The place of pressure

Photo above by Christina Morillo

I’ve been chatting to several people about their resolutions, goals, words of inspiration for 2020 – whatever floats their boat. There’s a dichotomy I’ve noticed, and as I look back on the years when I’ve had a resolution to keep, I can see that that I’ve approached it one of two ways. The category has less to do with the content or style of the resolution, and more about how we treat ourselves as we work towards what we want to achieve – our posture.

It sets itself out like this.

Either, we start a new venture with an acceptance that it will be hard, so we propel ourselves forward with the thought of a pleasing achievement. There’s structure and commitment often built in, but mainly, accomplishing the goal is the point. This finality is a core part of the attraction; we seemingly apply pressure to our will and can then point to the Coast to Coast medal or the novel or the flourishing veggie garden or knitting group or the volunteering and say, “Look, I did this.”

The second category of goal is one of acceptance. There is still a strong desire to achieve something, but this original commitment also acknowledges how hard the road ahead is going to be. Usually, the attempts to achieve the goal are celebrated as part of the process. These goals are no less meaningful or even really any different; it’s our attitude towards them that’s changed, and where we’ve applied the pressure. As cliché as it sounds, you know I have to write this: this resolution becomes about the journey, not the destination.

Last year, I did not have a goal for this blog. That’s incorrect – the goal was the blog. I was already so nervous about putting my words out here, I knew that if there was any expectation to keep up a regular publishing rhythm, I’d crumble. The output mattered less than learning a new weekday rhythm and finding my voice. The achievement was not about how often I clicked ‘Post’, but learning to click it without dread and fear of what others might think, and instead approach writing with kindness, towards the words and myself.

Sometimes I published twice a week. Other weeks, one piece was enough to drain me. I didn’t post anything on the blog for seven weeks in Spring last year. I settled into the rhythm of writing and learned to accept that words would ebb and flow – what I needed to do was to show up. As Liz Gilbert says in Big Magic, “Conventional success depends on three factors – talent, luck and discipline – two of these three things would ever be under my control. Genetic randomness had already determined how much talent I’d been allotted, and destiny’s randomness would account for my share of luck… recognising this, it seemed like the best plan would be to work my ass off.”

My goal was to keep the weekday rhythm going. This choice of pressure was deliberate. If I’d been trying to write two posts a week all year, or just drafting something every day, I would have given up February and become part of the 92% of people who forfeit their New Year’s resolutions, because I would have sabotaged my own version of success. Instead, because my sense of achievement came from simply getting my thoughts out of my head and being kind to myself, I was able to set out on this adventure without my familiar friend, guilt. I put pressure on myself to show up, and that turned out to be the right place.

Pressure can propel us, and other times it can stifle us. So when you’re thinking about 2020 and what you want to become or achieve in this year, this decade, have a think about the space you’re leaving for achievement, for kindness and for the journey.

How could you approach 2020’s goals with the pressure in the most effective place?  

Photo by Tim Johnson on Unsplash