I believe there’s a balance to be struck somewhere between the two.
Between mindfulness and setting goals.
Personally, I like the idea of living in the present, enjoying every moment that we have, trying not to worry about things that may not happen or that we cannot change and trying to avoid spending too much time in the past or in the future.
I also know that what gets measured, gets improved, failing to plan is planning to fail and that having clear goals – being really clear about what we want – is the best way to improve our chances of getting there.
So what gives?
How I Try and Balance ‘Now’ and ‘Then’
Well, the balance that I’m shooting for is to be clear about what I want from life in terms of visualizing (‘Then’) what I want to happen from time to time (I tend to focus on the key concepts I want in place) then to get back to the present (‘Now’) and let my sub-conscious help me get there.
Sure, from time to time I may need to re-focus and re-prioritize what I want from life, but then that is actually more like a chosen, meditative exercise which I have made a little time for rather than something that hampers my day-to-day activities.
Once I have re-focused, I’ll attempt to go back to living in the present without worrying too much about what has happened in the past or what might happen in the future.
When I Use Goals
I also know that for very specific projects, setting goals and planning is a great way to learn and to get things done efficiently, so there’s the exception, I do use goals, milestones, planning and measurement on specific projects.
I’ve written before about how I’m not a huge fan of goals (despite being a coach, which I know is a little weird), though they can be very useful in specific situations.
Goals are a standard tool used by lots of coaches, individuals and organizations.
… and it’s really hard to talk about coaching without talking about goals.
But goals can also be dangerous, they can give a false sense of achievement, they can slow us down, they can de-motivate or can actually take us off-track if poorly conceived.
At the same time, goals can be awesome – they can provide much needed focus, they can guide us along the right path and improve momentum, they can give a sense of measurement and an indication of how far we have come and how far we have left to go, they can make us happy and they can be all the difference between success and failure.
The point is that goals are a tool and like any tool, they can be the best thing or the worst thing depending upon the environment, the type of person or people using them and the nature of the task at hand.
I love the idea of mindfulness – of being fully present.
We have very little to lose by being fully present and a lot to gain.
We have plenty of articles on this subject so I’m not going to explain the concept here. If you’d like to know more about mindfulness, start with this article: How To Practice The Art Of Mindfulness.
That being said, I don’t think mindfulness is something that is meant to be employed 100% of the time – i.e. if we spend 100% of our time in the present moment without any reflection on the past or preparation for the future then we are going to miss out on a great deal.
I think we should simply practice mindfulness whenever we can, to be fully present, experience all that life has to offer and be there for the people we are with too. This clearly leaves us time to reflect and to plan as well.
The problem I see is that most of us spend far too much time in the past or in the future, and not enough time in the present.
So I can’t really tell you the good and bad of mindfulness because I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all – I don’t think it’s meant to be practiced 100% of the time and I’m not sure it could be. The problem is that most of us aren’t mindful enough and we could all adopt this practice more often for healthier lives, myself included.
Fulfilllment, Success or Happiness?
I have to confess, I don’t even know what the goal of telling you all this is.
Terrible to say, given that we’re always told to focus on outcomes so much these days, but I’m really interested in the philosophical point rather than telling you specifically what this balance will achieve.
Isabelle wrote a great article last week about fulfillment, posing the question “When is it time to stop wanting more and start enjoying what we already have?” and though this article could be a continuation of that discussion, it could also be viewed from any number of different perspectives.
I guess finding the right balance between mindfulness and goals – between ‘Now’ and ‘Then’ – will primarily improve your happiness, but I actually think it’s much more fundamental than that – I think getting this right will bring you better results too – in life and in business.
Both of these things are effectively tools that, used right and in the right proportion can help you to achieve great things in your life and business.
The part I can’t tell you is what that proportion looks like for you.
Are you someone who likes structure, who enjoys planning and finds it motivating rather than stressful.
Do you work better under pressure and given set guidelines or as a free spirit with no constraints?
Are you in an environment that is seeking measured progress or one that is looking for innovation?
The person you are, the environment you are living or working in and the things you are trying to achieve will tell you what your balance will be.