Choosing a Different Mountain

Sienna Chu, MHC

There’s something about the shifting of seasons, specifically summer into fall, that seems to initiate our own desire to shift and change. In my practice, many clients have recently brought up goals that were put on hold or pushed to the side to make room for the welcomed busyness of summer months. But now that the family vacations, long weekends away, and leisurely outdoor hang-outs are behind us, our attention is brought back to huge pile of “shoulds” that have built up over the past few months (or even years).

Here’s just a few of the things I’ve heard from clients, friends, and myself in just this past couple weeks. 

“I should try and lose the weight”

“I should be better at keeping my apartment organized”

“I should get back into cooking my own meals”

“I should start going to the gym”

“I should try dating again”

“I should be better at managing my money”

Any of this look familiar? Some of these goals might not seem like a big deal, but when they are also paired with “well I used to…” it can get ugly quick. Some of the hardest goals to achieve are ones where we feel we’ve previously succeeded at or have been there before. It’s like we are trying to return to an ideal place or feeling that we once had and won’t be satisfied until we get back to it. Like those skinny jeans tucked away in the back of the closet that we refuse to get rid of. This is where I’ve noticed we are less willing to adjust our goals to meet us closer to where we are now. Why?

Because we’d have to accept where we are now, and when it’s not where we think we “should” be, it comes with a huge pile of guilt, shame, and self-loathing. Or should I say it adds to the already existing pile of guilt, shame, and self-loathing that we often carry around when dealing with the “shoulds” of our day-to-day. Either way, all three of these feelings are as close to the opposite of motivating you could get. 

We’re so good at punishing ourselves. And when we motivate ourselves through negative consequences (i.e. feeling awful about yourselves if you don’t do what you think you “should”), it not only reinforces those negative feelings when we struggle or fail, but it also reinforces them when we succeed in reaching our goal. It sets us up to be motivated by fear of consequences, rather than out of hope, desire, or believing we deserve to have or feel better. 

If you’ve been nodding along as you’re reading this, then perhaps your next thought might be, “okay, but how do I change that?” Well, this is where an analogy might help. Looking up at our goals might feel very similar to how it might feel to look up at Mount Everest right before you’re about to climb it. Standing at the base of this gigantic mountain, in awe of its greatness, you can only imagine how beautiful it must be at the top and how satisfying it will feel to be there. You know the road is dangerous and hard, but once you decided you were going to climb it, it was decided. After all, if you’re going to climb a mountain, shouldn’t it be the greatest and tallest of all mountains? Then you won’t have to worry about being disappointed when you reach the top or be bothered by wondering if the effort is all worth it. Plus no matter the mountain, isn’t the way up always “one step at a time” anyways? 

This where clients typically jump in and say, “Oh I get it, you’re going to say it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.” Yes, the journey is important, but how do you expect the journey up Everest to be enjoyable if you’re not conditioned for it? It’s hard to enjoy the view when you’re gasping for air and questioning your ability the whole time. I don’t think the solution is to simply work on challenging your mindset to enjoy the process, that’s a lot of mental energy! Instead, consider picking a different mountain. 

We’ve become so attached to our Everests, afraid that if we lower our standards or goals we’ll never get to what we truly want. We forget that when we climb any mountain, the top is always to be savored. And it’s that feeling of accomplishment and being proud of ourselves that often motivates us to get back on top of another, even bigger mountain. We need the small victories! They are just as important as the big ones. We deprive ourselves of them when we only give ourselves the option of Everest. 

So, consider what your Everests are. What would happen if you gave yourself permission to believe that if you climbed a different mountain, you’d still be on your way to the top of Everest? What mountain would you choose instead?