A Simple Way to Help You Reach Your Goals & Be Happier

A Simple Way to Help You Reach Your Goals & Be Happier

This blog comes to you from the women at Poliquin. It is an invitation to exchange ideas about how to be healthier, get fitter, eat better, find motivation, and help our families live the best lives possible. You will find training programs, recipes, research, and stories.

Even when this blog is a personal narrative, know that it is really coming from all of us to all of you. Now, without further ado…

Match Your Action to Your Goal

I’ve always believed in the power of goal setting to help people change their lives. Goals can be especially useful for enabling us to change our physique or diet since we can hone in on what we really want with specific, measureable steps. Goal setting has helped me to learn Spanish, get myself to graduate school, and deadlift much more than I weigh. However, at the beginning of the summer, I realized there was one outstanding goal that I hadn’t made good on—doing yoga.

For the past three New Year’s resolutions, I set the goal that I would start a regular yoga practice. Despite taking a yoga class here and there, I hadn’t attended more than six yoga classes in the past three years. How was I failing so miserably to spend one hour a week doing yoga while devoting at least 10 hours a week to working out?

I tried to approach the goal from a different angle—could I get myself to do yoga at home with a Rodney Yee DVD? What if I broke the hour commitment down into fifteen minute sessions a few days a week—I can do anything for just fifteen minutes, I told myself!

I had two reasons for setting the yoga goal. First, I wanted to achieve balance in my life and in my body. I envied the women I knew who regularly practice yoga because they look amazing, balanced, and seem to exude serenity. Yoga had to be the answer!

Second, I thought yoga could help me decrease my stress levels and relieve an exhaustion that was becoming increasingly chronic and weighing me down. It seemed to me that yoga could solve this problem since I was pretty sure that successful yoga practitioners are not chronically exhausted.

Ultimately, it was my desire not to have to feel bad about not reaching my goal that got me to start my yoga practice. I started doing at least 15 minutes of either a “power” or a “core” yoga DVD four or five days a week. Hurray! I was finally coming through and reaching my goal!

Except I didn’t feel serene. I wasn’t finding balance—in fact I felt more physically unbalanced than ever, but how could this be? I was doing warrior poses on both sides of my body everyday with lots of downward dogs that should straighten me out. And, I certainly didn’t feel less stressed or tired. In fact, there were days that I would be doing my yoga, trying to breath deeply and achieve a sense of peace, and all I could think was that I was exhausted. Yoga quickly became a chore.

Still, I persisted in trying to drive myself to achieve this goal. Then, I started to work on an article about stress and the toll it has on us physically. I found out that stress is not just some abstract concept that we can “drive” ourselves to get rid of.

Stress makes our bodies produce the hormone cortisol. When cortisol is persistently elevated, it decreases connections in the brain, and makes us tired. It also results in the production of inflammatory markers that cause aging at the cellular and genetic levels. One of these inflammatory makers, interleukin-6 (IL-6) messes with our body’s ability to control blood sugar, is directly linked to belly fat gain, and causes damage to something called telomeres. Telomeres shrink in response to stress, and in young people who suffer high levels psychological stress, there is evidence of medically serious aging. A study from the University of Utah found that one year of chronic stress will age you by six years!

I never imagined that stress affected the body in such a dramatic way, which is strange since I was suffering from a lot of stress and felt pretty physically horrible on a daily basis. But you get used to feeling bad and tired. And now I knew that it was making me old and shrinking my telomeres! Why wasn’t this yoga practice helping? I was coming through and reaching my goal of an hour of yoga a week! Where was the peace, the serenity, the contentment?

Then, as part of my research into stress, I read a review about how IL-6 levels—that inflammatory biomarker that is elevated when you are stressed—aren’t generally lower in people who have a yoga practice, but they are lower in people who meditate. In fact, in one study, the people who spent the most time meditating a week had lower IL-6 levels than people who had less successful meditation practices.

That caught my attention. The day I read that review I meditated instead of doing yoga. I found that the meditation relaxed me and helped relieve the intense fatigue and stress that I felt to such a degree that I lost my attachment to the yoga goal. I continued in this way throughout the week—meditating and not doing yoga and I felt a bit of light enter my mind.

I wouldn’t say I was particularly successful at meditating—I spent a lot of time acknowledging my obsessive thoughts and reminding myself to pay attention to the breath. But every so often, my mind would clear and I’d be left with just the breath. I found I had more creative thoughts, and I didn’t feel as frantic for balance. My need to do yoga fell away.

I had made a classic goal-setting error. My goal of doing yoga was driven by vanity rather than by working toward something that would decrease my stress and help me achieve balance. Meditation serves the goal of countering sensations of stress and mitigating the inflammatory stress response.

The take away is that if we are ever going to make any change, it’s critical that we match our action to our intention or goal. In the fitness and sports world, we see this disconnect all the time with the misinformation about how to get strong, lose fat, and eat healthy. It is the reason for this Lifestyle web site and for the whole Poliquin education program—to teach strategies that work that are informed by both science and experience.

Following Charles Poliquin’s lead, we, the women of Poliquin are committed to giving people information so they can shape their actions to reach their goals. For example, you want to lose fat? Do interval cardio and strength training. You want to keep the fat off once you lose it? Clean up your diet and eat so that you maximize energy levels and metabolism. You want to increase bone strength? You must “load the spine” by doing exercises like squats and overhead presses with at least moderately heavy weights.

We encourage you to set a goal, to always match your action to your intention, and to use this site to find answers when the goal seems unreachable.


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