What neurologists tell us about goal setting

You should set goals because striving to meet a goal makes you happier. This is because a goal gives us structure and purpose, but also once you set a goal, your brain feels like you have already attained that goal. (This explains the euphoria we feel when we decide to “start a diet.”)

1. Our brain thinks we are finished before we start.
We need to be very careful setting goals. Our brain is hard-wired to get very upset when we lose something we already have, so we get upset when we don’t actually reach the goal. And, the bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around its non-achievement.

I have this process from setting yoga goals. Over the past five years I have become anxiety-riddled over the calming effect of yoga.

2. Goals are really about process – the results are ancillary.
To reach a goal you have to separate it into small steps. I did that before I had kids. I had a goal of going to a class. Then going to a specific class. Then paying for private lessons to get good. Then practicing every day.

Then I had kids, and predictably, things went to hell. I tried hiring a babysitter to do yoga (too expensive). I tried bringing my baby to yoga (in NYC the hard-core Ashtanga studios are okay with this. Probably because no parent can handle it for more than a few times.) And I tried doing yoga on my own, at home.

3. Realistic people quit more often.
I told myself I had to wait. I told myself the timing was bad. This was depressing which isn’t surprising because realists tend to be depressives. But realists are also clear thinkers, and I was right to wait.

When my kids were older, I rearranged my whole life to get to an Ashtanga class every day. After a week I realized that an Ashtanga class every day would be a full-time job.

The reality was depressing.

4. There are five aspects to a serious goal.
So I told myself I had to do yoga at home; people don’t like to lose what they have, and I have a body that does difficult yoga poses and I don’t want to lose that.

I set goals the scientific way, which means I write each goal to meet five criteria:

  • Define the goal as something specific
  • Phrase the goal so it’s measurable
  • Make sure the goal is something achievable
  • Frame it as relevant to the bigger picture in your life
  • Create a time frame for success

5. Get ideas from the other people achieving your goal.
I also bought Yoga Journal to read about how other people are achieving my goal.

The photo up top is one I took from the back page of the Oct. 2013 issue.

The caption is from the photographer. It says, “My husband and I moved to the country from Philadelphia. And as we drove past the fields I had a moment of inspiration to connect with my new rural landscape. Being a city girl, I’d never encountered a hay bale, and I was very surprised how easily it rolled!”
– Jill Manning pictured in Farmville, VA

The first problem with this photo is that the hay bales weigh hundreds of pounds. They don’t roll.

Another problem with the photo: The bale is sitting on land that is not planted for hay.  The bale also would never be sitting on a field that’s grown back so tall. As soon as the farmer bales the hay, he removes the bale so the ground under the bale can grow.

Then I checked out Google maps. Guess what?  There are no farms in Farmville, VA. It’s a university town. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farmville,Virginia.

The last line on the page in Yoga Journal says : “Be part of the yoga scene. Submit your favorite yoga photo.”

But how could you really be part of the yoga scene? It’s lies. It’s Photoshop. Or something else, but that something is not real.

The worst sort of goal is one that we pretend is achievable even though we don’t really see a path to doing it. The truth is, the only people I know who are doing a 90-minute Ashtanga series every day have very few other responsibilities in life, so that’s a goal that’s not worth me thinking about.  And, if you read carefully, Yoga Journal is really about how you have to be a yoga teacher in order to do yoga every day, and yoga teachers make no money.

The lies of the yoga community remind me of the lies in the business community. The you-can-have-everything lie.

I coach so many people who want to be with their kid after school but they also want a fun, challenging meaningful job. So few people have those jobs that for our purposes they don’t exist. (You can’t get a great job but only give half your energy to it. People who give all their energy get those jobs. It’s only fair.)

When we are not meeting our goals it’s a big sign that they are not the right goals for us.

Look at what’s really driving you to have a great job. You are not going to make a lot of money if you leave at 3pm every day, so you are probably wanting a great job so you can get out of the house each day, and have some amount of self-esteem.

Wanting self-esteem from our job is a bad goal because we can’t depend on it–we don’t have enough control over it. We have to get self-esteem from inside ourselves. And if you want to get out of the house every day, go do yoga.

Just kidding. (Sort of. I mean, just go do something. You don’t need to be paid.)

It’s enticing to pick something unrealistic as a goal because our brain sees a goal as an accomplishment. It’s enticing to get that feeling for something really, really big. But those really big things so often are not attainable and we make ourselves crazy.

