- Posted by Marcelle Crinean
- On 2nd April 2018
How Mindfulness can help us achieve our goals.
Many people believe that achieving future goals, like buying a new house, getting a promotion, or losing weight, will ultimately make them happy, or at least happier than they are right now. However, research shows that the intensity and duration of this happiness is far less than we anticipate. This might be because we quickly adapt to new situations – a phenomenon termed ‘hedonic adaptation’, meaning the moment we’ve achieved one goal, we’re onto the next one. Or it could be due to the way we think about our future goals …
Setting goals for the future is undoubtedly important for our well-being, motivation and confidence, amongst other things. However, excessive focus on the future has also been found to have a negative effect on well-being. By its very definition, setting a goal creates a discrepancy or imbalance between what we’re experiencing now (e.g., I weigh 80kgs) and what we would like to happen (e.g., I want to weigh 60kgs). This inevitably creates tension, frustration and dissatisfaction, and we might find ourselves judging our current experience (or ourselves) as “not good enough”, “less than” or “something to be got rid of.”
Our minds also become preoccupied with our goals for the future; How do we reach our goals? What happens if we don’t reach them? And so on, and so on. Consequently, we spend more time in the future (in our heads) than the present (reality), which not only impairs our ability to enjoy the present moment, but can cause anxiety around not being able to achieve our goal, fear of failure, and so on.
One of the ways we can reduce this anxiety is by practising Mindfulness, the art of staying focused on the present moment. Anxiety usually involves a thought about something that has already happened (in the past), or that might happen (in the future). Anxiety is generally not a thought about something that is happening right now in the present moment. So, by practising Mindfulness, and living less in our minds and focusing more on the here and now, anxiety and the fear of not achieving our goals is reduced.
Mindfulness focuses our attention on the task in hand, rather than the end goal. As an analogy, let’s assume that you decide to take a road trip from London to Edinburgh (your goal destination). Whilst you might plan the roads and the stops you’re going to take on that journey, and you keep one eye on the map to make sure you’re heading in the right direction and don’t deviate too far off course, you’ll enjoy the journey much more if you notice and appreciate the present moment; for example, the comfort of the car, the music on the radio, the sights and sounds of nature all around you – rather than continuously believing that you’ll only be happy “once you get there”. That way, if the present moment turns out to be different than planned – e.g., you hit traffic – then you haven’t delayed your happiness because your destination/goal is slightly further away than you’d originally calculated.
Indeed, by focusing your attention on your driving and the current surroundings/step of the journey, rather than focusing on the gap between now and your destination goal (i.e., reaching Edinburgh) you might even find that you reach your goal more effectively and more quickly (“Wow, that journey went quickly!” 😊)
As we mentioned above, goals can emphasise the discrepancy between what we have and what we want, and it becomes easy to be dissatisfied with our lot in life. So, instead of focusing on what is necessary to increase our positivity or happiness, focus on the positive things that are already happening. One way of doing this is by writing down 3 positive things that have happened that day – this doesn’t have to be large things, it could be as simple as the sunrise you saw as you woke up, the cup of tea your colleague made you, the company of friends, or even that you managed to get out of bed that morning.
Overall, this will serve to increase your happiness and well-being, and make you happy in the moment, rather than putting your happiness on hold until you reach your goals and your ‘perfect’ life.