Are they at odds? That’s what I’ve been wondering. I’ve been trying to live “in the moment” and to focus on being present and being mindful. However, my nature is to obsess about the future, to carefully plan and ponder and set goals and worry and live in a constant state of anticipation over what’s to come. (Usually pensive anticipation.) I have no desire to avoid being goal-oriented. I fear that this would result in finding myself ten years from now in exactly the station in life as today. And that’s something I don’t want.
There’s something about the idea of “living in the moment” that makes it sound as if you have no concerns about or interest in the future. It has a sort of “hell with it, live for today” connotation. I tend to associate the idea of being present and mindful with living in the moment, although I believe they have less careless connotations. So how do I balance setting goals and working tirelessly towards them with being present and living in the moment? I can’t say for sure, but I have a few ideas.
To start with, I believe that goal-setting (just like to-do-list-making, one of my other favorite activities) is an activity that can and should be done with attention and focus. In other words, if I’m serious about setting goals, then the process of establishing those goals deserves a set-aside time of its own when I can sit down and give that project my entire focus. In other words, goal-setting isn’t a process that should be relegated to the back-burner and squeezed into fleeting afterthoughts. You should, in fact, be very present during the process of setting goals.
So I set aside time to think about and write down my goals – usually at the end of the year. I know lots of people aren’t big on New Year’s Resolutions, but I think it’s just as good a time as any to sit down and reflect. Usually I’ve jotted down thoughts throughout the year, and I already have an idea of what I’d like to focus on in the new year, but setting aside a specific time to focus on this task mindfully is a good way to take it seriously. Do it without distractions and without feeling rushed. Give yourself time to think not only about the goals but about the steps you’ll have to take to reach them. Think about the timelines involved in completing them and when you expect various steps to be completed. Be really really specific and establish times to check in with yourself.
In other words, if one of your goals is to run a marathon this year, you might start by choosing a month. Then perhaps you’ll set a deadline to decide which race that month you’ll want to do. And a deadline by which to look up and select a training plan. Then you can plan the date that your training plan will begin, and you could even enter specific training runs and races on your calendar as well. Once the goal and the plan are established, there should be very little distraction when it comes to executing the goal. Now you can approach your goal mindfully. You can still wake up every day and live “in the moment” with a plan and a schedule. You can wake up and look at your calendar and know that you’ve planned out everything you need to do that day instead of rushing through and wondering if you’ll find time for the most important things.
Come to think of it, it kind of sounds like being goal-oriented is well-suited to mindfulness. So how is this different from the less mindful approach that I also accidentally engage in? Let me give you another example. I’ve opened a new business this year, and obviously I have a lot of goals associated with the business. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on the steps I need to take to accomplish those goals, I often find myself distracted by the early results. I find my mind wandering to “what-if” world. As in… “What if no one calls us this week?” or “What if it takes me three years to get a paycheck and I have to spend all my savings?”
Those aren’t very productive thoughts, and when I’m engaging in thought patterns like that, I’m not being present in the moment. I would be so much better off if I were just living in the moment and sticking to a plan. Granted, not all plans work, and you don’t want to be blind to results, but for that reason, I would say it’s wise to plan a time to sit down and evaluate and reassess your goals and the steps you’re taking to reach them. Don’t do it continuously on a moment-to-moment basis. As with many big goals, the process of reaching them is often filled with ups and downs, and if we’re panicking every time we hit a “down,” it can really throw us off the big plan.
Ok, Let’s Summarize…
Setting goals actually goes great with mindfulness and being present as long as it’s done right. Goals can and should be specific, measurable, and attainable. Ideally they should involve clear steps that you can plan and focus on when the time is right. Great goals aren’t abstract events that you “hope” will happen. Trepidation about the future or anxiety about outcomes are not the same as goal-setting. They take your mind out of the present moment and actually distract you from getting closer to achieving your real goals. Goal setting should involve plans to check in with your progress when the time is right and re-evaluate your steps if needed. And in the spaces in between, enjoy the simplicity of sticking to a plan and being present in the moment.
I hope you reach all your goals this year!
xo – B