Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking - S.J. Scott, Barrie Davenport (2016)


Exercise #3a: Focus on Mindful Goal Setting

A natural outcome of having values and setting priorities is considering how these apply to your life in the future. Although worrying about the future contributes to an unsettled mind, planning for the future is an important and valuable exercise that can set the stage for true fulfillment in the years to come.

But is it really possible to look toward a better future and still be happy with your life right now? Can you be content and evolving at the same time? We believe it’s possible to focus on the future while still learning how to enjoy the present moment.

There are many great writers and philosophical thinkers who talk about contentedness in the present moment. The renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow reminds us that “the ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.”

Thích Nhat Hanh, the Zen Buddhist monk and bestselling author, teaches that every moment in your life, every breath, every step you take, should be consciously experienced as a moment of joyous arrival.

He suggests you don’t need to wait for change, for something better, for the future, before you are content. You can be content right now if you choose to see all of the good and beauty around you in the present moment.

Of course, this is easier said than done .

The realities of our daily lives are constantly pulling us into the future. We worry about paying the bills, how our children will turn out, whether we will remain healthy. And the very nature of setting goals is future-oriented.

Longing and struggling against “what is” causes suffering. Wishing for more, for something different, for something better at the expense of contentment in the moment robs us of life.

If that’s the case, why should you focus on your future goals if they pull you away from the moment?

Because change and transformation will happen to you whether or not you decide to focus on it.

Change is a constant of life, whether we are sitting in the lotus position absorbed in the moment or wringing our hands about some imagined future outcome. So we might as well create our futures mindfully.

When you embrace the truth that contentment and change can happen simultaneously, you reduce the tension between thinking it’s an either/or proposition. There is a way to establish a balance between mindfulness and self-creation.

You can view the process of creating and reaching your goals as a place for happiness and contentment. Rather than holding back happiness while you await an outcome, enjoy every step along the path. Every revelation, every small action toward your goals should be savored and celebrated.

Knowing that goal-setting isn’t incompatible with mindfulness, let’s discuss how to create and work toward your goals in a way that supports the bigger “why” of your life.

When you first sit down to ponder your goals for the future, remember to have your core values and life priorities handy as points of reference. As long as your values and priorities remain valid, they should be the compass for directing your goals. Otherwise, you set yourself up for a future of frustration and unhappiness.

In the next section, we will go over the process that Steve uses to create simple goals focused on what’s truly important. The benefit of this strategy is that you’ll feel less stressed about the future, and instead focus on what’s currently going on in your life.