I was recently asked to contribute to a piece about New Year's resolutions, and what happens to them. 47% of us make these annual commitments, yet for all our resolve, less than 20% of our plans come to anything.
So, what goes wrong? And, how might mindfulness help?
Why do we stray from the goals we set ourselves?
We need, I think, to be really clear about the motivations behind the goals we set ourselves in the first place. Why is it that we are deeming something to be important to us? And why now? Unless our motivations are genuine, we are apt to fail before we have begun. Classic examples can be found both within the personal domain (trying to please a partner) or at work (meeting objectives set for us by our boss). In either scenario, unless we are truly interested in the 'goals' we sign ourselves up to, chances are we will not pull them off.
Goals themselves can, ironically, set us up for their non-achievement. Expectations might be otherwise described as premeditated disappointments: if we attach ourselves too strongly to a goal (and make it an expectation we hold for ourselves), we are likely to fall hard indeed (and are likely to come head-on with doubt and self-criticism, crashing down into hopelessness and despondency) when we don't attain whatever it is we have set out for.
How might we adjust our goals, or the process we engage in when making them, to maximise our chances of success?
(Depends on your definition of success!) Success might be determined by the way in which we hold the goals we set ourselves. Can we hold our goals lightly, avoiding setting ourselves up with expectations which then run the risk of becoming painful disappointments. Inclining ourselves in a particular direction is helpful: so that we measure success from the perspective that we are moving in the direction we wish to, rather than arriving at a particular destination. This has built in flexibility, meaning that we are more likely to be able to maintain our goals, even should our circumstances change (as they surely will, from time to time). This approach has the helpful benefit of reducing the self-defeating obsession many of us suffer from: that of needing to measure progress (e.g. the horribly disheartening moment that you stand on the scales to discover that your punishingly restrictive diet has not, in fact, led to the weight decrease you'd hoped for).
For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next years words await another voice.
T. S. Eliot
We need to accept that change is rarely linear. We need to get more comfortable with the 'messiness' that change so often entails. Life is unpredictable. Most important is the acceptance that we are where we are: and this is the only place from which we can start from.
Un-coupling happiness or peace of mind from the goals we set ourselves will, ironically, allow us to feel a great deal more ease and contentment (both of which are likely to be helpful, if not essential, in the ultimate achievement of our goals). By becoming less attached to outcomes, we are better able to enjoy the journey, and appreciate what change actually entails, thus preparing ourselves to reap the rewards of success and minimising self-sabotage along the way (which is so often the product of a lack of readiness for success, and is far more common than we probably care to admit).
When we are less ready to beat ourselves up when things don't go exactly to plan, we are far more likely to stay on course much more of the time, thereby increasing our chances of achieving the goals that mean most to us (which are usually those that also challenge us the most).
More to follow...