An overgrown yard, a temperamental lawn mower, and a few piles of dog poop… Doesn’t exactly sound like a thrilling learning experience, does it? But the art of mowing lawns really does have a lot to teach us about how to set intentions, push through plateaus and reach your goals. And it was a lesson I learnt in dirty, sweaty depth just this week.
Let me explain!
I have been house-sitting for a friend for the past few months, and one of the things that I have had to do is mow her lawn. Now, this is not a skill in my usual arsenal. Ask me to write about the law and I can kick ass. Ask me to mow the lawn and… well, prepare for some whinging, some whining, and some ‘creative’ techniques.
Over the three months I’ve been at the house, we haven’t had a whole lot of rain, so the grass hadn’t grown a whole heap. Being the pragmatic procrastinator that I am when faced with a task that I deem annoying and/or pointless, I decided to go for the minimal level of input for necessary outcome. So, about halfway through my stay, I mowed the front lawn. It was the second time I’d ever mowed in my life, and the first time I’d ever done it by myself.
Then, clever little me decided not to mow the back lawn — which is about triple the size of the front lawn — ‘cos all that mattered was that the house looked nice from the street and to any potential burgulars. As long as the front looked relatively cared for, then it didn’t matter if the back was slightly… unkempt.
Everything was going fine until this past weekend — the week before my friends get back from holiday — when I realised I could no longer put off giving everything a proper mow again. (Oh my god, does this make me a dreadful house guest? I promise I was lovely and clean and caring on the inside of the house!).
And so unfolded a two hour debacle. I was so frustrated at how much time and energy it was taking that the only thing that kept me sane was realising that the whole exercise could be seen as a metaphor for goal setting and that it would make a good blog post. So, without further ado, the ways in which mowing the lawn is like reaching your goals are as follows:
1. It can be really tough to get started, but once you get your motor running, it flows from there.
Seriously, that cord-pulling thing on the mower was tough work, and it took me so many gos to get it started. In fact, I was kinda embarrassed that the neighbours over the road could clearly see me struggling with the big brute of a machine. But once I had enough momentum and revs going, the motor kicked in and I was off.
Goals: It can be super hard getting that first wave of momentum going when you are trying to achieve your goals, especially if you have been doing poorly in that particular area. Like, if you’ve been eating like crap, having to turn that around and get on the healthy bandwagon can take a whole lotta energy and willpower. But once you’ve started the wave, that energy will really carry you forward. The flow that you have created has an energy of its own that will assist you in moments of struggle. Lesson: keep putting in the effort until you can feel the motor kicking in, and ignore what anyone else thinks of you whilst you’re doing it.
2. The more you put off doing the work, the bigger the task becomes.
I did not realise that longer grass was such a bitch to mow. I just thought the lawn mower would cut anything, regardless of length. This is not the case. There were patches of grass out the back that had randomly grown thick and tufty and shin-height. These were freaking difficult to mow. I had to do it bit by bit, and the sheer volume of grass would frequently overwhelm the mower and the motor would actually switch off. If I’d done the back-yard at the half-way point like I had the front lawn, the overall time and effort it would have taken would have been substantially less.
Goals: Start now. It is much easier to lose ten kilos, than it is to wait until you have twenty to lose. It is much easier to plan that trip now than in two months time when you’ll have two-more-month’s-worth of excuses. It is much easier to do the work now than have to put up with that annoying voice in your head continually telling you that you should really do it.
If you have put off the work, and the job is now bigger than you planned or wanted (say, really long grass, or twenty kilos of weight) then you have to just accept where you are, forgive yourself for letting it get to that state, stop beating yourself up, and get the hell started. Let go of what you should have done, and just start to do what you can do now.
3. You have to break it down.
I had a few moments, covered in sweat and dirt and grass, with all sorts of garden debris filling my mouth and nostrils and ear holes and everything, where I was so overwhelmed with how big the freaking yard seemed and how much grass there was. The yard really isn’t that big, but the task made it seem overwhelmingly so. Solution? Break the lawn into sections. My mental talk went like this: Right now, the whole yard seems awfully unachievable. However, I can just get this side patch done easy-peasy. Then the back part near the annoying low-hanging tree. Then that area between the clothesline and the fence.
That is how I mowed the lawn: one patch at a freaking time.
Goals: Chunk them down. Eat the elephant one mouthful at a time. Every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. A faraway goal can seem overwhelming and unattainable, but if you can just identify the next step and get that done, and then repeat the process… well, that’s how mountains are moved and bestsellers are written and weight is lost. You can do the next step, I promise.
4. There will be times when you do it wrong.
Ummmm, I didn’t know that I shouldn’t wheel the lawn mower over the top of the drain-hole thingy. The lawn mower ate the plastic-drain-cover-thing right up — it got mulched into pieces. Accompanied by some really loud, angry noises that terrified me because I thought I’d broken the whole machine.
At first, I panicked.
Then I had a much better thought: Oh well, shit happens.
I hadn’t known, I was trying my best, and my boyfriend reassures me that those drain-cover-thingies (honestly, what are they called?) are inexpensive and easy to reinstall. So, whatever. I kept on mowing.
Goals: Pretty much as above. If you try something and it doesn’t work, or you don’t get the result you’re after, don’t let it stop you. Store that lesson away for future reference and try something new. Now. Do not stop. Keep going. The process of refinement is just as much about figuring out what doesn’t work as finding out what does. Both lessons will serve you well. Keep moving.
5. There will be times when you get shit in your face.
Oh yes. Literally.
I could not work out why all of a sudden, all I could smell was crap, all I could taste was crap, all around me suddenly everything was crap. Then I realised that I had mown over a lovely baked-brown dog poo. And the mower had then proceeded to chop it up into tiny particles and aerosol-spray it out the back to me, where it got into my every facial orifice. Oh yeah, that was fun.
Goals: When the shit hits the fan (or the face) shake it off and keep going. You may want to sit down and sulk or whinge or stop altogether (I got poo in my mouth for goodness’ sake!) but it will not get the job done. Just shake it off, and continue moving, one baby-step at a time.
6. As you get closer to the end, it gets easier.
You can see how far you’ve come, and you only have a little way to go. But don’t get complacent: you can’t stop to admire your hard work. You have to keep on mowing/writing/exercising.
7. When you reach your goals, you will get a real sense of accomplishment.
Seriously. The satisfaction of completion — even on a mundane domestic task like lawn-mowing — will make you feel really good. The satisfaction will increase exponentially with the importance of the task you have achieved. The other thing about completion is the momentum it gives you — completing one task makes you wanna go and complete others. There is real truth to the idea of ‘getting on a roll’ or ‘riding the wave’. Use the momentum of completion to fuel the fire for other tasks and goals.
8. And finally, when you reach your goals, you will need to shower.
You will need to scrub your skin and vigorously brush the awful gunk off your teeth and you will have funky-coloured snot for the rest of the day. Seriously. Wait, maybe this one applies only to lawn mowing…
Have you got any goal setting lessons you’d like to share?