Goal Setting from a Yogic Lense (Screw Resolutions)

Goal setting can feel so self indulgent and privilegy. To have everything we want just seems not ok to the spiritual aspirant. To be living our best, feeling happy and healthy just doesn’t seem fair- especially to anyone empathic or with basic human decency, we feel like it’s unfair for those of us with resources to have our best life and not allow others too… but the paradox is that unless you are aiming to be your best and highest self, you will always hold back on what you can offer others.

Add to that, it feels not “yogic” to set goals. Aren’t we supposed to do less, want less, love ourselves as is? Well, yes… but the pursuit of that in and of itself is a goal. Doesn’t it feel f*ckin hard to just love yourself as you are? To see yourself as Divine? In order to return to our true nature/ Highest Self it takes work. It takes consistent practice and then it takes letting go of the desires and attachments. Phew… seems like a lot of work to be enlightened :).  In order to lessen the overwhelm it just might be helpful to outline what we are after (setting a goal) to then be able to check in with our progress (practice) and then let go of the results whether they happen or not (non-attachment).

Let’s look at it from the Yoga Sutras point of view: 

From jump, Patanjali outlines the ‘goal’ of yoga:

“Yoga calms the chatter of the mind.”

– Sutra 1.2

Patanjali later explains the two modes to utilize in order to achieve this goal: abhyasa (consistent, earnest practice) and vairagya (dispassion or non-attachment). He also emphasizes that it is through CONSISTENT and EARNEST practice (so not like once in a while, every 6 months kinda thing) that the fruits of our practice might, just might ripen and lead us to a calm and stable way of being. He doesn’t even mention that once we get to calming the chatter of the mind will we enter a state of nirvana or samadhi. We will simply quell the constant waves of the mind which can be argued the state of enlightenment- but more on that another day.

Within the Yoga Sutras we have a functioning paradox. Show up and do the work toward the goal consistently and frequently, and then let go of the attachment to the fruits of your labor.

1.12 These thought patterns (vrittis) are mastered (nirodhah, regulated, coordinated, controlled, stilled, quieted) through practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya).

1.13 Practice (abhyasa) means choosing, applying the effort, and doing those actions that bring a stable and tranquil state (sthitau).

1.14 When that practice is done for a long time, without a break, and with sincere devotion, then the practice becomes a firmly rooted, stable and solid foundation.

WAIT WHA? DO ALL THIS WORK AND THEN DON’T CARE? No sweet pea, not like that. Do the work towards whatever your goal: quelling your coo coo thoughts or making $100,000 , but then know that the attachment to the goal is what will cause us suffering. You get that $100K and realize it wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be = suffering, you get that $100K and instantly you want to make $200K = suffering. We simply have to show up, do the work and then let go. Simple… yet not at all. That’s why it’s a practice, babe.


We are programmed to set goals. 

When we really look at this, isn’t life a goal? If you didn’t have any goals, you’d straight up die. We have something called ahamkara or the “I” part of our selves that functions at the most basic cellular level. Ahamkara is what keeps your cells producing anti-bodies and fighting disease. If you didn’t have a sense of “I” your body would succumb to whatever illness entered, you’d stop eating and surrender to the elements because you wouldn’t have any sense of purpose or why to even stay afloat. Ahamkara is also what gives us our sense of ‘goals’. Almost all of us have goals to live, arguably, for an extended period of time. Most yogis tend to have a goal to fulfill their dharma (more on this in a minute) and to make the world better than how they found it. We often hear the language around why people practice yoga is in service to “reaching our Highest Self”… is that not quite the lofty goal within itself? Whether that means we take the minimalist approach.

I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set it free


Or we see it as a series of overcoming obstacles and utilizing resources to do so, setting goals and achieving them is part of the human experience. Now that doesn’t mean they are always framed like “I will run 2 miles every day by January 1, 2020” but they are running as a mental/ emotional/ spiritual program behind the scenes always. So why not, like our yoga practice, make them more intentional?


Fulfilling our Purpose Through Goals

If we are here to fulfill our dharma (meaning to make firm- to bring order to an entropic world) as outlined in our beloved Yogic text of the Bhagavad Gita, how can we do so if we only practice vairagya (non-attachment) ? We must practice and then relinquish the fruits of our labor. It’s two fold.

Therefore without attachment always perform the work that is to be done and by doing their duties without attachment to the fruits, people attain the highest.

-The Bhagavad Gita

Yoga is not a religion, however it provides an ethical code (yamas & niyamas) and is tied to three major religions (Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism) that advocate for a particular love or altruism towards ourselves, a higher power and each other. If you don’t identify with those religions, there is a through line in all major religions (I’m talkin’ Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism & Islam specifically) congruent with this: do good in the world. Most of these religions say that we should do good for ourselves, for our fellow man and for all God’s creations (all living things) in service to {Insert God/ theory of your understanding}.

Our dharma is how we do good in the world. It’s how we bring firmness/order to a seemingly shakey and chaotic world. In order to do good, we must first be good to ourselves. Through the observances of yamas and niyamas (or other ethical codes) and other basic self-care practices (eating to fuel our bodies, protecting our bodies, fostering spiritual practices, etc.). Once we have taken care of ourselves, then we can begin to enact our good will on the world. If we neglect ourselves we will become dis-eased, whether in the mind, body, spirit or all three and we will be unable to fully deliver on our dharma to the world. The paradox here is by showing ourselves love, we show that we are Divine and in doing so we signal that so is everyone else. We are interdependent and ALSO singular vessels of Divine being. Getting too woo woo for ya? Hang on!


