Many of us live by other peoples’ rules. We are afraid to act in our own interests. There is always someone else whose opinion carries more weight than our own. Someone to whom we have given the power to veto the decisions that we make about how we live our lives. These are often internalised figures from our past.
We wait for the right moment to act; when we have the right job, when we have enough money, when we meet Mr or Ms Right. If we retrain for a different job it might be years before we are ready, so we choose not to. We decide to stay with the status quo and miss out on opportunities to have a richer life.
Where our future is are concerned we have to act, otherwise we will be at the mercy of everything else that is happening. As the Nike advertisement said “Just do it.”
We worry about what the future will bring, rather than making plans to bring about the future we would like. If we are going to live life our way, we need to allow ourselves the freedom to make our own decisions. If we are to do this, we need to have an idea of what we wish for from our lives.
In other words we have to set goals that will give us the best chance to have the future we want. Any change we intend to make will need a combination of:
- Goals and plans. The targets that we are aiming for, and the steps that are necessary for us to achieve them.
- Motivation. The desire to get there.
- Willpower. The inner determination to carry things through, based on self control and discipline.
To create change we need to use our minds constructively. We cannot alter the past, but we can try to bring about the future we desire. We can only live in the present moment, and it is in the present that we have to act.
The more mindful we are, the easier it becomes to keep our lives on track. If we are mindful, then we are aware when we act in ways that are more relevant to our past, and will notice when our current behaviour goes against our best interests. When we are out of step with our goals.
The goals we choose should have personal meaning, otherwise we will not commit to them.
When I was at medical school, one of my fellow students realised that he was studying medicine for the wrong reasons. His father was a famous surgeon, and he had always been told he would be a doctor. He was near the top of the class but chose to leave the medical school four weeks before the final exams. When I asked him why he had not taken the exams and qualified, he told me that had he done so, he would have been trapped into a profession he did not wish to follow.
Many of the other medical students thought he was crazy, but he chose to put his future happiness and plans ahead of a family tradition. This is something I have always admired.
We need to act, to participate fully in our lives, otherwise we are at the mercy of anything and everything else that might happen.
Mindful goal setting involves adopting goals that have personal meaning.
1. Focus on the positive.
Concentrate on the things we wish to do more, not on what we need to do less. “I am going to take up a healthy lifestyle”, rather than “I am going to stop eating junk food all the time and lose ten kilos.”
Positive goals make it easier to overcome our resistance to change. They make us concentrate on what we need to achieve and do not confront us with our failings. Negatively phrased goals stimulate resistance; positively phrased goals reduce it.
2. Set goals on several levels.
Major goals can seem intimidating. It is good to travel with a destination in mind, but it is sensible to plan the journey. Break each goal down into several steps, each of which brings the target closer. Each step can then be broken down into smaller steps.
Some steps need to be taken one after the other, while others may be done in parallel. We need to be aware of the progress we are making, and this is easier if we have set short, medium and long term targets towards our final goal. This will give us a better chance of success. Each step should be undertaken at the right time. When building a house, the foundations have to be laid before the walls can be erected, and in turn the walls need to be up before we can put on the roof.
Short term goals are ones that can be achieved either now or in the immediate future. They are the things we do to start the ball rolling, small things that we know we can achieve, and that will give us the impetus to reach our final target. Lots of short term goals add up to medium term goals, which lead to completed long term goals.
Mindful awareness gives us the patience required to allow events to unfold at their own pace, and to deal with setbacks or any changes necessary for us to adapt on the way to achieving our aims.
3. Bring our goals into our day to day life.
Record and celebrate our achievements as they happen. Perhaps by keeping a log or journal of our progress. Make a note of what we did, how we did it, and the next step needed.
Make a commitment to do something every day or every week in order to keep up the momentum. Make our goals part of who we are and what we do. Put reminders where we can see them, perhaps put post it notes on the fridge, using alarms on our phone, set reminders in our calendar, or set a message in our screen saver. Whatever works for us.
Another reason for keeping a record is that it can serve as a reminder of our progress. When we feel discouraged and our head starts to drop, we can see how far we have actually come, even if we have not done much to change things recently.
4. Remain flexible
We need to be able to adapt, or even change our goals, in light of changes in our life circumstances. This may mean changing the time frame, the steps we decide to take, or even reconfiguring our long term goals.
Mindfulness can help us to avoid working towards goals that are no longer relevant to our lives, or ones that we have identified with too strongly, making it hard to change direction. So if we break our leg, we are unlikely to be able to run a marathon for the next few months, and this means we will need to adapt our mindset and training strategy accordingly.
In business it is important to avoid throwing good money after bad, the same should apply even more strongly to the business of our lives. We can’t afford to spend time on things that no longer matter to us. We need to be able to recognise when to walk away.
When circumstances change, we need to be able to adapt so that we can continue to move things along in the right direction. In other words we must adjust our goals to changed situations.
5. Take the good and the bad in our stride.
We need to remain adaptable as setbacks happen, often through no fault of our own. We need to remain optimistic and to avoid becoming discouraged.
We should consider what can we learn from the knock back. This is an important question to ask ourselves. It will help us decide how can we do things differently to keep moving forward. It helps us to decide how we can change our plans to compensate for the difficutly, and so remain flexible and in charge of our own life.
The true secret is to keep on keeping on, taking the action that we need to keep our lives moving forward and not stagnating. We need to take action in order to feel good, and not to wait until we feel good in order to take action.
We cannot change the past.
All we can do is act in the present.
Acting in the present sets up the necessary conditions for our preferred future to become possible. Bringing mindfulness to bear on our present life, enables us to avoid becoming stuck, leaving us with the flexiblity to adapt to changing circumstances.