The day after sharing “Cozying Up to a Goal of Comfort,” I was reflecting on the idea of setting a goal of “feeling comfortable while running/exercising” when a new realization hit me. Setting a goal of only feeling comfortable might seem like lowering expectations. If you stop striving to grow, expand, and make more; and focus on maintaining a balanced equilibrium of work and rest, give and take, produce and consume; you might appear stagnant.
This isn’t the case, however. In order to be healthy, one must experience rhythm. The heart pulls in blood as well as pumping it out. We breathe in and breathe out. After our left foot is thrust forward, our right one swings past it. Once a hill is concurred, we can allow gravity to draw us downhill. Calling for a goal of comfort isn’t suggesting that our lives become murky ponds.
The popular American cult of productivity suggests we accumulate as much as possible, do more and more, always be viewed as someone who is growing. It is like a river that is dammed up to form a reservoir. The people responsible for the reservoir view the amount of water captured behind the dam as never being enough. They build the dam ever higher. The water behind the dam begins to cover the mountain tops. This water has ceased to be a helpful reserve, and begins flooding neighboring towns. The dam builders continue building. They now build the dam wider. It must span multiple mountain ranges. When will they be satisfied?
They ought to have allowed the river to flow over or through the dam. Let the water swell into a reserve to be used, but make sure that it has an outlet.
On this particular run I was feeling great! Not only was my breathing steady and controlled, but I was running fast. My first two splits had me trucking at sub 8 min./mile pace! When my phone announced 7 minutes and __ seconds per mile after 5 minutes of running, I was astonished.
This speed began to taper off, especially as my mind wandered, and I was okay with that. My focus was on how my body and breathing felt.
Then I rounded a bend in the trail, and I witnessed a gorgeous sunrise. Should I get out my phone and take a picture? I wondered to myself. If I do, my pace will be affected. I decided that it was worth capturing the image, so that I could see it again later.
As I got out my phone and opened the camera, I realized that I was weighing one goal’s importance over another; run fast or appreciate beauty in nature? Then, as the sun dawned, the idea of deciding to limit one’s goals to a level of comfort would take some resolve. You must discipline yourself to be open to pausing productivity. If you aren’t feeling good on a run, take it easy.
Remember, the goal is to feel comfortable. There is a degree of pain involved in conditioning one’s body and soul. With waxing and waning emotions, there will be ups and downs. I’m suggesting that we work on being okay with the downs, the ups, and the fact that there will be many times that we are right in the middle. It is okay to feel only okay. Get comfortable with the idea that you are NOT growing. Maintain a moderate life of motion, and your existence can be a healthy river, rather than damaging reservoir.
“If you’re not growing you are dying” embodies the American spirit of constantly bettering one’s self (Marrs, 2017). There are many wonderful benefits that stem from a proactive attitude. But, is this ever taken too far? Is it possible to live comfortably without growing?
At my school we set goals of growth. Students should be increasing their reading word count. They should be able to score higher than they did on the last assessment. If your students are not getting better and better scores, you must be a bad teacher; Right?
I’ve contemplated giving students less than perfect scores on their report cards, just so that I can give them a higher score on the next report. Many parents question the report card score that did not rise from one marking period to the next. God forbid they go down a number or letter!
Where does this end? What is the ideal? Should students be able to glance at a text, instantly take in every word on the page with a photographic memory, and remember every detail perfectly? Is it a reasonable goal to expect students to understand every single concept, know the most robust vocabulary words, identify every intricate, deep literary element, and flawlessly figure out every bit of figurative language? Would we be happy then?
Is there ever a point where it becomes inappropriate to grow more? The weight lifter wants to be able to exercise with heavier and heavier sets. They want to gain more muscle mass. Will they ever be satisfied? How big is big enough? How strong is strong enough?
There are people who make so much money that they won’t be able to spend it all within several lifetimes. When will the numbers be right? When will they have enough money to be satisfied?
Many years ago, I worked for a guy who was obsessed with getting his business to grow in size. Even more than money, he wanted bodies. He constantly measured the success of his business by comparing it to others like his. At first the attitude was exciting; even infectious. Eventually, it lead to unhealthy competition, and low quality products. The employees’ needs were ignored for want of more employees. The business owner didn’t care about how his workers felt, how they lived their lives, or what would happen to them. He just wanted more of them. If he took care of any of them, it was only to prep them to entice more employees to join the business. The workplace turned into a cult. Luckily, I escaped!