Resolutions are for Marketers, Keeping Up With the Joneses and Quitters

This year, set GOALS. Goals are efforts that are through continued, sustained practice. They are often not easy or even always fun, but their outcome is overall good for yourself and all beings. The other fun part about goals is they are often unattainable (you should fail 50% of your goals!). They teach us as much about practice and non-attachment as showing up on our yoga mat (which is a great goal to set, btw… = consistent yoga practice).

Resolutions are what marketers use to tell you that you aren’t enough. You are too fat, too poor, too dumb, too lonely… WHATEVER. Resolutions are a way to imprison us to do things to look better to others instead of feeling and BEING better to ourselves, which naturally translates to being better for others. Resolutions keep us in the us v. them mentality and they’re easily achievable.

92% of people FAIL their New Year’s Resolutions! Most of them do so within the first two weeks of the New Year! Go for the long game, set goals not resolutions.

You want to lose weight? It’s not impossible (unless you have a thyroid issue or other difficult health obstacles). Often the biggest hurdle is that we don’t actually WANT those things for ourselves, but we want them to impress others or we’re told we should want it. Ditch those. You’re better than that. Set goals so that YOU can be the best version of YOU so that you can then go help others be the best version of themSELVES so that WE can collectively be the best version of US!


Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu: May ALL Beings Be Happy, Healthy & Free

If the last year showed us anything it is that the playing field is not even. The inequality for people of color, women, non-cis gender normative folks, LGBTQ+ and the environment is obvious. 2018 was a year of exposing those inequities further and offering us all choice. We can stay veiled (ignorance- a big theme in yoga, and the importance of overcoming it!) or we can choose to step into the light and DO something. As you set your goals for 2019, set them for ALL beings. Include yourself in that equation and then zoom the proverbial lens out. How are you doing your part to ensure that everyone is happy, healthy and free? If we all do our part towards this, the world will inevitably get closer to enlightenment.


Bringing It All Together: Live a Life You Love So That You Enable Others To Do The Same

When you get on a plane, one of the first things they tell you to do is put your oxygen mask on before you help anyone else. When you get on your yoga mat (at our studio at least), your instructor will often remind you to stay on your own mat and practice where YOU are at today and there is a Buddhist proverb that speaks to meditation that goes:

“Where would I find enough leather

To cover the entire surface of the earth?

But with leather soles beneath my feet,

It’s as if the whole world as been covered.”


We have a responsibility to take care of ourselves FIRST. We have to care for ourselves in a way that:

  1. Signals that we see the Divine within ourselves
  2. Prepares us to do the bigger work we are meant to do in the world

So in order to help others, we must first help ourselves. As we look at setting goals, we have to set goals that set us up for success to enable our dharma and make the world better so that ALL beings can live happy, healthy and free. What I’d encourage you to do is write two goals for every one:

Self Goal: I make $100,000 a year by January 1, 2021

Dharma Goal: I live within my means, support my family and give back to my community with 25% of my earnings by January 1. 2020

Final Note: Need Help Getting Started?

Often in yogic literature there are 500 different words that invariably mean the same thing. Sadhana and abhyasa are both practice, just distinguishing between frequency and what we are practicing. Dharma, Sthitau and Sthira all mean a version of stability but in varying degrees. If you’re not sure where you even want to start with goals, make a lists:

  1. Draw a line down the center of a page.
  2. On the left hand side write practices (examples of things that you have to practice regularly to attain optimal benefit and proficiency: family time, yoga practice, cooking, volunteering, learning, etc.) that bring you closer to stability of mind (this can read as peace, joy or even closer to others -whether directly or indirectly)
  3. On the right hand side write practices that take you away from stability
  4. Go back through and circle the practices you want to keep. Some of them might even come from the right hand side of the page. Maybe you wrote travel on the right hand side because it makes you feel less stable, but at further glance travelling might help you increase your awareness of the world which eventually DOES lead to a greater stability.
  5. On the back of this page set goals based off of the practices you want to keep and cultivate in the new year. Give each one specific, measurable and time based markers
    1. Example: I will practice yoga daily for 20 minutes starting NOW until the end of the year
  6. Add the time based marker in your calendar. If it’s a daily thing, add it into your daily calendar. If it’s something you will check in with every three months, plug that date into your calendar.

Last tips:

  • stay consistent. Even when it’s hard, or you just don’t feel like it. Our greatest learnings often come from when we show up despite the shiny object trying to distract us. Discipline is critical to the yogic path.
  • set goals that will keep you consistent consistent. Set goals for sleep, basic self care (abhyanga, space to just chill), being more present (maybe set goals around phone time or limiting alcohol and TV?), immunity (eat to live, do things that boost your health).
  • set goals for you and not for anyone else. If you write volunteer on your sheet because you fear your mom might read it, but it doesn’t get you excited… don’t write it down. If you feel like what you could actually do is shut down racist comments when you hear them or adopt a dog/ cat or throw your own birthday party in honor of an organization you love- DO THAT INSTEAD. Don’t just fall for what looks good, fall for what FEELS and IS good.

Want more help? Check out this goal setting worksheet: Practice Indie Goals Worksheet

Or join us for our community wide goal setting on January 1! OR we have a new membership that involves one on one goal setting and close up accountability. Check that out here. 

Here’s to an incredible year, and hopefully the next phase of humanity: where all beings live happy, healthy and free.

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