Achieving our goals takes time, energy, focus. Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras, the ancient Indian manual of spiritual practice, talks about the obstacles to progress in spiritual growth. These obstacles also apply to financial, relational, emotional, physical, and intellectual goals. Whether we are trying to make money, write a paper for school, raise a child to be a mature adult, write a novel, or maintain a happy marriage, they can make our task harder.
- Bad health. When you are sick, it is hard to care about anything else. You are in pain, weak, your mind won't function properly.
- Inertia. Sometimes getting started is the hardest thing. You've read. You've thought. You've decided on a goal. You've developed and written a plan. And then.....you can't motivate yourself to start.
- Doubt. We are often our own worst enemies. There is a little voice inside our minds. We may have inherited it from our family. It may be leftover from when we were made fun of as a child. It sits int the corner and whispers that we won't succeed, that we will fail.
- Apathy. Passion and desire are the fuel of action. If we don't care about a goal, if we are doing it because we think we should, not because we want to, our chances of fulfilling and lasting success are nil.
- Laziness. Once we actually do get started working on our goal, we may prefer watching television or reading the new romance novel to pursuing the goal.
- Intemperance. By this I mean too great a focus on feeding our physical wants - excess food, excess drink, excess sleep. All will distract us from working toward our goal.
- False notions. We may not have enough knowledge to know what we don't know when we begin working toward a goal. We develop plans, and take action on what is essentially incorrect information and beliefs.
- Lack of concentration. Often we find it difficult to stay focused on what we are doing. This will slow down our progress and weaken our efforts.
- Unstable attention. Once we achieve some focus, often we'll start on a roller coaster. We'll devote ourselves 110% to our goal, then drop it in favor of something else for a period of time before picking it up again. Not only do we have to get ourselves back into the mindset required by the goal, we have to make up ground we lost just because we ignored it for a while.
Patanjali says the cure for these is
- Concentration on a single truth. This is the most important thing we can do. Most, if not all of the obstacles are our current beliefs trying to keep us from changing. One of the laws of motion is that a body in motion tends to stay in motion. This has a psychological corollary in that we avoid change whenever possible. Change is frightening. Change is upsetting. Our mind will play all kinds of tricks to keep us from changing, even with a goal we consciously want. We have a goal. We have to focus our concentration on the goal. When find ourselves facing one of the obstacles, one of the best things we can do is renew our focus on our goal. Effective tools for this are creative visualization of our goal and affirmations. I've talked about these in Concentrative Meditation (Part Two). Jason Clegg has an excellent article on creative visualization on his site.
- Cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion toward the unhappy, joy toward the worthy, and indifference toward the unworthy. This may sound out of place here, but it isn't. Many of the obstacles are your current beliefs fighting against you. As you change your attitude toward the people around you, many of whom may be acting out this rebellion for you, you change your beliefs and clarify your mind.
- Rhythmic breathing. Again, this may sound out of place. Yoga practitioners observed that various emotional states are accompanied by varying derangements of the breathing rhythm. They theorized that reasserting a rhythm to breathing would reassert control over the emotions. If you try it, you'll find they were right. The next time you find yourself getting tense and upset, observe your breathing and see how it has changed from its normal pattern. Then take a few minutes to breathe rhythmically, inhaling and exhaling for 4 or 5 seconds each. After a very few moments you will see that your emotions have calmed down again. Doing this practice regularly for even a 10 - 15 minutes a day will go far toward calming your emotions on a long-term basis so you can focus more fully on the goal on which you are working.
- To these three I add one more - maintain your health. Most incidents of minor illness can be prevented by common hygiene, a decent diet, and a modicum of exercise. More serious illnesses can often be controlled and lived with for years with good care and a focus on living, but even then they can take a big chunk of your awareness.
You are in control. Most of your obstacles are within your ability to overcome. Deal with them a step at a time, and you will overcome them.