I am grateful to Yoga Journal. I’m grateful that they ran such an absurd photo and caption because it shows me how unachievable my yoga goals are. My goal actually is to feel moments of peacefulness each day. And I’m pretty sure I’ll feel those by just letting myself off the hook from my unrealistic yoga goals.

59 replies
  1. Emily
    Emily says:

    “I have this process from setting yoga goals. Over the past five years I have become anxiety-riddled over the calming affect of yoga.”

    I totally relate to this. I feel like when you start doing yoga every day you realize that a lot of the other shit you were fantasizing about doing just isn’t that important to you after all. And that’s scary.

    Same goes with writing every day. Every time I work on a very personal one page story of either fiction or an essay I am amazing about how calm I get – and how absolutely in tune with life I feel. I think: of THIS is what I was after. Why did it take me so long to figure this out?

    Then the next day comes around and Im in a complete panic about having to do it again. Even though it brought me so much peace. Then I’m back to fantasizing about tech start ups or big fancy jobs or new great cities to move to.

  2. Ann
    Ann says:

    I don’t if your post applies to me, but I perceive that it soes. Right now, I am booking sites for an award winning indie film about a topic directly related to my business, but also on the minds of my target segments. I find myself doing activities that I have never done before, such as persuading organizations that they will benefit from showing this film, marketing the film and fundraising to at least cover the associated costs. Sometimes I am paralyzed by my lack of experience in these areas, even though I have successfully managed similar activities, but not on this scale.
    If these events are successful, my business will gain exposure that I could never buy. I am an INTJ.
    Any advice or should I sign-up for coaching with you?

    • Dave Gordon
      Dave Gordon says:

      As a fellow INTJ: you are selling, and it probably makes you uncomfortable to have to explain to people why they should do things that would benefit them. The greater and more obvious the benefit, the more uncomfortable you feel. Good sales people empathize with their prospects, which doesn’t come naturally for us. You haven’t worked at this level before, but that says more about your history than your future.

  3. Kitty
    Kitty says:

    Yes, there’s something off kilter in the size of the round bale compared to the human sitting on it. Unless, round bales come in different sizes in VA.

    Great post. Helpful to me today as I sort out exactly the same issues this week. Had a job interview from hell last week and walked away totally feeling positive about myself. I left that field due to the overwhelming numbers of mean girls grown up into baby boomers. Blindly, walked right into a pack of them with the interview. I almost backslid thinking I needed affirmation from a job. Good time for course correction!

  4. Lisa Sharp
    Lisa Sharp says:

    The last few paragraphs of this post resonated with me. My goal is to move back home to the east coast within a year. (We relocated to the west coast with my husband’s company.) In order to accomplish this, I need to get a job to help save money for the extra moving expenses. This is when the “I can have it all” brainwashing kicks in:because I want a stimulating job that will boost my skills, with a great commute, a great salary, flex time and so and so on. Then I get depressed because at 46, it not likely that I will find this job and if I found this dream job, I’m not sure if I would ever leave it. It was driving me crazy. PT is right. The focus should be to relax, find daily moments of happiness and find a way to earn extra money. Period. My goal is to move, not to drive myself crazy!! So while I’m still working towards my goal, I’m doing it by holding on to the moments of peace that I can grab on to every single day.

  5. Lynne Riel
    Lynne Riel says:

    Yes those big bales of compressed grass don’t easily roll, however it looks like it could be in a hay field,just hasn’t been collected yet.
    There’s an acronym for the tips on setting goals that u outlined; it’s called SMART & is used extensively in schools & workplaces here inot southern Ontario.

  6. aydrea
    aydrea says:

    I love this idea because I LOVE setting goals and have had to really work hard to actually move toward them. I always kind of thought maybe I was lazy…but it makes a lot of sense if the brain sees setting and achieving as basically the same thing.

    Also, thanks for reminding us about the ‘truth’ that people put out there. I often find myself fantasizing about what seems like people’s idealized lives…even though I know that much of it is construction. This was a good reminder and definitely helps make me feel more peaceful about things.

  7. Lis
    Lis says:

    If your goal is really to experience peacefulness every day, you may want to rethink the Ashtanga. Go and practice at an Ashram. There are more of them in the US than you may think. Pay more attention to the “peace, harmony and blah blah blah,” as you called it, and don’t worry about getting your leg behind your head.

