is isn’t as linear as I like.

 

I won’t go on comparing the two sports—George Carlin did it far, far better than I, but thanks to a Psychology Today article I read a while back, I’m realizing that when it comes to goal-setting, I’ve been playing baseball on a football field and wondering why I’m not making a touchdown.

 

A month or so ago a good friend (thanks Bathsheba) asked me if I’d ever written down long term and short term goals. And I was surprised to realize I kinda hadn’t—I certainly journal about things I’m working on, am working toward, even make To-Do lists at times, and had very definitely done some specific weekly goal setting during my weight loss, but I’d never focused on writing a clear proposal of my short and long-term life goals with dates, removing my speculations and musings. And seeing as I realized years back that it was important to ask my students to write down their goals—at the start of the term in letters to me, and to discuss those during mid-term conferences—I was rather shocked. Maybe some folks do fine just thinking about what they want to accomplish. Me? I need to write a contract with myself, otherwise I get distracted, or lose focus and the original idea shifts and things get blurry. As a writer (and as awful as the question is when someone asks at a cocktail party) we must—at some point—be able to state what our story is about in less words than it takes to write the whole thing. Goals are like thesis statements for our life.

 

Here—thanks to Psychology Today—was the most terrifying thing I learned about goals, and bear in mind this is more complicated than I’m laying out here, but the basic jist is pretty intriguing.

            When it comes to a goal you want, you fall into two categories:

  • ·      Mastery Orientation (Learning Orientation)
  • ·      Performance Orientation (Ego Orientation)

 The Mastery one is easy to understand: you want to master the task involved by developing your competence and improving your skills; interest in learning is key here. Performance Orientation has two categories: you either want to demonstrate competence, or you want to avoid revealing Incompetence. Yikes. You can probably see how some things in life and work would fall into different categories, depending on a number of variables. The trick is—at least, according to these scientists—figuring how which orientation you are for which goal/task, and why; and if you want to make a change, you work to create a consistent feedback loop to keep you focused on your goal.

 

13 pounds. That’s how much less I weighed when I first lost my weight. Sure, I’m still within the healthy weight range for my height and age, and I certainly am strong and healthy, but there’s always the nagging sense that I could weigh less…and here’s where I start to get frightened. Just how much would I have to restrict myself to keep those 13 pounds off? I know I can loose them. Losing isn’t the issue. Keeping them off is another thing entirely. I never really tried that hard to do it. I hit that lower number and was dating someone I loved who thought eating a potato was getting in his veggies, and I gained back ten pounds between October and January and figured: Hey, I’m still healthy and fit and I get to eat and drink and enjoy myself, and do I really want to work harder? Now, I bounce around being a few pounds under the top of my range and a pound or two over, but clearly I changed my goal somewhere along the line without really realizing it.

 

The thing is, I don’t really know if I’d have to “restrict” myself. I never went into weight loss with the idea of becoming “Master” of my body; instead, I just wanted food and emotions to stop mastering me. Ironically, science judges “interest” in a goal as an emotion. Certainly we can’t be masters of everything—not and be sane. We have to pick those things we want the most to focus on. I don’t think I’m ever going to care to become a master of laundry or household cleaning; I’m perfectly okay with being competent and, at times, I even slip to just trying to not look incompetent. Perhaps one thing I have to work at practicing is getting comfortable with the idea of being a master of my body weight, rather than being okay with demonstrating competent weight control. I know I’m certainly not okay with being a “competent” Pilates practitioner, or a competent teacher of writing. When I first began teaching at Columbia, a mentor of mine said “Don’t make your students’ work more important than your own.” I recall snickering internally, and thinking, “Of COURSE my student’s work takes precedence!” I could work on my own work second, third even. I was more interested in mastering my teaching skills than mastering the publishing world, but now I feel it’s time to change my focus and rebalance.  Writing to get success and fame was never really a motivation for me, and if I’m really honest, I’ve always aspired to be masterful at supporting others, and only competent at supporting myself, and I know I must do better for me.

 

So it’s time to take stock and get focused on new goals. I’m going to take off those 13 pounds and see if I’d be happy mastering maintenance at that weight. And if after, say, six months, I feel that staying at that weight requires me to live in a way that doesn’t feel sustainable, then clearly I’d better figure out a way to feel like I’m a master of being 13 pounds heavier, because even though right now I’m competent at being healthy, that fat girl inside me with the pigtails and the pink gingham dress keeps wheezing in my ear that maybe I’m just incompetent at being that thin, and I’m kinda sick of her trash talk.

 

And I’ve got a novel to finish, and a book proposal to work on. And more.

 

So my goals for May 31st:

-Lose five pounds

-Meet a great guy (I have no idea how that one just showed up on here…)

-Regular blog posts and photos

-Finish my novel chapter on a major character’s death

-Help my regular Pilates clients achieve their goals

-Finish Proposal outline and market research

 

I also made a list of goals I want to achieve by June 30th, December 31st, and June 2013. My next task is a five-year goal plan, but hell, I think I’d add that as a goal for June, because right now it’s first down at my own twenty yard-line, and I know it’s quite possible there will be a fly ball, or I might get walked, because in life things don’t always follow the structure we’d like. Hell, that’s another reason I like to write stories: they help make sense of the world in a way real life rarely does.

 

But regardless of what game I am trying to play, I guess it really comes down to this: It’s time to take the paper bag off and show myself as a fan—of me.



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