It is an interesting thing setting goals for oneself. Most of us have things that we want to learn or that we want to be better at doing in our lives. Anything of real worth usually takes time, discipline, many months and years of sustained effort, a bit of daily willpower, and the most important part the firm decision to begin.
Over the years I have had miserable failures in this regard as well as many successes under my belt of some rather large tasks. Some of the tasks that I have engaged are ongoing projects that I began 30 years ago such as my interest in having a morning routine of cultivation of ancient arts. Some projects are mental exercises such as memorizing a book of poetry; some are learning long and complicated forms that may take years to learn. When I was a kid from 13 -19 I would learn 2 or 3 new juggling tricks a year. Over the years I noticed I had a great repertoire of juggling. I could do two ball juggling, three ball juggling, four ball juggling five ball juggling, unicycle, pins, knives hoops, glass ball manipulation, fire breathing, fire torches, devil sticks, and fire devil sticks. Over 6 six years I was able to see steady growth, and it taught me a few lessons about slow and easy learning over time, engineering lots of small successes along the way. Then when I began training in The Martial/Health Arts of Northern China, I applied those learning techniques to a much larger skill set of playing all of the Aarts I was lucky enough to get to learn.
Let’s face it, learning a new skill set takes time and effort. I remember setting my alarm for 5 am to get up and meditate for a year before it finally became a habit. I have failed at a few things such as learning Spanish with Dou Lingo, and It would have worked great if I had put in the daily effort, but after a month it just faded away into the mass of other things that needed to be done. I failed because I did not make a firm decision I just kind of wandered into it.
It is New years resolution time, a time when we in our culture like to reflect on what we accomplished in the previous year as well as setting a few goals for the upcoming year that we would like to experience, learn, or be better at in our lives. Here are some tips from a person that has spent years cultivating skills that are complex and in depth.
1. Make a Firm decision to proceed. This is the one thing that matters most, so I will put it first.You set your sights on an achievable goal and point your mind towards it. It doesn’t matter what comes up the decision should be nonnegotiable. Through struggles, through busy times, past colds and life that gets in the way. Making the decision to proceed no matter how long it takes, or the effort involved, you set your mind to the place you want to go and start taking steps towards it. Making a firm decision is strangely freeing to me. It isn’t a burden because the there is no other way to go, you know where you are heading, and day by day you make your way. And even if you take a break for a few days you come back to it because it is nonnegotiable.
2. Be kind to yourself, and have patience. Know that you learn things when you learn them, just keep engaging the task at hand and make adjustments to skills that need attention before you take the next step. For instance, if you start an exercise program. Start slow and easy, don’t go crazy and end up so sore you can’t move for three days. You want to build skills and strength slowly. If you are starting a meditation routine, don’t start with 4 hours of meditation start with 10 minutes every day. After a month move it up to 15 minutes every day, after another month move it to 20 minutes every day, After a year you are doing 1 hour of seated meditation every day. That is a skill that returns benefits. You have to be kind to yourself and allow yourself to be a beginner that knows nothing. Pay attention to the beginnings; it is an attitude that you want to cultivate, beginners mind is in and of itself something to cultivate. It is a great skill to have in your life.
It takes patience to be able to do one pull up and keep at it until you can do ten by the end of the month. There is a phrase we live by at our school ” Find your Limit and back off” Over time this yields continued gains.
We are taking the long view here of sustained engagement. Willpower is good for small battles; it wears out in the long haul. It is step one, making a firm decision that is the key, that and balancing kindness to yourself. Give yourself lots of pats on the back, and patience and you have a good template for learning any new skill that you want as part of your life.