As we approach the first of January, we begin to reminisce on the events of the past year: our successes, our shortcomings, and our new or rekindled relationships we have developed. For many of us the New Year brings a chance to start over and also provides a boost to our desire for self-improvement. The New Year often begins with goal setting – some may be mental, and some may be written down and kept to review.
Goal setting is a powerful tool, which is essential to growth and provides us with a blueprint for success. If we do not have goals, we often become lost in the surface level task of today which over time can drain us of energy and true progress. If you are struggling with how to approach goals take a look at an extremely powerful article written by Tyler Wall titled Goals (and Assists) for the New Year. Despite the powerful implications our goals may have, personally I can become so focused on my end goal I miss out on the simple joys endured during the process. The funny thing is once I achieve a goal I quickly look for the next task to complete instead of truly enjoying my achievements and the hard work it took to get to that new place.
What I truly lack myself and think our society as a whole struggles with is mindfulness.
Well, what is mindfulness?
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk defines mindfulness as:
“The practice of being fully present and alive, body and mind united. Mindfulness is the energy that helps us to know what is going on in the present moment.”
It sounds so simple – just concentrate on what you are doing right now and you will enjoy the moment. Yet, for me, and for many others I know this task is one of the most difficult things I have tried to do in life.
Here is a quick exercise taught to me by a psychologist…
Imagine you are in an aquarium, you are walking along the dimly lit paths and you see fish of every size and shape swimming behind the thick glass as you peer in. Some fish are colorful and charming, others large and menacing. The fish are a representation of thought and worry as our busy mind is constantly working towards our next goal. The fish swim in and out bombarding our scenes with a constant hum of activity, so much so that we miss the true experience of that moment. The fish are not threatening behind the glass however we can allow them to feel that way as their numbers increase. Try and clear your mind. Acknowledging the fish, acknowledge your thought as a normal non-threatening occurrence, but let them swim by, as they are not allowed to disrupt your thought process. Despite the chaotic whirlwind that may be within the waters you calmly sit and allow your thoughts to swim away as you truly have reached the critical place of “being in the moment”. You are now mindful. This exercise may seem simple however it is a true test of being able to embrace the moment and experience what is directly in front of you. It allows you to experience the process. It allows you to feel the moment as we often know the journey is more important then the goal itself.
As the New Year rapidly approaches we often center our goals on fitness. “I want to hit that new PR”, “I want to lose ten pounds”, “I would like to go to the gym three times a week” etc.
Truthfully our goal should be being mindful enough to truly embrace these processes and to enjoy the experiences so that our goals do not eclipse the friendships, occurrences, and interactions with the world around us. The journey of mindfulness takes a lot of hard work, much like your time spent in the gym. However its results will leave you living a brighter, more fulfilling life. So this year perhaps you might make mindfulness a goal within all goals to experience the process as opposed to only seeking the end result.
- Set a phone alarm to go off sporadically throughout the day. This alarm will force you to look around and be present in the moment.
- Find a quiet place to meditate for ten minutes at the end of or before a workout to clear your mind of worrisome thoughts.
- Set your morning alarm 3 minutes earlier to allow yourself a moment of mindfulness before starting your day that usually begins with a barrage of emails and a sprint to work.
- Stop and look around throughout the day, even if at work, to embrace the great people, opportunities, and settings you have around you.
- The possibilities are endless! Create a mindfulness opportunity of your own!
“Hearing the bell, I am able to let go of all afflictions. My heart is calm, my sorrows ended.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
HAPPY NEW YEAR!