  8. Nur Costa
    Nur Costa says:

    You are right on the spot and you pretty much rounded up the whole business of “follow your passion so you’ll earn money to live off of that.”

    Does yoga make you happy -whatever that means- and feel connected to yourself, or is it for some other reason?

    Probably you just want to keep doing yoga so that you can still be hot and be in control of your body before it takes control over you. And getting money from investors by looking hot.

    I started doing yoga to look hot. Then started connecting with the spiritual part. Later, I thought I was just being avoidant -the yoga studio was a comfortable place to be- and now I am back on doing it for the physical aspect.

  9. Malaika
    Malaika says:

    FAntastic post penelope !!!!

    Makes me happy to read there a are others who get yoga anxiety too. I try to do yoga either first thing or last thing in the day. One of them usually works.

  10. Naomi
    Naomi says:

    Yoga only began providing peace and calm once I stopped judging the hell out of myself for not being bendy/strong/calm enough and learned to observe my body and mind without judging. I also adapted home practice around my busy life. Only got 10 minutes? Do 10 salutes, feel instantly better. In class I totally go for it – anxiety-free yoga for the win!

  11. Ana
    Ana says:

    Think of it as investment: when you do yoga you look and feel good, which makes your husband more interested in you (and therefore not going anywhere), and you would be teaching your kids that taking care of yourself first is important (airplane mask remember?)
    You have gotten to the point where you justify your lack of exercise by writing a long post about it.
    You can do it. You can, make it a priority!

  12. Katrina Dougan
    Katrina Dougan says:

    The picture is of my favorite yoga teacher, it is not altered, and she did in fact move to Farmville where there are farms like the one pictured. #themoreyouknow

    • Brigid Kaelin
      Brigid Kaelin says:

      It’s true — I know the photo subject as well, and it’s not Photoshopped:) She’s just exactly the kind of wonderful person who will hop on a bale of hay and make you smile.

  13. Adam
    Adam says:

    Hi Penelope
    Farmville is mainly known due to it having Longwood University. Farmville area is aptly named, surrounded by farm after farm after farm. I have visited Jill Manning in Farmville where she lives with her husband, an award winning photographer, daughter and two dogs. Jill and Mike showed the full series of photos of Jill on the hay bale. I also visited the field where the photo shot occurred. Jill is an authorized ashtanga teacher who has been practicing for many years. She is also my friend.
    take care

    • Meghan Kirk
      Meghan Kirk says:

      Dear Penelope,
      The whole reason for maintaining a daily practice is to develop a more honest relationship with yourself and learn to be a kinder person of deeper integrity. That is the only real goal of practice. Life is full of challenges and there is no minimum time requirement for practice to be useful. It can mean a 90 minute practice or simply carving out 15 minutes to do Sun Salutations and lay quietly before starting your day. Anxiety, stress and guilt over how much time we have or what we look like in poses is something we bring to practice that has nothing to do with yoga.
      The woman in the image is sitting on a real bale of hay, she is a real person and the posture she is demonstrating is really a part of her daily practice (which she has been doing for many, many years.) She is also the mother of a young daughter, she works a full time job and her dedication to her practice is consistently inspiring to me. She is one of the most low-key people I’ve ever met (rarely posting asana pictures, just quietly doing her practice – mostly at home on her own.) I’m sure she would agree with me that showing up for yourself in practice with a loving attitude and whatever time you can devote that day is all that is required.

    • Dr. B
      Dr. B says:

      I can also confirm that, having lived in Farmville, there are (surprise!) farms there. And that some of those farms have hay bales, which one person can actually roll, and that sit for weeks to months on the field where they were mown. Grass can grow up around them, because grass grows fast in the summer. The first rule of fact-checking is to interview the primary source. But I guess Penelope didn’t want to do that since she wanted to lift it without paying for its use on her blog.

  14. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    Shame on you for relying on Wikipedia as your source in a published article. Shame on you for not fact-checking your own blog post. And shame on you for using a person that you know nothing about to make a point that does not at all reflect the life of that person.

    Jill Manning (a yoga practitioner/teacher and a university administrator) and her husband Mike (a photographer and professor) do live in Farmville, and are both affiliated with Longwood University. They did move there from Philadelphia (via Providence.) They did see these bales in the area surrounding Farmville. Jill did hop up on the bale and assume a yoga asana. Mike did take the picture.

