I have a confession to make: I’m a perpetual self-improver.
Sometime between amassing paper apples in 1st grade for the most books read and landing a dream job right out of college at HGTV.com, I became an overachiever who lived her life by to-do lists.
Sometimes, I would write down things on those to-do lists that were already done, just because it made me feel better.
The world is filled with ideas about how you should be more productive with your to-do lists. Here are some of the strangest:
- Keep your list short, even if you have a lot of things to do. You’ll feel better if you only see five and not 10 items on your list.
- List the things you’re not supposed to do to remind yourself that you’re a bad person if you slip up and do them when you’re “supposed” to be doing something else.
- Create tasks that you know you can accomplish now to make you feel better about what’s left to do.
There’s one problem with these recommendations: They’re all focused on helping you to feel better about something you inherently don’t feel good about.
As Joshua Fields Millburn of The Minimalists writes at Zen Habits:
“My hauntingly perpetual to-do list was just that — perpetual, never-ending… Plus, I was continuously disappointed when I didn’t achieve a goal, or when I missed a deadline. Hell, I was even disappointed when I attained a goal but didn’t overachieve.”
Giving up the list
When I first stepped on a yoga mat five years ago, getting my heels to touch the floor in Downward Facing Dog made its way on to my mental to-do list. As the quintessential yoga pose, it seemed to be the hallmark of strength and flexibility.
I quickly discovered after a week, a month, a year, that it wasn’t going to be that easy.
Five years later, my heels still aren’t on the ground. And you know what? I’m okay with that.
I’m okay because I realize now that it’s not the goal of the pose; Surprise! There are no “goals” in yoga (enlightenment notwithstanding).
If yoga was just about doing and achieving, we’d all be burned out by now. Instead, yoga has become a worldwide phenomenon. Why? Because yoga focuses on undoing all the stress created through the doing.
Yoga doesn’t keep track when you stumble in Tree Pose or when all you did today was rest in Balasana, Child’s Pose.
Yoga encourages you to let go of your inner overachiever. To set yourself free from all the supposed-tos and should-have-dones. To accept yourself as you are every time you come to the mat.
The best part? There are no asanas to cross off the list.
Achieving without keeping track
Over the past five years, yoga has helped me prioritize what really matters when it comes to my life’s goals. Making lists I can’t live up to is not part of the plan.
If you’re a perpetual self-improver or yoga overachiever, my guess is you’re too hard on yourself when you fall short. There’s an easy fix: Stop making lists that diminish your joy rather than amplify it.
For every ho-hum “must do,” write down one thing that feels like a “want to do.” Hug someone for more than two seconds; pet the dog; practice yoga without judgment. And, oh yeah, buy those trash bags you’ve forgotten to get for a week.
It’s time you and I felt better about the things we already feel good about, instead of focusing on the things we need to improve.
As yogis, we dig our heels in every day to bring more love to ourselves and the world. So your heels don’t touch in Down Dog? Value the practice, not the goal.
Eventually, you’ll arrive and not even realize it.
Try this: Downward Facing Dog, Adho Mukha Svanasana
My first-ever yoga teacher, trained in Iyengar, used to say, “A day without Downward Facing Dog is like a day without sunshine.” (tweet it!)
This is exactly how I feel about D Dog. With your head below your heart, the inversion brings clarity into your head space while you strengthen the shoulders and lengthen the spine. Start with bent knees if your hamstrings are tight, remembering that a strong upper body is key to shifting your weight evenly among hands and feet.
- Come into an upper push up position. Stack your wrists right under your shoulders, fingers spread and palms sucked into the mat, strengthening down especially into the thumb and first finger. Walk your feet wide, at least hip distance apart.
- Exhale and lift your hips to the ceiling, bending your knees as much as you need to keep your back from rounding.
- Press strongly into the mat, inhale, and lift up out of the shoulders to elongate the spine. Release your neck completely, neither craning to look forward nor backward.
- Engage your knee caps up and energetically lift through your inner ankles. Inhale and pull your thighs up into the hip creases to elevate your hips more. Keep the lift, exhale, and drive your heels straight behind you. Stay strong in the shoulders, lifting the upper arms away from the mat.
- Hold the pose for a minute or two, smoothly inhaling and exhaling. To come down, bend your knees until they touch the mat. Shift your hips over your ankles for Child’s Pose.
Are you too hard on yourself on and off the mat? Share how you overcome your overachiever in the comments.