As I write this I am sitting amongst multiple stacks of paper, articles, and to-do lists. Despite the chilly weather, saying goodbye to the official winter season inspired me to do some spring cleaning in my office. I recycled finished and abandoned projects, prioritized my intentions for the coming month, and created a pile of what needs to be completed first. The organization felt fulfilling; but the remaining stacks of unread articles (surely holding solutions to any current problem), tedious tasks, and representations of future goals created a sense of pressure that was palpable. I was suddenly thrown into the mindless reaction of fantasizing about the future and ruminating over the past, overwhelmed by the goals I have set for myself.
Being a practitioner of mindfulness, I tried to gently remind myself to focus on the present moment. I coached myself to take a few breaths, but my mind raced to how I was going to be able to get everything done. I took another breath. My mind trailed off into the repeat episode of “but, I work so hard and it still doesn’t seem to matter” drama that is top in my favorites list. I became flooded with what-ifs and completely lost focus, feeling defeated, and ineffective. Sound familiar?
One of the most challenging times to practice mindfulness is when you are in the midst of working towards a goal, especially one you are passionate about. Mindfulness teaches us to stay present and pay attention to the moment we are in right now. But, how do we stay present when there are meaningful future goals, competing tasks and barriers in the present, and unknown obstacles around the corner?
Practicing mindfulness does not mean we do not have goals or things we want to accomplish. You can bring mindfulness to working towards goals, which helps to improve productivity and focus, while also strengthening the resiliency we need to work towards something greater than ourselves.
Though your sights may be set on future accomplishments, take a few moments to remind yourself why you are working towards this goal. Write it down. Take a few breaths and really feel what this goal means to you. Though you have not yet achieved it, how you feel about the future achievement can guide you in the present.
Give yourself some time to reflect (not ruminate) on the past and learn from it. Once you have, bring the learning back to the present moment. Ask yourself how it can influence this moment. Identify the goals for the future, and ask yourself, how do you need to be in this moment to help carry you forward. The “doing” will happen more easily when you can find how you want to be. Maybe you want to be more deliberate, compassionate, thoughtful. Practicing mindfulness reminds us to come back to what we can control which is this moment, not the next.
It’s easy to get caught up in the energy of doing and moving forward with the Spring’s promise of longer, sunnier days. But, that energy can also easily take us to the expansiveness of all that comes with goals and aspirations. Tame this with bringing mindfulness to all that you have to do – it’s quite a lot, so go slowly.