I've always been a person that sets goals. I loved the idea of working towards something and slowly achieving it. Whether it be a physical goal in terms of my health, a goal at work or a more personal goal, I've found that they have helped keep me on the right path at certain times in my life.
It is quite common to hear about the importance of setting goals from a very young age, we are told if we want to achieve something then goals can help keep us on track and keep us focused. But what is it that goals help us achieve? Is it sporting success, financial gain, business success, personal development? Can goals help us become happier? Or can goals actually do the opposite?
Goals are always future based, they always involve working on something to get future results and future rewards. This can mean that we always put our happiness in something in the future and never in the now, which is all that actually counts. Founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Jon Kabat-Zinn said, “Arriving someplace more desirable at some future time is an illusion."
The question when it comes to goals is what do we have to sacrifice now in order to get them? We hear often about the sacrifices great people made in order to get to where they are but what if they never got there, would the 20 years of trying been years of desperation or years of enjoyment? We reach our goals and then almost immediately set new goals and set off on reaching them too. This pattern continues, we might tick some boxes and achieve some tasks but when do we actually enjoy them?
By all means it is important to know what you want and it is important to at least know how to get it, but is it possible to still get what you want whilst still enjoying what you do now? Whilst it is obvious that at times we have to make do without certain things now for what we think are better things tomorrow, but it's the balance that counts. If you continually neglect your present for the future, day in and day out, year after year, then maybe you have the balance all wrong.
We have to remember one very important thing and whilst sombre and dark it is the only guaranteein life - we will die. We can set goals and have big dreams but if these goals and dreams come at the expense of our 'right now's' and our happiness in this very moment, and they continue to come at the expense of our happiness right now, over and over again, are they worth it?
I hear too often the same old story about the man or woman who worked hard sacrificing today so they could enjoy a better tomorrow and then they die just short of their target. In sacrificing their today's they missed out on so much opportunity and so much life. If we continue to assign all of our energy and happiness to completing a task we lose the joy in the process and everything else that is happening around us. We can so easily miss out on so much of life, fun, love and meaning.
The challenge of setting goals can drive us and get us outside of our comfort zone, which is great, and here is the place where we can learn new things about ourselves. But sometimes when we achieve our goal these challenges leave us and we are left flat with a loss of purpose, so we just start striving for our next milestone again missing out on the present moments right here in front of us.
Why can't we create a life where we have both? A life that is fulfilled and content in the present doing the things we love with the people we love whilst also moving slowly and patiently to the others things that we want. This way if we don't reach what we want, or if we realise that we don't actually want it after all, we are still happy. This way we find ourselves still fulfilled and we have not wasted any time unhappy, stressed, worried and anxious about the future in our short, fickle and inconstant lives.
The Dalai Lama was asked what surprises him the most and he said, “Man, because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
Let's put our attention on right now, in this very moment. Let's bring our mind back from wandering ahead and re-connect it with its home that is our body. Let's not get so caught up in striving and chasing and knocking down goals but instead get caught up in just being right here in the moment. It is easy to get in the habit of future-thinking, thinking "I will be happy when," but as long as we look after this very moment we will take care of the next one too. Let this be our new goal, if we have to have one, to simply "look after this moment." This way we will be happy every day without waiting for something, or someone, to make us happy somewhere down the line.
By Evan Sutter