    I can not speak to wether or not Mike did any touch up on the picture, but I can assure that the content is a true depiction of a moment in their lives.

    You make some points that I’d like to agree with – such as the one about how difficult it is to practice a full Ashtanga series and also have young kids and also have a full-time office job (although I do know several people, Jill Manning included, who do so.) However, you lose all credibility by denouncing a photo and yoga instructor inaccurately.

    I urge you to do your homework before you spread falsehoods through your blog.

    Jill and Mike are truly wonderful people who deserve praise for the lives they live.

    However, I can

    • Cynthia
      Cynthia says:

      I, too, know Jill manning pictured here and know this photo to be real. But that does not undercut the main point of this post. Jill as my teacher has never pretended that getting your leg over your head is important to being an ashtanga yoga student. She emphasizes in her teaching (and in her life as a mom, office worker and yoga teacher) that we should aim to stay engaged and do something. She is the one who continuously named for me that 5as and 5bs is a full practice and a realistic goal in my current life.

  15. Theresa Conroy
    Theresa Conroy says:

    Hi, there, Penelope. I was really intrigued by your thoughts about practice. A lot for the brain to chew on here. That intrigue was, however, dampened by the way you approached Jill Manning’s photo. Before my yoga career, I spent 26 years working as a journalist. It would have been quite easy to research the authenticity of the photo. In fact, Jill wouldn’t have been at all hard to reach. I’m sorry that this oversight has overtaken such an interesting discussion on setting goals in yoga practice.

  16. Cecile
    Cecile says:

    Hi Penelope,
    Maybe you can contact Jill directly (for example through her FB profile : https://www.facebook.com/jill.manning.165?fref=photo). I am sure she could give you advices to maintain a consistent yoga practice that could fit in your family and professional life.
    She is kind and thoughtful and dedicated…and yes, probably a bad choice to illustrate your post.
    Good luck with your goals

  17. Dana
    Dana says:

    Although I don’t know you – I do know Jill Manning – and so I’m compelled to offer some thoughts.

    I would suggest moving forward that you consider avoiding setting goals all together. Please note there are some potentially unforeseen consequences out there once you achieve them. The more successful you become in life – the more critical others will be of your actions and methods on how you got there. They may even try to tear you down from your achievements in order to make themselves feel better about their own lack of attainment. The phenomenon is known as the “dark side of light chasers”.

    For example – although everything is factually accurate in the article about Jill – you assume that she falsifying her photography or commitment to yoga practice because you yourself aren’t able to also achieve these goals.

    I hope that if you do plan to continue to set unreasonable goals and you work hard to achieve them – that you will be uplifted by others that aspire to one day be able to accomplish what you have done.

    But beware – there will be critics out there, not unlike yourself in this post, that will try to chip away at your credibility in hopes of rationalizing why they haven’t yet achieved as much as you.

    Best of luck in your future endeavors!


    • Jennifer
      Jennifer says:

      Agreed. I practice with Jill and have embraced her “do what you can when you can” and “boring is best” lessons. I do not set goals, I just practice around my irregularly irregular work schedule and three children. Progress is steady, but I do not have an actual goal in mind. This blog post gave me pause to really stand back and appreciate my fantastic, humble teacher.

  18. Ebie
    Ebie says:

    Wow! What a grumpy judgmental rant against a person you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting. An impressive article, really, venting your frustrations at the expense of someone else. Having grown up in Farmville, I can attest to the fact that there are numerous farms in the area– enough farms, in fact, to support not one, but three farmers’ markets/farm stands. Having worked with Jill and heard firsthand her passion for yoga, as well as the story behind the hay bale photo, I can promise you that it is authentic. And, having jumped on numerous hay bales in my lifetime, really just for the hell of it, I assure you, they roll. I hope you find the peace you’re looking for, and I hope that you’re able to do so without attempting to demean others in the process.

  19. Mary
    Mary says:

    What they all said, squared. Write about what you know. If you don’t know, learn, or don’t write. Sorry that yoga makes you anxious.

    Jill’s Friend,


  20. Alta
    Alta says:

    I believe goal setting made us prisoner of our goals. We need to have some objectives in life and strategy to meet those objectives.

