In last week’s blog I discussed the need for direction in our skating and explained why the common practice of setting SMART goals often doesn’t work for skaters.
Without direction, we feel like we are skating in circles, getting nothing accomplished, even while working very hard. It is very frustrating!
I’m from Kentucky, so I like to compare it to a thoroughbred–you can be the fastest horse in the world, but if you aren’t trained to run around the track, you can’t run the race.
But SMART goals, by far the most common type of goal-setting used, can be harmful for skaters, who are often already highly focused and obsessive, and who thrive on the external validation of achievement.
In my experience, the black and white nature of SMART goals creates a lot of anxiety in our already anxious modern beings.
If you haven’t read that post, you can find it here.
Instead of setting SMART goals, I encourage skaters to set intentions.
By definition, an intention is a plan to think and act in a certain way, preferably in alignment with a greater principle or purpose. It involves staying focused and mindful in the present moment, rather than on the future or the past.
Since an intention focuses on the present, it comes from the idea that we are already whole because we are all of a divine nature.
The idea is that our intended action or thought is already within us… our purpose is to practice bringing it to light simply by getting to work. As always, the practice IS the path.
What is a Good Intention for Skaters?
In yoga, an intention is also called a Sankalpa, which can also be translated as a resolve or a vow to be upheld above all others.
This doesn’t mean that we forget all our other obligations and become single-minded to the point of obsessiveness (remember–we are trying to leave behind the obsessiveness of SMART goals).
It means that we will be resolved to have one mindset or one purpose for each practice or period of practice–whether that period is a season, a month, a week, a day, or an hour.
If you really have one quality you want to cultivate in your life, maybe your intention is one word for a season at a time.
An example of this is how I choose a word of the year instead of choosing a list of resolutions–abundance, love, courage, flexibility, etc. Then I try to make sure my thoughts, choices, and actions are in alignment with this word.
If you practice for many hours a day, you may have one purpose for each session. It can be a word–maybe you choose one of the yamas–or a positive statement or affirmation, such as “I use my breath to stay calm when I run into traffic during my program,” or “I am aware of my self-talk.”
You can even make a positive statement about an element you really want to develop–i.e. I easily execute 9 revolutions on a forward camel spin. On your first session, you can focus on program run-throughs and all that entails, and on the next session, you focus on exercises for the camel spin.
How do You Set an Intention for Skating?
Take some time to explore what intention feels right for you. Ask yourself about your innermost desire, reflect on why that's your desire, then create an affirmation or word to manifest that.
(If you create a statement, is it best if it is expressed in the positive: “I focus on the positive,” for example, as opposed to “I don’t dwell on the negative.” )
Write it down and place it somewhere you can see it. This helps you keep your heart and mind in the right place as you go to work.
Next, pick a time of day when you will be undisturbed for a few moments and can turn your attention inward. This might be every morning when you first wake up as part of your morning routine, or in the car before you go into the rink.
I like to sit tall and comfortably for a few minutes in silence, eyes closed, palms on my thighs, consciously breathing, and allowing the thoughts to flow through my head like clouds passing by. This really helps clear the clutter in the mind, so I can better see and feel what is most important.
After a few moments, bring to mind the intention that you decided on earlier.
Notice where you feel it in the body. Smile softly, sending signals to your nervous system that you are safe and all is good.
Keep breathing, and repeat the word or statement five times.
Your mind may wander, and that’s ok. Just gently redirect your attention to your intention.
Energy flows where attention goes. - Tony Robbins
The Importance of Practicing with Purpose
Simply put, practicing with purpose can help rewire the brain.
Our brain has evolved to remember negative experiences much easily than positive ones. This is called the negativity bias, and it was crucial for survival. This also means that the programming we receive throughout our lives affects what and how our body responds to different messages and stimuli.
Researchers agree, though, that we can overcome the negativity bias and change the neural pathways in the brain to change or behaviors. This is neuroplasticity.
Having a sankalpa helps us shut out the monkey mind to redirect our focus to something effective and positive, so we can make positive changes.
When we practice our intention regularly and intensely, we can direct our attention towards fulfilling our greater purpose, instead of just avoiding negative experiences and going in circles.
Practicing the intention with a ritual as described above further helps rewire the subconscious mind.
And if our intention is in the spirit of the yamas (non-harm, truthfulness, non-stealing, right use of energy, and non-greed or non-clinging), the first of yoga’s 8 Limbs, we are less likely to take our intention to an obsessive extreme as happens often with SMART goals.
How to Keep Your Intention
The most important thing you can do to stay on track is simply to...
... work on keeping your attention in your intention.
Simple, but not easy.
Some things you can do to help you stay focused on your intention are:
1. Write your intention down and keep it in sight.
2. Incorporate trataka (candle gazing) meditation into your routine.
3. Practice affirmation and/or mantra repetition a few minutes daily.
4. Surround yourself with good company-other skaters and friends who are also committed to being positive and focused–and avoid things and people that bring negative energy. You can read more about this in this previous post.
5. Practice good sleep hygiene and proper fueling. It is much easier to regulate our thoughts and emotions when our bodies are happy.
The negative voices–inside us and out–will always be present. It is up to us to block them out or wave as they pass us by, so we can get back to work on fulfilling our purpose with grace and compassion.
By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.
Want more practical yoga tips to help you in your skating journey? Check out my FREE Guide - Top Tools for Beating Performance Anxiety.
Author // the skating yogi
My name is Sarah Neal. I have been immersed in the world of figure skating for over four decades. I have seen firsthand the abuse that happens at the higher levels of our sport and experienced how that trickles down into unhealthy training practices and habits at the grassroots. I have seen this play out in the operations of the very institutions that control our sport. Whether for a profession or hobby, pursuing skating should be a joyful, rewarding process, an opportunity for athletic and personal growth, and a place to build lasting friendships.