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Devotion: A Sustainable Attitude for Goals

Every once in a while, a small change in perspective can create a seismic alteration in outcome. I had precisely one of those moments when my spiritual guide mentioned that he’s more of a devotional guy than disciplined.

That simple statement stopped me in my tracks. I hadn’t thought about self-development from a lens of devotion before. What might be possible from that subtle shift?

Breaking down the etymology of devotion offers insight into its potency for getting things done, habit change and accomplishing goals. The prefix “de” denotes “down to the bottom, totally” or “completely” and “vow” brings us an energy of solemn promise and dedication. Devotion’s Latin root is “devovere” which means “to consecrate or make sacred.”

Piecing these meanings together offers a mindset shift that transcends both the actual tasks required and the end result. Being devoted is a promise to honor ourselves in the pursuit of our goals. It’s a vivified connection not just to the process, but also to the vision and values that informed the creation of our goals in the first place.

Devotion offers us an opportunity to zoom out from the sometimes constraining, frustrating process of plodding forward against tremendous resistance. From a devoted perspective, we’re afforded a more global, holistic viewpoint of the situation because by definition, to be devoted, we must be devoted to something. Thus, from a place of devotion, we are in constant contact with our raison d’être. Instead of steeling our will to push through obstacles, devotion reminds us of why we started in the first place. It invites us to remember our promise to ourselves and to our values.

Devotion gently reminds us we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be on the path. It doesn’t castigate. It offers us refreshing resources to process our foibles, wanderings and lost moments:

  • Love

  • Understanding

  • Compassion

  • Humility

  • Loyalty

  • Trust

  • Respect

  • Dedication

The alternative is a head-based approach. It’s modern culture’s default method. When faced with adversity, change, or challenge, the usual prescription is some combination of:

  • Discipline

  • Grit

  • Consistency

  • Structure

  • Perseverance

  • Willpower

I tip my hat to scions of discipline like Jocko Willink and Angela Duckworth who remind us that grit is a crucial asset to push through barriers and find the best versions of ourselves waiting on the other side. Steadfastness, grittiness, and discipline are important qualities to fuel our journey through the forests of change. Yet, they are not the only qualities that will get us there.

While these attributes certainly drive results, they aren’t very forgiving in the face of failure. They may create massive success, but implementing these skillsets in a vacuum keeps us in a constant state of unrest that involves three states of being: striving, succeeding or falling short. Unfortunately, this creates an endless cycle of hustling that robs us of being present to our experience and understanding of our human needs.

Personally, “bear down, push through” has been my go-to approach for many years. Maybe I am an anomaly and have an over-active inner critic, but despite enjoying degrees of success, I was constantly judging myself when I fell short, sometimes so subtly I didn’t even notice it in the moment. At times I might enjoy results, at others I might be re-grouping for a new effort. Generally, I was craving equanimity and inner-peace.

The tragedy of continuously plowing forward is that although we may check the box, we neglect the human who’s doing the box checking. This is because from a lens of grit, each time we fail to complete something, or fall off the rails, it’s time to re-apply ourselves. It’s all too common to fall into a narrative that says failure is due to some personal iniquity. A weakness. Being too scattered, unstructured or lacking in willpower to stick to the plan. Our foibles are starkly exposed for our inner critic to have a field day to hammer home a cyclical story of never-enoughness: “I’m not enough, and to improve, I have to do better next time.” When this story gets played enough, it becomes perniciously pervasive, yet barely noticeable because we’ve become inured to it.

The catch is that over a long timescale, we’re almost guaranteed to fall short. The last two years have shown us that circumstances outside our control can thwart even the best laid plan. And when we get laid on our ass instead of leaping for the prize, it’s tempting to analyze our missteps, regroup and get back on the horse as fast as possible.

But try this on: our mistakes and our failures are part and parcel to our progress. In fact, failure is a key indicator that we’re actually on the path of growth. The fact that exceeding our limitations requires failure isn’t a novel idea. Yet it’s remarkably challenging to integrate this wisdom when we miss yet another gym session, lapsed on a personal deadline or hit snooze again.

Instead of viewing setbacks as things to move on from, consider them as lessons to integrate. When we fully experience life, without pushing away what’s there, deeper understanding becomes available. By completely experiencing what being out of alignment with our intentions feels like, we can understand viscerally WHY we want to re-dedicate ourselves to the effort. By witnessing and observing ourselves off-track instead of leaping back into action or self-flagellation, we gain powerful insight into the our actions and motivations.

So the next time a New Year’s Resolution peters out, or you miss a check-box on a habit tracker, experiment with experiencing the misstep completely. It’s in this patient, devotional process where we can notice exactly what the experience is like to find ourselves a little wayward. What’s here? Likely important information! Curious inquiry can transform our failures into powerful understanding.

Experiencing disappointment? What’s it like to feel disappointed? How might self-compassion serve you?

Feeling discomfort? What are you uncomfortable with? What aspect of yourself is it hard to be with? What do you need to let go of?

Instead of beating yourself up, waving the white flag or diving back in immediately, allow the experience to effectively reconnect you with your promise to yourself. In that compassionate inquiry is an honoring of ourselves and the process. We can find solace that even in our failures, we’re moving in the right direction. With greater awareness around the process, a sense of humor and a gentle understanding that we’re human, we’ll get to our objective even sooner (and in better shape) than we otherwise might.

Written By FitPro, Wei-Ming Lam,

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