    Regarding yoga – We just need to practice 5 positions ( Asanas) everyday. Need to do 10 to 20 full breathings in each position. The key point is you need to bring focus on the particular part of the body which is getting contracted during the pose.
    To get more benefits, you can recite the hymns related to that part of the body while practicing the Asanas.

    Regarding photograph – It’s a nice photo.

    All – We are missing the important points regarding goal setting in the article. Penelope’s research can be wrong, mistake can happen, but underlining message is key of the article.


  21. Anna
    Anna says:

    To me the issue of the veracity of the photo is secondary, as there are many images out there that are fabricated. The point isn’t the specific photo. It only served as a symbol of images people find or make for themselves that aren’t realistic, which happens a lot. The blog post still stands as very helpful. Even the yoga aspect only served as an example of a goal, not specifically the point of the post in itself. I guess we can be relieved that the photo is real and move on from that part to main point of the post, which is the practical side of goal-setting by way of small, relevant, attainable goals, the same way small habits *will* add up to large accomplishments.

    • Marianne
      Marianne says:

      The issue of the veracity of this photo is not secondary if you are the photographer who took the photo and this is your art, your trade, which you practice brilliantly. Nor is it secondary if you are the subject of the photo – someone who is clearly encouraging and realistic and supportive with those she is working with all the while providing inspiration. That’s what I love about this photo. I love it precisely because I’m incapabale of this (for the moment – maybe for always) I love it because it’s inspirational and aspirational. It’s all about having a positive perspective. Think before you type – kindness and consideration go a very long way.

      • Anna
        Anna says:


        I understand. I was suggesting separating the issues of the photo and the post, dealing with them separately. I thought the post (esp. points 1 – 4) was very helpful and that the whole thing could exist with the photo part edited out. Amidst the focus on the photo in the comments, I wanted to communicate that the parts about goals was excellent.

  22. Judy Manning
    Judy Manning says:

    After reading your post, I feel sorry for you and your judgmental attitude. Yes, I am Jill’s mother. I have watched her work very hard to achieve her goals and yes, she moved to Farmville, VA in support of her husband’s career. In the future you may rethink how your blogs sound. Knowing and accepting your limitations, should not question others accomplishments.

  23. Bailey
    Bailey says:

    Even if this photo is “real,” it is not realistic.

    No matter how many times I practiced that pose, I could never achieve it because I was not born super-elasticy. And just how did Jill get up there? Is this a normal day for her? Nothing to do but zen out in the middle of nowhere, listening to wind and smelling freshly cut grass as the afternoon sun kisses her bare skin.

    Where are the screaming kids and dirty dishes piling up in the sink?

    These constant perfectionist images (whether real or not) of what is unobtainable to most of us are not inspirational.

    They are cruel.

    From everyone’s comments Jill sounds like a truly wonderful person, yet this photo unfortunately sets a bar that few of us can ever achieve. And so instead, they simply cause us to feel bad about ourselves.

    Thank you PT for calling BS!

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      but… so every photo, movie, report, snippet on the internet which shows some beautiful or amazing another person has achieved makes you feel bad? Because it does not show the messiness of life? There is beauty in a lot of small things, and everybody has achievements – I don’t understand why this should stop us from looking at amazing and astonishing things even we cannot achieve them.

  24. amanda
    amanda says:

    First off, you’re missing the point. You don’t do yoga to “be good.” You do it because it makes you feel good, but not to be good at yoga.

    If you want to do yoga, you make the time. You do what’s reasonable for you and that’s the end of the story. There is no graduation from yoga. You either do it or you don’t.

    Jill was my first teacher. She’s being doing “yoga” for years and she had a baby and still found a way to do yoga… it’s not unrealistic to see people putting their legs behind their heads. Go look at any yoga person on instagram. They all got their legs behind there heads. It’s just their journey, end of story.

    I don’t even need to talk about the validity of the photo because many of the other comments in this thread touch on it.

    Maybe you should do more yoga and chill the fuck out.

    • Bailey
      Bailey says:

      We live in a society where “feel good” and “look good” often gets blurred for women. We tell ourselves “I do this to feel good,” yet our real motivation is insecurity. When this happens, we are robbed of true joy, especially when we feel compelled to do something every day.

      When people post photos of themselves on Instagram, yoga is no longer about their personal journey. It’s merely one more way to show off. Just like photos of new Porsches and expensive European vacations.

