For many, the word “mindfulness” equates to the complete cessation of all forward movement. We think of mindfulness as sitting still smelling the flowers and see it as something most of us just don’t have time for, although many will admit that there’s real value in the concept. It’s almost as if there’s an unspoken rule that living in and enjoying the moment is an affront to committed goal achievement.
The fact remains that we are way too busy – in all areas of our lives. Are living in the moment and pursuing growth mutually exclusive? If not, how do we live in the moment and move forward at the same time?
Imagine you’re driving across the US. Your goal is to get from Washington, DC to San Diego. If you go into the trip with a laser-focus on getting to your destination, you’re very likely to achieve your goal, but you will miss the quirky places, the bald eagle fly-by, the mountain views and perhaps even the songs on the radio. Mindfulness doesn’t mean changing the goal or even slowing your pace. It does mean taking in the world around you as you pass through it. It means allowing the mind to expand beyond the limits of the narrow path to your destination.
That expansion can be scary because we start to notice – and generally fret – about the “what ifs.” Our brains want us to believe if we’re laser-focused on the destination, we’ll always get there, so we fear all else as a distraction. We get tunnel-vision, and we put “blinders” on ourselves. “Blinders” may be useful in focusing a horse, but if you’re wearing blinders, who has the reins? Who’s watching the environment to make sure you don’t get side-swiped, and more importantly, who’s reassessing and making decisions about the course and ultimately, the destination?
The truth is, distractions exist whether we see them or not, and looking only at the target means we have no idea of the environment – traffic, weather, construction – and most importantly, that we may be headed somewhere we don’t even want to go. So, we plod along to our destination, only to get there and realize we’re unhappy where we are but feel stuck because we feel we learned it too late. Here are some things that get in the way:
- Fear: we fear what’s to come – the unknown, failure and the loss of certainty and security.
- Judgment: we judge ourselves and believe we aren’t good enough. We try to live up to unrealistic ideals.
- “Shoulds:” we listen to the “shoulds” – following a path created by our perceptions of others’ expectations and values
- Lack of clarity: we don’t really know what is deeply important to us. We aren’t clear on our values and why we’re moving in a particular direction.
Now imagine taking that same road trip, but this time, you think ahead about what is most important to you. You consider how you like to spend your time, who you like to spend it with, what you don’t want to miss, how the points along your route fit with what you value and how they serve your long-term purpose (your goals and your happiness). You take the blinders off and look around, seeing the environment and making conscious decisions about how to proceed.
Steps to mindful growth:
- Get clear on your values. Know who you are and what you deeply care about. What truly matters to you? What makes you tick?
- Shed the “shoulds:” Eliminate the clutter, those non-value propositions that limit you, rather than serving your values – the “shoulds,” the “what will people thinks,” and the expectations of others and society.
- Consider your goals in the context of your values. Is there a disconnect? Are your current goals more about what you think others/society think they should be?
- Consider your current lifestyle (how you spend your time, money, energy, affection, etc). Is this lifestyle in keeping with your values? If not, where is the disconnect?
- Evaluate the gains and losses. What are you getting – and losing – from time, energy and attention spent on things outside your values?
- Give yourself a break. Even if you feel like you’ve already taken too much of a break – like you’re going nowhere – you’ve probably been riding in circles with the blinders on. Give yourself time to live in the moment, with the blinders off, assessing each moment against your values and goals without pressuring yourself to move forward or judging yourself for the lack of progress.
- Create. Spend time on creative exercises, free from expectations and judgments. Just be, do and create. See what comes (or not).
- Move forward. When you’re clear on what matters to you and have your destination in mind, move forward. Continue practicing being mindful of values and goals as you live in the moment. Ask yourself whether the moment’s activity is in keeping with your values and goals. If you slip back into pressure and judgment – which WILL happen – take a pause. Shed the “should.” Return to earlier steps as needed. This is a practice – a marathon, not a sprint.
If you’re always looking ahead to the destination, you won’t enjoy where you are, but if you have no idea where you’re going, you may end up somewhere you don’t like. It’s a balance.
Carol Robert is a coach, instructor and organizational culture change agent. Her workshops and coaching have helped hundreds shift their behavior and find success in their work and more joy in their lives. For information on upcoming workshops, go to: http://www.opelion.com/upcoming-workshops.html