Are our schools cults of progress? This misuse of goals is described in “Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting” (Ordonez et al., 2009). The authors point out pitfalls of goal-setting. A trap my business-owner friend fell into was having too narrow a goal. As Ordonez et al. (2009) suggest will happen, he was blinded to the needs of his employees, because all he focused on was a desire for more. He should have taken care of the ones he had, first.
The other day I went for a run. As I began, I thought to myself, What do I want to get out of this run? What’s my goal? I always use an app on my phone to measure my miles, minutes, and more. What should I aim for today? More miles; Should I try to run farther than before? How about less minutes; Quickening my pace? Every 5 minutes my phone gives me a summary of my run. What should I listen for?
These would be considered “Stretch Goals,” according to Professor Max Bazerman, one of the authors of “Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting” (Silverthorne, 2009). During an interview, Bazerman explained to Silverthorne that stretch goals can be harmful, even toxic to an organization. Would I seize up and die if I set a goal of running a little farther each day? Maybe not, but how attainable is that goal, really? With each additional mile, I would be spending more time running. This would take time away from other activities, responsibilities, and people. If I didn’t die, something would. I’d have to give up doing other things to make time for my… what could very well turn into an addiction.
Rather than leaping into an arbitrary goal, which was tempting, since I was already running, and I wanted to have something to aim at, I looked within myself and evaluated what I wanted to get out of my run. Why do I run? I began this habit of cardio when I learned that good health could help fight Covid19. My goal was to get in shape. When will I have achieved this, and when I do, do I quit?
How does one measure health? If you have an Apple watch, you could monitor your heartbeat (BPM). Rather than getting all technical, I decided that I wanted to “feel comfortable on my runs.” This is going to be my goal. I’d like to run fast and far, but more than that, I want to breathe comfortably, avoid tremendous pain, and feel like I could go even farther, faster, if only I had more time. Instead of exercise being a chore, I want it to be a hobby.
I began contemplating this goal as I pounded the pavement. It got me thinking about goals in other areas of life. It wasn’t long before the idea of assessing reading came to mind. My school and district, along with the entire nation are constantly setting goals for their teachers. We have meetings to discuss data, comparing it with scores from other assessments throughout the year, students from other classrooms and around the country, and making projections for future growth.
Are there any educators who have the goal of helping their students “feel comfortable” reading? Why study vocabulary? Is it to score well on the SATs, or is it so that you can more easily understand advanced texts? I don’t run hills in order to win a race. I do them so that my body is ready for the next hill. Eventually, I hope to jog up inclines, instead of hobbling.
My aim is for my students, the Polite Pirates, to feel confident and comfortable in their reading skills. I hope they wish that they had even more time to read, and it wasn’t a chore. It’s my wish that they would crave more opportunities to learn and engage with texts, rather than viewing each as an embarrassing obstacle course.
Additionally, and in conclusion, I hope that this blog has inspired someone else to cozy up to the idea of having a goal of “comfort” over unending, stressful, depressing, seemingly unattainable goals. Perhaps the key is to feel comfortable while growing.
Have you ever felt super good after experiencing an extra grueling workout or after finishing something really difficult? This is natural and normal. The human body has a way of protecting itself from feeling pain; It releases what some call a “Happy Hormone” that tricks the mind, so that the body can heal in peace. This hormone release is known as endorphins (Myers, 2021).
I like to run in the morning for a couple of reasons. One is that it is when I have time. Running while my daughter and wife are sleeping means I’m not using up time that would be spent with them. Also, my wife and daughter aren’t the only ones sleeping at the hours I run. There are far fewer people pounding the pavement when the sun is just barely hinting over the horizon than later in the day. In other words, I can run in peace, with much less crowded park paths.
The other day I was running at a nice clip, and I was feeling pretty good about it, when a guy called to me from a jeep. He asked me where the “Water Park” was. I stopped to tell him to turn right at the light. I was about to explain more, but he told me that this was enough information. It actually was, since there are signs, and his destination was right around the corner.
As he drove off, I was left with curious thoughts and feelings. It is rare for someone to release you from helping them. Most people would sit there and take in all of the directions I would be willing to give. Another interesting realization was that I didn’t feel annoyed about this interruption hurting my pace or disrupting my run. I use an app to measure my pace, and I enjoy keeping pretty close tabs on how I am doing. A recent goal has been to run at a slightly faster pace. Stopping to talk to someone would hurt my overall average!
The overwhelming feeling that I experienced was one of giddy elation at simply helping someone. It was so strong that I videotaped myself sharing a hypothesis about these emotions. I wondered if, in addition to exercising, there were other times and ways to get endorphins.
