- Jaime Lang
Pursuing Goals with Compassion
Updated: Jul 19, 2022
There are a lot of positive experiences from having goals and setting out to accomplish them. Moving towards dreams and seeing them develop is one of the most fulfilling and empowering things that we can experience. However, it is easy to get over-zealous in the pursuit of goals and expect ourselves to be at the finish line when we are just starting out. The expectation that you will make a high goal and immediately (or in a very short period of time) rise up and meet it can be one of the best ways to set yourself up for failure and reinforce a belief that you are unable to accomplish things or that you will never see your dreams become a reality.
A more effective strategy can be to set your dream as high as you like, but instead of expecting yourself to suddenly be able to accomplish them turn back and look at where you are right now. Look at your resources in this moment, look at your habits and expectations, look at your pain, your success, your fears and trepidation, and then instead of expecting the person looking back at you to jump to the height of your greatest dream have enough compassion to meet yourself where you are.
It would not be fair to expect a kindergartner who is just learning to count to understand fractions or algebra and putting that amount of pressure on that child and then criticizing them when they don't understand would cause much more harm than good. Yet it is easy to do this type of thing to ourselves when we set goals.
The beauty about dreaming and having high expectations is that they can fill you with energy and passion. That desire to accomplish can propel you forward with such force that you want to attain the end result in the moment you dream it, but most of the time we are not in a place to obtain the end result of a dream the moment we have dreamt it and even though envisioning that moment when you can reach out and accomplish whatever goal you set for yourself can be encouraging, setting that as your expectation is a good way to trip yourself up. Think of it this way, you watch an inspiring movie about a person who runs marathons. You feel uplifted and inspired and decide you are going to run a marathon-- you haven't run in years-- you think that if you start running one mile the first day and add a mile a day you will soon be able to reach your 26 mile goal. You start running, for the first minute you feel pumped. You are energized and excited. You sprint-- nothing can stop you. Minute two finds you out of breath, your legs are starting to burn, your stomach is starting to hurt, you slow down to a jog. Minute three you are sweating, your chest hurts, your heart is slamming into your chest. Minute five you start walking, you look at your distance and found that you have run half a mile. Now you are discouraged. If you can't even run one full mile how are you going to run 26. The physical discomfort is overwhelming, but emotionally you feel deflated. You think, "This was stupid. Why did I want to run this much anyway." The next time someone suggests going for a run you remember this end feeling, "Nope." You say, "I hate running."
That type of situation happens frequently. We do that to ourselves a lot. Instead of doing that, it would be more effective to take a compassionate approach and recognize that if you haven't exercised in years you are probably not going to feel good the first time you go for run. You could set a really low goal like running two minutes and walking the rest of the way, or decide to just go out and see how it feels to try to run and then use that a barometer for setting up your expectations, and you could recognize that it will take time to get to the level of fitness that you are reaching for.
Taking things slower and seeing what steps you can take and repeat without creating a painful memory of an experience is much more effective for long term change and movement towards goals than pushing yourself into the deep-end and expecting yourself to just manage through the pain and inexperience and rise to the top. Taking the time to recognize where you are and appreciate that all the experiences in your life to that point have led you there can help you see what the next step is. If you just take that next step then where you are will be somewhere new and when you can recognize and accept that you can more effortlessly take the next step. With less pressure and discouragement these small movements are continued over time until the next step naturally progress into the step where you reach that goal and are accomplishing that high expectation that might have seemed impossible at one point.
Having the compassion to see where you are and not judge yourself for being in that place can make a huge difference in how you progress towards your goals, as well as building self-trust and acceptance as you go. It's such an important concept that can be easy to overlook, but I encourage you to give it a try. The next time you have a goal that you want to achieve look honestly at where you are, and be brave enough and compassionate enough to meet yourself there instead of expecting yourself to jump to the finish line.
I made a video talking about this idea from a slightly different angle. Please watch it if you feel like it.
Thank you for reading and good luck on whatever goal you are moving towards.