      Why do people show off? To make their “friends” feel bad.

      The photo that appeared in Yoga Journal is a beautiful photo. Yet it does not appear to reflect a private spiritual journey. Rather, it is staged. The whole scene conjures up perfect yoga in a perfect setting.

      While the photo may have been well intended, perfection is a liar.

      • Ebie
        Ebie says:

        The funny thing is, while the yoga may be “perfect” (Jill is far too humble to call it that, & if it is “perfect” it’s because she’s been working at it for YEARS), the “perfect setting” was spontaneous, as was the photo. What’s ridiculous about this entire thread is that people are faulting Jill (and her husband Mike) for simply doing what they love and know best. Jill saw an opportunity and took it. Mike, her incredibly accomplished photographer/photography professor husband, saw an opportunity to take a beautiful photo. I mean heaven forbid! And then, someone appreciated the art of that photo, and put it in a magazine–an accomplishment for both Jill and Mike. Here’s an idea–if you don’t want to see pictures of people doing yoga, don’t buy a yoga magazine.

      • Karelys
        Karelys says:

        You know what feels good too? Sweatpants and Netflix.

        But that’s not approved of.

        You’re spot on. If yoga isn’t about feel good when you’re posting pictures of it.

        • Bailey
          Bailey says:

          If yoga made us feel incredible, but also made us chubby, how many people would do it? Zero.

          We do yoga to look hot. And for other reasons. But looking hot is a big part of the equation.

          Jill sounds like an incredibly wonderful person. My issue isn’t with her, it’s with magazines like Yoga Journal. Part of their brand is truth and reality. Yet they’re just as bad as Vogue at hurling unrealistic perfectionist images at women. That’s why I’m no longer a subscriber.

          I enjoy yoga, and could use it to, as commenter amanda so lovingly put it “chill the fuck out,” yet my relationship with yoga has been contaminated by these constant perfectionist images. No matter how much I want to use yoga as a way to feel good, I can never escape the little voice whispering “plus it will help you look hot.” Or worse, “if you don’t do it, you won’t look hot.” And to be honest, yoga did make me feel good, but never made me feel completely chilled out in a lasting way.

          I simply don’t have 90 minutes a day for something that might make me feel temporarily better, even if it’s guaranteed to make me look hot for a month. Good thing I have sheer force of personality to fall back upon.

          Either Jill has a ton of friends who were already reader’s of PT’s blog (doubtful), or Jill is very very upset and has asked her friends to write in. To me, at least, this thread isn’t about Jill, it’s about these constant perfectionist images hurled at women under the guise of “better you” and “inspiration.”

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            you are forgetting that Jill is a professional, while (I am assuming here) most of those commenting are amateurs who dabble in yoga. I really hope that a professional in anything I do as a hobby (origami, running, cycling) is much better at it then I am.

  25. Bristol
    Bristol says:

    Dear Penelope,
    As a friend and colleague of Jill, I’m appalled that you used a photo of her without permission and that you accused her of lying. Jill’s devotion to her practice is not photoshopped — she puts her leg behind her head pretty much every day and she deserves to have her beautiful photo applauded not called absurd. The Ashtanga yoga practices are not an unattainable goal. If you practiced just the sun salutes, standing postures every day, you would be doing Ashtanga. But the practice of yoga starts with the yamas and niyamas. Gossiping about and accusing other yoga practitioners in an internet forum without any fact-checking is certainly harmful. I hope that you will remove your post.

  26. Amy A
    Amy A says:

    Does a person need to be double jointed to do that pose?

    I think it would be awesome to be really flexible. Just plain flexible. Not even in a leg-behind-my-head way.

    I can’t imagine doing yoga in a class setting. I am too private. Anyway, yoga is just one way to stretch and strength train. To me exercise is about being in touch with your own body, moving with it and allowing. It really has nothing to do with what *others* are doing with their own bodies.

    So a goal might be to spend 10 minutes a day stretching and listening to your body. As a matter of fact, I think I will begin doing this in addition to my daily walks. Ten minutes is completely doable.

  27. pakster
    pakster says:

    Great article as always Penelope. Small steps are definitely the key.

    Regarding the photo and the caption: I hope that the Jill Manning actually obtained approval from the farmer whose private property she was on and re-arranged (yes that hay bale belongs to someone). Otherwise, trespassing is trespassing.