Lots of runners are familiar with a “runners high” after a run. This high feeling helps the exerciser (It doesn’t have to be running; Any form of physical activity or exertion will work) NOT feel the pain that their muscles will experience. It is the body’s way of self-repair.
When I helped the traveler find his way, I had stopped what I was doing. My pace was suffering. I was not using my time for me. My focus was being distracted. My goals were getting harder to meet. In short, I was experiencing, albeit minor, psychological pain. But then, afterward, I felt awesome, having helped someone.
My scientific question: Could helping people cause endorphins to be released?
From just a tiny bit of research the answer seems to be, yes, helping others can cause real, physical, good feelings (Myers, 2021).
I highly recommend that everyone conduct many science experiments of helping others. How does it feel? Journal about it to collect data and observe trends.
Also, share with me not only what you discover from your own personal research, but any articles that support (or deny) this claim. I’d like to dig deeper into the physical benefits a person acquires from helping others.
“Being kind” isn’t just a nice thing to do. It actually benefits your self. So, be kind for #selfcare.
Goals are helpful. Without them we can wander around aimlessly. But, how much gets missed? How many wonderful lessons get left behind and ignored due to our mission of meeting goals? I experienced this earlier in the week in a fun and silly way.
A couple of years ago I came across a group of people who posted selfie videos on Twitter. It caught my attention. The videos had some things in common. Each one was recorded directly or very soon after a workout or run. They were short. (Twitter only allows 2 minute videos.) Each tweet contained the hashtag #RunAndRant. And, there was usually a weekly theme or word that everyone “ranted” (discussed).
Most of the people who participated in this running and ranting activity had something to do with education. If the topics weren’t specifically teacher-related, many of the rants were. The videos were fun to watch, and it was awesome to connect with people through discussion in the comments under the tweets.
In addition to communicating with others, I was inspired to get out there and run, myself! I had wanted to for years, and the time had finally arrived.
The weekly topic would be decided by Monday night or Tuesday morning. Then participants (Not everyone ran; Some swam, many walked, and there were weight-lifters, too!) would make short selfies that contained whatever thoughts they came up with during their workouts. People tagged known #RunAndRant “members” and friends, and there would be a nice cachet of videos to watch and comment on within 24 hours.
I want to thank Mark Ryan for pioneering this fun activity and organizing this group. I’m not positive if he literally started this, but he was the point person, as far as I know, for initiating topics and connecting like-minded people. Thank you. This activity is why I am regularly running right now:)
Goals Gone Awry
Okay, fine, but why is this blog titled “Goals Gone Awry”? you may be wondering. Let me explain.
During my run an interesting idea popped into my mind that I wanted to share with the “Run And Rant” team. Just as I had many times before, I kicked it around in my head as I pounded the pavement. The idea grew and deepened. I was excited to share it via selfie on social media.
Here’s the thing, though: I told myself, Let’s wait until I’m at a better location to record my thoughts; a place that is quieter. When I got to that place, I found that my train of thought had jumped the rails. My rant ended up being more true to definition, a rambling mess of thoughts. I laughed at myself as I recorded it and posted it anyway. Perhaps someone could get something out of it, I thought. (This is the one shared at the top of this blog;)
A few days later I was running my favorite loop when I came to a section of road that was a little bumpy. It had been treated with “loose gravel,” a coating of tar and aggregate that preserves the roadway and provides skid-resistance (Kent County Road Commission FAQ, n.d.). This jogged my memory. I remembered my unrecorded rant.
But, then I got to thinking about WHY my thoughts had evaporated like the morning fog. My goal of waiting until I had reached a particular place on my run made me lose the lesson. If I hadn’t set that goal, if I’d recorded my original thoughts when I had them, I could have captured a more coherent idea.
This time I put my run on pause and began recording immediately. Now, I got my initial idea in the recording, plus this concept of goals potentially holding us back.
If you watch the video, you will see that there is a lot of traffic zooming by me. You can’t see it, but I’m coming to a busy intersection that I will have to cross. Smack dab in the middle of the rant my running app starts announcing my stats! Nuts! Needless to say this recording is far from ideal.
All of these details are why I had waited to rant during the previous run.
Have you ever had a goal ruin your lesson? Are there ever times when goals get in the way of progress? When is it okay to let go of a goal? Perhaps it is okay to run with a thought or lesson that didn’t have an established goal.
I’d love to hear about times goals have gone awry for you. What have you found helpful for getting the most out of life and learning?