November 15, 2023
Across the Finish Line
By Valerie Driscoll, Lead Coach and Coaching Program Developer for Apollo Health
When my friend Eryn texted that she had finished the Chicago marathon, I had the same thought I always do when thinking about distance running: how did she actually DO that? I have tried to become a runner several times, wanting so desperately to be that light, springy figure gliding down the street, ponytail flying out behind me. Instead, I am equipped toe to head with slow-firing muscle fibers, which cause me to plod along, cursing my genes and wishing for it to be over a quarter of the mile in. Runner? — I just am not built like that — no matter how much I want to be. Luckily, one day, I hopped on a road bike and found that cycling felt joyous. It was a great fit.
It took me well into my 50s to realize that the same was true with my relationship to goal setting: I desperately want to be the girl who sets a goal in my sights and then springs toward it, but it turns out that I am also a plodder when it comes to goals — I am just not wired that way. Much science exists on the greatness of goal setting, but for me … the traditional way of looking at goals feels like a finish line 25.2 miles away.
One of the most useful aspects of becoming a mindfulness teacher and coach is the training it has given me in the art of paying careful attention in a particular way — with curiosity rather than judgment, kindness rather than reproach, and acceptance of how things are rather than wishing that they could be another way. When practiced consistently, this different way of paying attention is life-changing. The great mindfulness teacher Sharon Salzberg also refers to this as being expansive rather than contracted. I absolutely love this imagery. If you have difficulty thinking about the notions of contraction and expansion, hold out your hands in tight fists and notice how that feels in your body. Now relax your hands and wiggle your fingers with your palms open while also noticing how you feel. In which state do you feel you might be able to be effective for extended periods of time?
I used curiosity and expansiveness to explore my contracted relationship with goals; I also drew inspiration from positive psychology, which examines strengths rather than weaknesses and focuses on what is going right rather than wrong. I stopped picking apart my goal failures and instead chose to pay mindful attention to when things went well — when getting to the finish line felt more like a pedal and less like a plod. In practicing this new perspective, over time, I developed my particular skillset for success.
I am sharing a few tips from my own experience; if you struggle as I do, I hope they will be helpful:
Your main task is to become great at noticing — it will be very easy to get practice because noticing can happen anywhere, at any time. The trick, however, is that rather than noticing the outside world, which we are trained to do, I would like you to notice what is happening inside — your inner world — as you work toward a goal. Pay attention especially to your thoughts, emotions, and any physical sensations in your body if things begin to feel uncomfortable — great! It means you are doing the work.
Play with noticing feelings of expansion/curiosity and contraction/judgment. In what situations do you feel each of these? How long are contraction or judgment present before you realize it? How easy is it to switch to expansion? When are you naturally expansive?
Notice as you move through your day what feels easy, what feels hard, and what feels impossible, and see if you can bring curiosity to this new awareness. What are the components of each — what makes something feel impossible rather than hard? Hard rather than easy?
Practice these skills out in the wild, and then apply them to a specific action: a ’Just Say No’ food, adding strength training to your day, getting more sleep, changing over to non-toxic cleaning supplies, taking supplements, wherever you choose. The Bredesen Protocol is full of opportunities to set goals, and I invite you to start your own discovery process with B7 expansion and contraction. As with all of this work, you must remember that it is a practice and that becoming more and more successful will take time. Be expansive by reminding yourself that you are unique in how you make it across the finish line.