high-minded drivel

high-minded (adjective) - refined; cultured; particularly civilized. drivel (noun) - senseless talk; nonsense.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Stretch goals: Not just a buzz word anymore

With grad school long since finished, all current ASOFAI books read, a momentary stoppage on house projects with the completion of the front porch, and a corresponding increase in the regularity that workouts and runs occur, I decided that this weekend I would sit down and establish some goals.  Mostly this meant coming up with things to do in my free time, but I've found it necessary to frame these things as "goals" so that I actually do them rather than spend all my time laying on the couch reading.  A little explicit commitment can go a long way toward not settling for the same-old same-old.

My thoughts exactly
Some of the items that made the short list came pretty easily to mind, and included "Take one course in a language by the end of 2012" and "Run your fastest marathon yet by November of next year."  But other possibilities were less sure, because goal-setting is actually tricky business, believe it or not.  For example, I considered making it a goal to update the blog at least once every two weeks for the coming year.  A respectable goal, right?  But by defining a goal like that, am I not in a way discouraging myself from updating the blog more than once every two weeks?  I hate to think that the blog would become just another task to be checked off once the goal is completed, when it should really be something that serves as a natural outlet for creativity and thinking, and something that provides real enjoyment.  The blog should not be a "job," and it seems that harnessing it with a goal would put it into that realm.

It seems to me that another way goals can become a double-edged sword and accidentally limit one's efforts is by way of the timeframes we attach to goals.  People naturally think of personal goals on a one-year timeframe, but why stop at one year?  With my goal of starting to learn a new language, I'm purposefully saying "Take one course," but realistically this is only a starting point for something that will take numerous years before there are really any results.  If someone sets a goal for a year, does that mean at the end of the year they should quit on whatever they've started?  On the other hand, it is true that breaking things into manageable chunks helps us to accomplish goals, so maybe a timeframe less than one year would be more appropriate.    

There really is a thin line between a goal that pushes your limits as intended and one that restricts you to doing less than you are capable of doing.  My marathoning goal is mostly a matter of convenience.  There are marathons all over the place now, but otherwise there's no good reason to stop at 26 miles.  Why not 30?  Why not 40?  The 26-mile mark is set as the "finish line," but if I set the finish line at 30 miles I could probably make it.  The weariness I'll feel as I approach 26 miles probably wouldn't be as bad if I was thinking in terms of going for another 4 miles.  If I set the mark at 30, I may not feel the same level of exhaustion until mile 29.  Obviously there are limits to this, but it's sometimes difficult to tell when the limits are psychological and self-imposed, and when you've really gone as far as you can go.

At this point you may have set an immediate goal of preventing yourself from gouging your eyes out as an involuntary reaction to this annoying flood of speculation and self-questioning.  Let me assist you in achieving that goal by moving on to some less drivel-rich content...

Ever since the great Lenten Challenge of 2011, the need for a new challenge has been floating around on the periphery of my mind.  With the current zeal for goal-setting, it seemed that the time had come to formalize that new challenge.  It would be like a "special goal," because it would be on the list with the other goals, but it would be labeled as a challenge, which is clearly, substantively different.  Unlike the Lenten Challenge, which involved passively giving up something for a certain amount of time, I determined that the new challenge would involve actively engaging in some activity, and that it would occur over a longer period of time.  Initially I settled on doing some combination of pushups and situps every day for a year.  But this outcome was not very satisfying, partly because it wouldn't be too much of a challenge, and partly because the idea was boring and not creative.

Maybe with some luck I could achieve this by 2052
At one point over the past few days Jen and I talked about her regular practice of doing yoga in the morning, and she informed me about the concept of "hot yoga," which does not necessarily involve a roomful of physically attractive people doing yoga, but rather people doing yoga in an ultra-hot room.  Hot yoga is supposed to recreate conditions found in India, and the extreme temperature helps loosen your limbs, allowing you to achieve much deeper stretching positions than would be possible in normal temperatures.  I joked that with the assistance of hot yoga I may be able to actually touch my toes, as the travails with my hamstrings are well documented.  I recalled my days in college when I dropped a yoga class after I was shamed into using "the block," which is literally just a brick-shaped piece of hard material.  It serves as a basic assistive device for those of us not meant to be in yoga class.  Jen argued that the block helps people achieve correct positioning, in contrast to the approach of straining to achieve a position without the block, and said it's nothing to be ashamed of.  I maintained that I could quit and/or cry if I wanted to when things got hard.