  28. Tova
    Tova says:

    I consider Jill a good friend. I have written and rewritten a defense of her but nothing seems just right because honestly, i don’t think there is anything to say to people who will attack the character of someone they don’t know simply because she posed for a photo on top of a hay bale, and because their internet leader has led them into a lynchmob. This is everything that is wrong with the internet. I would hope we can be better than this.

  29. redrock
    redrock says:

    Virginia is in general a rather rural state with the exception of the Washington D.C. suburbs loving called “Northern Virginia”. The voting behavior in all kinds of elections reflects very clearly the rural part with a more conservative voting trend, and the Northern Virginia-D.C. belt with a more liberal trend, this also includes some liberal enclaves like Charlottesville, and (maybe) Richmond. Despite living in a university town much larger then Farmville and a university much larger then Longwood I encouter hay-bales on a near daily basis. I suspect that it is significantly drier overall in VA which allows to roll them up larger, and leave them in the field longer then in Wisconsin.

  30. Michele
    Michele says:

    Oh how I hate seeing yoga poses, the same ones over and over, looks like a real work out, blah blah blah. Yoga isn’t as cool as yoga thinks it is. And, Penelope – it is boring – why would you want that as a goal? The people in yoga class think they are as elitist as runners, paleos and people who don’t own a TV. There, I said it.
    BTW – I think goals suck. If I make one, I feel forced into doing what ever goal I set and then I don’t want to do it. Intelligence is fluid and can change it’s mind. Goals do not.

    Wait, I guess I do have a few goals: not to be sorry I toiled at a career that doesn’t matter in the end and not to be sorry I didn’t see my children as they grew up because I was toiling over a career. My goal is to not be sorry that I wasted my time over any unimportant thing.
    Penelope *what personality type am I? lol
    (Summer’s mom)

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      After being consistently nagged and lectured about starting yoga, or why I should be doing yoga RIGHT NOW… I decided that I hated yoga. I don’t even need to try it. The fanaticism displayed by those who attend regularly is creepy to me.

      I practice mindfulness instead and I am just as happy, peaceful, and zen all without yoga.

  31. Amy
    Amy says:

    Not picking on yoga, Farmville, Jill, Penelope, goals, hay bales, or anything … but just wondering …

    In the picture, is the woman’s left or right leg behind her back? Is something going on with mirror-imagery from photography that it looks kind of backwards or something?

  32. Jacqueline Blatchford
    Jacqueline Blatchford says:

    Obviously you did no fact-checking before publishing this defamatory post. Shame on you.

  33. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    I find it interesting that no one is flipping tables over ridiculous aspirational blogs and when someone comes out and spells out the typical oh so common human thoughts and emotions so many people lose it.

    People wants more authenticity only if it looks like a Haagen-dasz commercial.

    At first I think “Penelope that’s so ugly.” And then when all the people come out swinging against then I think “ay! Maybe they’re scared that some of that envy/jealousy/a bit crazy (or a lot) is in all of us so they find it revolting but tear P apart just because it’d be too painful to calmly turn inward and say that all of that I hate is also in me…”

    So anyway, I hate to look stupid so what I hate the most is that she didn’t fact checked her details.

    But there’s also something very telling, a farmer notices those details right away and so the owners of those bales either have a farm for looks or something because that’s not normal ways to treat hay.

    I don’t hate that she wrote all those things about the lady. I recognize a lot of those ugly feelings In myself and I think that it’s better to accept than to put a thick layer of makeup on it and try to pretend that I’m all rainbows and butterflies all the time.

  34. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Yoga Journal is particularly bad when it comes to quality control and it’s riddled with so many ethical issues, it gives print journalism a bad name. I’ve worked as a professional factchecker for more than 15 years, and come from the “New Yorker” school of factchecking (if your mother tells you she loves you, it’s your job to confirm that detail with a second source) and YJ happens to be one of the places where I worked. I quit YJ over ethics issues within 3 months. There were numerous little things that I just had to let go to get paid, but the editorial decision that made me walk was the then editor in chief (she’s no longer there) got a free ticket to a yoga retreat in Boulder CO, and stayed at the local Sheraton for free. So since this was annual conference, she could only mention it the following year’s issue. Well, inconveniently, the conference the following year moved to Vail. But EIC (editor in chief) insisted on running an info graphic with the Sheraton Boulder CO details even though it was 100 miles away from the actual conference that year, because she “owed” the hotel a mention, and this was much more important than giving information of service to the 300,000 readers that might attend the conference in the current year.

