I’ve attended a few Bikram Yoga classes lately, not because I like Bikram Yoga (I actually kind of despise Bikram Yoga…sorry Bikram Yogis…I acknowledge there are many benefits to it, I go to it, and I mean no disrespect…); anyways, I’ve been going because there was a Groupon for it and I’m a Groupon-junkie. So there I am in class, sweating my ass off (How come I’m the only one sweating this much? How does everyone else look so composed? F*@#ing mirrors…what happened to yoga being about non-comparison?). I’m in the 10-second “savasana” (yeah, a real “rest” that is) between poses and dreading the bow pose that I knew was coming (I can’t wait for this to be over. Just get this S!#% over with. How many more classes do I have to suffer through on this Groupon? 10-3=….7. FML..“). Of course, being the “self-aware” person that I claim to be, I immediately noticed what I was doing: Trying to abstain from experiencing, simply because I didn’t like the experience; focusing on the product, not the process. So I gave myself a little pep-talk and reminded myself I was so fortunate to be able to experience, period, whether it be good or bad. So lucky to feel, so lucky to bask in discomfort. Wanting to rush through the uncomfortable moments in life will lead to life rapidly passing us by.
I hear the theme of the “product over the process” from clients a lot (And what I mean by “product” is “goal” (achieved) or “completion” (of task, etc.) Actually, I don’t just hear the theme from clients; I hear it from everyone. And, as my little anecdote is meant to convey, I catch myself doing it often as well. It happens when we focus on being incomplete until we reach a goal (e.g. “When I get my degree/get married/have kids/buy a house/lose weight/get over this depression/etc., I will be happy/be at peace/consider myself successful/etc.”), and it happens when we attach evaluations or goals to processes that ends up negating their legitimacy (e.g. “We broke up so the relationship was pointless. I wasted 2/5/15 years of my life.” or “I can’t change professions, now. I’ve put 16 years into being a lawyer/IT specialist/shoe-shiner.”). It’s a natural mindset, given how much emphasis society puts on completion, and achieving goals. Most of us in developed countries have been fortunate enough to experience some form of education, and therefore we’ve been taught to compete, compare, and base our self-worth on evaluative measures, which can most easily be determined from “the product.”
Here’s the thing, peeps: Outside of the education system, there is no one giving you marks for completion. If we based our moods simply on production or completion, we would only experience fulfillment when the task was done, or the goal was completed, or the product met our standards (etc.). Not only that, but (and I’m not trying to be morbid, here) how do you know “the product” is even going to be achieved? I mean it’s 2012. The apocalypse is coming in what, two months? Shoooooot. But apocalypse or not, you can’t count on having the next ten years, or ten months, or ten seconds…all you can count on is this moment right now (OK, If you’re still reading this, you’ve had the next ten seconds…consider yourself lucky). And if you knew you only had this moment left, good or bad, would you take it? I know I’d most definitely take a Bow Pose over non-existence.
So, how do you bring your attention to the process over the product? Well, here are a couple of ideas:
1) Make the process the product: Ask yourself why it is that you’re doing a task at hand. Is it to complete? Is it to produce? Is it to find a partner? Reach a certain measureable goal? Now, there’s no need to give up on these goals, but bring your attention to the process and acknowledge what ELSE you can put value to besides completion (e.g. skills and strengths used, lessons learned, moments experienced, etc).
2) Find meaning in the negatives: As I’ve quoted before, “Even the most negative aspects of human existence, such as guilt, suffering, and death, can be viewed positively, given the right attitude.” (Viktor Frankl). So, take those parts of the process–the failures, the unexpected hurdles, the losses, the mortifying moments (again, stories for friends!)
3) Recognize the insignificance of the product: If all the moments in our lives were grains of sand in a pickle jar, the “product” moments would be a dusting of grains on the bottom. More attention is drawn to the “products,” the weddings, the childbirths, the praise, because if movies were about washing dishes and commuting, the industry would really suffer. But the reality is that these “significant” moments are really quite insignificant in that sand-jar of life (I might need to come up with some new metaphors).
So, try focusing on the process more, starting now! Here are a few examples where you can put it into practice:
Work and School: The actual productivity part is simply one aspect of work and school. Think instead about the relationships you are building or have built, the skills you are utilizing and developing, the challenges you face (and survive), the knowledge you gain, the experiences you have, the awareness you gain.
Dating and Relationships: When I finally came to a place of peace over my ex nearly a year and a half later, I found myself telling people, “I want the next person I date to be the guy I end up with.” Of course, I said that a couple of times before realizing the only reason I was saying that was because other people say that. Not only does saying something like that seriously limit your dating choices, but it pressures the next relationship you’re in to sustain, and it makes the goal of dating finding a life-partner (plus, I mean not to be cynical, but divorce is a very real possibility these days, so 50% of the population will feel as though they’ve failed at…well, basically life, if this occurs). Another place I notice the focus on the product with dating? I’ve had several clients who have wanted to wait until they were fit enough/over their ex enough/committed enough to start dating again, because they were assuming that the next person they dated had to be “the one” (whatever the eff that means…). Date for the process! For the people you meet, the experiences you get to have, the stories you create (pretty sure that’s the only reason my gfs keep me around), the interviewing skills you practice… (Oh dear…no one is going to want to date me after publishing this blog…). And with regards to relationships, if your relationship ends, it does not mean you have failed. It means the relationship came to the end of its life-span. If a person dies, do we say their life was a waste? No! So if a relationship “dies,” look at all that you learned from each other and how much you grew, as a result of being in the relationship and as a result of coming out of it.
Heath and Fitness:
There was a time in my life when I was a real fitness-junkie. I spent hours at the gym and watched every morsel that went into my mouth. I didn’t necessarily have a defined goal, but I knew that I was not happy with where I was at. Again, this led to me feeling incomplete and inadequate, and all I could do was look ahead to “when” I would be happy with myself. Workouts were about calories burned, minutes sweat, and reps completed; success was measured in pounds, strength, resting heart-rate and body fat %. Since then, my philosophy has changed immensely. I work out for the endorphin-high, the cross-training for soccer, the mental clarity, the meditation. I don’t even look at the calorie-counter on the treadmill, I haven’t weighed myself in over a year, and I really couldn’t tell you my RHR or Body Fat %. And you know what? It makes yoga and working out actually enjoyable (OK, it makes Bow Pose bearable)!!!
As one of my fav Buddha quotes states, “It is better to travel well than to arrive.” Now of course, “Well” implies judgment or evaluation, so don’t bother even focusing on travelling well, just focus on travelling over arriving. To beat the proverbial dead horse with more quotes (and cliches, apparently…it’s late…forgive me): “It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey.” Now, taken literally, you might call me a hypocrite given my “unconventional” response to flying, but you get my point. In life, most of our time is spent “travelling,” (with very few “destinations) so just be in the process, face each experience with openness and curiosity, and savour every moment, even the sticky ones, like Bow Pose…or…Bikram Yoga in general (Again, please don’t hate, faithful Bikram yogis!).