A little at a time

This is the time for resolutions and I hope that whatever you want for yourself in the new year, you achieve. However, I think that in our culture of instant gratification, it can be very easy to expect to get final results quickly and give up when we don’t get that.

I prefer a mindful approach to accomplishing what you want to get, which involves being aware of your moment-to-moment actions and really being present in all that you do. I think a future orientation is useful in that our dreams help provide motivation, which fuels the creation of our destinies. But we also need to pay attention to what we’re doing NOW, because that is what we actually have control over and what will make the real difference in whether or not we reach our goals. Everything we do, from weight loss to quitting a bad habit like smoking, to making more money, to being a better mom, dad, husband or wife, involves moment-to-moment decisions. That takes sustained awareness, which is hard to achieve if our minds bounce around from idea to idea, always craving and seeking novelty. That’s what brains do, but there seems to be more and more research pointing to how useful mindful meditation can be for training ourselves to be aware of what we’re doing, thinking and experiencing.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Full Catastrophe Living and Wherever you go, there you are, talks about only having moments to live. This is true if you think about it closely: we don’t have the future, we don’t have the past anymore. All we have is this moment, so why not be fully present in it and not waste it being somewhere else mentally (like on the future, wishing for something that hasn’t come true, or in the past, regretting the decisions we made to get where we are now)?

Try a little experiment: write down a goal on a sheet of paper and what you think it takes to accomplish this goal. What tasks do you need to do that lead up to this goal’s fulfillment, and what can you do today to start that process? Now close your mind a minute and think about what is going on right now. You might say, “I am thinking about my goal. My heart is pumping a little more and I feel excited. I like the idea of getting this. I have a sense of possibility.” Then look at the first thing that you need to do and decide to focus your attention on THAT, rather than on the end-point. If it is something complex that will take a little time, like losing weight, then the more you are aware of each step of the process, the more you will be assured of success. Bringing yourself back to present awareness again and again, every time your mind strays or your purpose flags, is the difficult, disciplined part of goal accomplishment.

So, instead of picturing yourself strutting down the beach with a great body that everyone else notices, focus on how you feel right now. Are you hungry? When was the last time you ate? If it’s time to eat, what do you have to eat? Is that the best choice for a healthy, happy you? When you pay attention to the present, you actually make better choices, and you’re more thoughtful and grounded about what you are doing to get from point A to point B. Instead of a heady fantasy that seems out of reach, your resolution can be filled with deeply satisfying moments of full presence in reality. It’s worth a try, right?

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