CRAIG HASSED: Our goals in life are really important, like what direction do we want to go? What do we want to get out of life? But our goals really need to be congruent to our values, what we value most, and also to our ethics, how we actually work towards that goal. Making money, for example, is clearly very attractive for all sorts of reasons, but it’s not necessarily a goal in itself, because we anticipate the money is going to provide something else for us. Our goal might be happiness, and we assume money will provide happiness. And sometimes we actually take our eye off the actual goal that we have, because we get so preoccupied about the means to that goal.
We’re so preoccupied about making money that we notice, for example, we’ve gotten a bit greedy, a bit avaricious. Or we might be so preoccupied with it that we are neglecting other things in our life, like relationships and family, and we never actually pause to see that we’re actually feeling less and less happy all the time. So these things that are means are quite different to the goals that we might actually aim for. So goals like happiness, like compassion, like making a contribution to the world, like really living a valued life that really helps others, then all of these might be goals. And then we need to think, well, what are the means towards that goal. Now, we can be strategic.
We can plot a course in life that we think might get to that goal, but of course, every day, in incidental ways, we’re either working towards that goal or not, just in very simple ways. And we get asked for help on the streets or the way that we respond to others at work may be always reinforcing those goals or perhaps even undermining them. So working towards our goals mindfully really requires deep attention. It requires curiosity. It requires taking time, sometimes for a bit of space, a bit of reflection. This might be very, very important. In fact, extremely important, but it’s not always that urgent. We always put other things off.
I’ve got things to do, the immediacy of day-to-day life, getting from one place to another. So all of the things that appear to be so urgent are often putting the things that are very important on the back burner. And that deep reflection is in important in other ways as well. We might be pursuing happiness, but sometimes we don’t stop to really reflect on what it is. Or we might be pursuing freedom, and maybe pursuing things that are making us less and less free, things that are becoming compulsions for us or habits or addictions.
So the overuse of the mobile phone and smart phones, and all of the technology associated with social media, can enrich a person’s life to an extent, but it can also become a kind of an addiction. So we want to be free and do whatever we want, but sometimes we don’t notice those things we’re pursuing actually reducing our freedom. So we do need to reflect deeply on these things sometimes, to actually say, well, what are they really? And maybe they’re not always what we assume they are, and if we’re really noticing that we’re not experiencing the satisfaction or the freedom that we anticipate, then to stop and perhaps ask ourselves a deep question, in a quite meditative or contemplative way.
One of the really important things about goals is that they need to be authentic. We really need to have ownership over that goal. We really need to value it. We can’t necessarily pursue it if it’s somebody else’s intention. We might be trying to satisfy somebody else, but if our heart’s not really in it, we need to ask why are we doing it. Maybe it is a useful goal, and we just need to stop and reflect and clarify that for ourselves, or sometimes we just need to be authentic and perhaps stop and consider which direction we really want to head in ourselves.
Now, there are a number of strategies we can use to help us to move towards our goals in a mindful way. For example, stopping before we start. Before we undertake something important to us, just having a very brief few moments of meditation can be very helpful to centre us. It’ll actually help us to be more conscious of what we’re doing and to do it with real intention. Maybe the goal that we’ve got is a very big goal and might seem a long way away, might seem even overwhelming. But to break down that goal into small steps, each one of which is achievable, realising that in terms of working towards our goals, planning and preparation is important.
Now, we can plan and prepare and be present as has already been discussed, but that is different to worry. We often worry so much about our goals that a lot of this worry masquerades as something valuable or useful. It pretends to be planning and preparation, for example, when it’s actually worrying. So distinguish between worry and real planning and preparation. It’s important to take our bearings along the way, to actually make sure that we are consistently heading towards what’s important for us, sometimes we need to take a little side road. Sometimes we need to achieve something that is not what we really wanted, but is important for other means.
And so if we can see those little frustrations or barriers, as we move towards a goal as just a part of the journey, if we can see with a larger perspective, then it tends to be a lot less frustrating than it otherwise would be. Because those little things that we sometimes avoid, that we really need to do, are actually very necessary first steps for achieving our ultimate goal. In working toward something, of course, we will often make mistakes. And so it is helpful to be forgiving about those mistakes, but not neglecting them. To learn something from them, to pay attention, to be curious, what happened, and why.
So that as we are working towards that goal, we’re treating each step and those apparent failures are not failures, but just learning opportunities. One of the things that mindfulness us might help us to do, as well, is to maintain the level of flexibility as we move towards our goal, to respond to things that come up along the way. So to be flexible, to be adaptable, to actually read things, to sometimes realise that we need to go in a different path. And so this mental flexibility is very different to the cognitive rigidity which is when we’ve got a fixed idea on there’s only one way to move towards that goal.
And we sometimes do that, even when circumstances are realising that we actually have to take a different path. And of course, one of the other things is that, when working towards our goal, we might, at some stage, have quite a change of venue, quite a change of insight, quite a different understanding. And what we might have really thought was a useful goal, what we might have valued at one time, might be very different at another time. And so being flexible enough to actually realise that sometimes our values really do change. Sometimes we have insights that make us realise that something we didn’t value before is really more valuable than we gave it credit for.
And there is something that is actually a part of that and is sometimes called a sunk cost bias. So when we’re not mindful, there are all sorts of things that can, on an unconscious level, bias our decision making. And sunk cost bias is one of those. We get so far into something, that we can’t let it go. We are so invested in the past, that we can’t actually read the writing on the wall now and step away from something when it’s really not useful to be continuing that task. And this can affect individuals in terms of the choices we make in day-to-day life.
A student could be a couple of years into a course and realise that this career is not really the direction I want to go in my life. But I’ve gone this far, I better keep on going and wind up in a career that’s really not a good fit for them at all. Or it can happen in relationships. It can happen for gamblers. But when people learn mindfulness skills, armed with the meditation and being mindful in day-to-day life, then it makes it easier to let go. It makes it easier to pay attention to what’s right in front of us and to actually read those signs.
It makes it easier to leave the past and make a conscious decision in the present moment. And hopefully, move towards those goals, and live according to those values, and to do it in an ethical way.