    The photo facts you mentioned were hilarious and also irritate me like crazy. All of society loses when publications sell their credibility.

    Just a hint: The fact that Yoga Journal sponsors conferences, and puts their name on products and videos, says they have something to sell. And therefore, all info in that particular magazine should be considered suspect. Any mention of any particular retreat in YJ, it’s safe to presume the editors received some sort of freebie in order to write about it, or the editors are being forced to write about it because the publishers have a financial stake in conference attendance numbers. It’s unfortunate because the world could use a great yoga magazine. And also, some of the YJ content is really high quality. The photo sequences of the various yoga postures each issue are really fantastic, and I know the artist who draws the muscle diagrams is actually a highly regarded medical illustrator. The magazine does interview the rock stars of the yoga world. It’s unfortunate that a reader will never know if the facts and quotes attributed to such yoga heroes are actually true. It’s clear you can’t even trust information in innocuous photo captions. Shame on you, Yoga Journal. You could be so much better, and it’s too bad, you’re not. At the time I worked there (more than 7 years ago), they were dragging out payments to writers and editorial freelancers at least 3 to 6months, so I can only guess it’s worse now. So, YJ is dragging the bottom of the barrel when it comes to editorial freelancers. No one who needs to do editorial work professionally can afford those kinds of invoice turnarounds.

  35. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    “When we are not meeting our goals it’s a big sign that they are not the right goals for us.”

    This is my favorite line of this post. I have been thinking this for years, but it’s a hard position to take. Most people will respond by suggesting you try harder or put your mind to it longer. I don’t know if it’s part of the “you can be anything you want to be” mentality, or what – but I feel validated reading this post. Thanks!

    • Amy A
      Amy A says:


      YES! I agree.

      Plus, I think it’s important to periodically evaluate our goals to see if we really even want them anymore, and if they are still a match for who we presently are.

      (Sometimes watching what everyone else is doing–such as what’s described in this blog post–can stifle self-reflection and self-awareness which are needed for evaluating our goals.)

  36. jessica
    jessica says:

    So many of the yoga picture lady’s friends were directed to your blog?

    My old therapist hated yoga and buddhism. He felt they were too self centered for most people to really get the benefits they market. I don’t think he’s wrong. I don’t think most people can do ‘yoga’ all day and live outside of themselves and how they are feeling. Just my personal opinion, strengthened by a top researcher.

    Having no idea who she is, the woman in the photo looks nice. There’s definitely a treatment. It seems like some sort of ‘this will be great for Instagram’ photo. I don’t know how it ended up in a magazine. Is she a fellow blogger?

    Besides that, one of my good friends works out at several different studios weekly. Everyday, 90 mins. I went with her then quit because I can’t keep up. This happens while the kids are in preschool and school and the husband is working. It’s so she can kill time ( what she says). She manages to keep up with it and her responsibilities. Everyone has different goals and choses different battles.

    Knowing I’m not going to go out of my way to work out, I make sure to stay in the city where I need to walk often.

  37. HES
    HES says:

    Farmville is a University town, (Longwood University) BUT it’s surrounded by a very rural farming community. The hay is not always (in VA) removed from the hay field immediately.

  38. mba-entrepreneur
    mba-entrepreneur says:

    5 excellent points (and glad to know these are backed up by neurological research). The combination of #2 and #3 is especially interesting => the major benefit of setting goals is living the process. Even if you decide to quit (often the best decision), the goal-oriented approach frequently yields other benefits.

  39. Sunday
    Sunday says:

    Write the vision down and make it plan, then run with it. Goal setting is the begging of every greatness. It gives you focus and helps you to plan well towards achieving that goal.

  40. Autumn
    Autumn says:

    Your interpretation of the Yoga Journal photo (and the subsequent reaction to it) was quite funny, and I do agree that it can be important to let yourself off the hook. However, as a fellow practitioner of yoga and a woman who has at times felt too busy to practice, I think you can still keep yoga in your life with smaller more achievable goals. Sites like yogaglo.com (my personal fave) and yogisanonymous.com will stream yoga instruction so that you can practice in your home for even a 15 minutes a day. Or maybe try keeping up with 2-3 60-90 minute sessions per week instead of every day.

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