Things have not always been this way for me.  When I was in eighth grade I ran track, specifically the 1600, 800, and 4x400, and as part of my routine in practice and at weekly meets I would do some stretching.  Hamstrings standing up, hamstrings sitting down, quadriceps, calves, groin, triceps - the whole bit.  When standing and stretching my hamstrings, I could put my hands mostly flat on the ground.  Not what you would call a contortionist, to be sure, but I wasn't inflexible either.  Well, between growing older and gaining more muscle mass, those "glory days" are behind me now, and you could rightly say that I am now well and truly inflexible.  I've continued running, and doing at least some basic stretching off and on, but after this morning's run I literally could not lean over to untie my shoes.  Not even with a bit of bend in the knees.  It is bad, and seems to be getting worse.  It probably doesn't help that my job consists of sitting at a desk with my legs bent all day long.

My hero
So, between the atmosphere of goal-setting and the new challenge fervor and the conversations about yoga, it became apparent that a good challenge to take on (which would double as one of my established goals) would be to stretch every day for a year.  The effectiveness and benefits of stretching are disputable, but it certainly won't hurt you, and there's only one way to find out if real improvements can be realized.  It's an attractive prospect to think that my "ridiculously tight" hamstrings could be transformed into easily pliable elastic bands after a year of stretching every day.  Thus, I have officially decided to take on the great Stretching Challenge of Twenty Twelve!!!  Or Scott, for short.  A couple notes about this exciting new challenge:

1. When I was in middle school and high school I attended an annual church camp.  Although the focus of the camp was obviously different than your more traditional archery/kayaking/hiking-type camps, we did do morning stretches to get everyone moving at the start of the day.  The stretches followed a set routine, as dictated by a female voice on a cassette tape from the 70's (or whatever year cassette tapes first existed).  At a couple points in the routine the voice would remind us, "No bouncing," and near the end of the routine a musical number kicked in.  Eventually the female voice really got going during the head-and-shoulders-knees-and-toes portion of the routine with exclamations of "Reach for the heavens!  Praise the Lord!"  Anyway, all that to say that much like our stretching routine at camp had some accompaniment, I'll have to give some thought to the possibility of creating a "stretching mix" for Scott.  Especially if it could be complete with reminders of "No bouncing!"

2. Back in the days when Americans were less enlightened, we stretched cold.  That is, we started any physical activity with stretching.  More recent times have led to the belief that you need to warm up your muscles and then stretch.  While I have found it to be true that stretching is generally better after warming up a bit, I've also found it to be true that I don't have the time to warm up, then stretch, then do the "body" of my workout.  I just do my workout or run, and then maybe stretch when I'm done.  This is fine, except I'm not planning to lift weights or run every day for a year, so I need to find some other way of warming up before stretching on those days when I don't run or lift.  For some time I've enjoyed jumping rope as a convenient, quick, and worthwhile form of exercise, as there seems to be a lot of bang for your buck with jumping rope.  So, along with a "No bouncing!" stretching mix, I'm now in the market for a new jump rope.  Which, ironically, is associated with continuous bouncing.

3. A good challenge always involves a t-shirt, so I thought about the possibility of creating a t-shirt to mark those wearing it as Scott participants.  However, after considering this more carefully, I realized that a t-shirt reading "I'm doing Scott" may send the wrong message for some parties, including myself.  Therefore, Scott swag will be limited to certificates of completion for those participating.  Which probably means that I'll make a lone certificate of completion for myself at the end of the year.

Harkening back to some of my first comments in this post about limiting myself with the imposition of a set timeframe, let me just say that the one-year mark will serve as more of a check-in point than a stopping point for this challenge.  The goal is to stretch every day for one year, but at the conclusion of one year, if things are going well, there will be no reason to stop.  The one year timeframe is just a mental marker to make sure I continue doing it.  Because, you know, I want my certificate of completion.

It is also important to note that, due to my aversion to New Year's resolutions, Scott will not begin on January 1st.  Rather, it will probably begin some time in early December.  Scott will not operate on a strict calendar year, or even a standard fiscal year.  It will be one year from whatever date in December ends up getting chosen.  And again, at the end of that one year we'll assess the state of affairs and potentially determine that it's time to step it up a notch and move on to bigger and better challenges.  I may even be ready for some yoga.  But only if I can do it without a block.

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