I have a love/hate relationship with goals. Goals are good because they orient you towards something, pushing you to achieve it. On the flipside, goals are bad because, by definition, they haven't been met, therefore they make you feel inadequate and incomplete. You find yourself future projecting, imagining some ideal future scenario where you'll be happy because you'll be "complete," having met your goals.
Except this day never arrives. You'll just get new goals. You're perpetually chasing something, never reaching it.
Here's a list of goals that I had previously set out for myself:
I failed in all of these things, and spent a lot of time making myself unhappy because I hadn't met my own internal success conditions. Goals by definition create binary outcomes: success and failure, polarizing the breadth of life into these two narrow categories.
Instead, I've started to shift towards a new paradigm advocated by Leo Babauta - achieving without goals. Instead of goals, I now have areas of focus. So instead of writing in order to achieve some specific level of literary success, I write because I like to write. If I write every day, and focus only on the next immediate step, eventually I'll have a completed novel (this is how I wrote my book, taking it one day at a time, focusing on the moment to moment process as mindfully as possible).
I've gotten a lot of value from balancing out my Western success-oriented mindset with the Eastern concept of mindfulness and staying present to the moment, and I think you can too.
I've been a fan of the simplicity blogger Leo Babauta for several years. He writes about the practical application of mindfulness and zen principles to your daily life. Given that my day job can be very stressful, I've gotten a huge yield out of his advice. I recently purchased his Zen Habits Book, which I highly recommend. It's a brief book about implemented positive changes in your life, and it's very, very good.
Babauta's guide is built to account for two important variables: fluctuations in willpower and the inevitability of obstacles.
Find the minimum viable habit. The smallest increment of doing the activity. The least objectional version. And the resistance is overcome.
Beginning with the importance, of mindfulness, Babauta builds outward:
Turn from the story to the moment:
One of my favourite passages is his parable of water and train tracks, which brings Bruce Lee's famous speech to mind:
Water vs Train Tracks
Another interesting concept is Babauta's reframing of the inner cause of all our suffering: our attachment to a mental construct: our internal idealization that he calls the "mind movie." Babauta favours dispensing with this construct entirely, and adopting flexibility in its stead:
What's at the heart of all these forms of suffering? ... it's the Mind Movie, and our attachment to this story, this image in our heads...
Leo also talks about a third variable (one that indirectly ties into our supply of willpower): the presence, or absence of energy, and how our interconnectedness can sap our energy by subjecting us to constant, low level stress in the form of notifications:
It wasn't until I started to manage my energy better that I found the strength to really stick to changes.
Babauta's method is simple, clear, and actionable. In its simplicity, it is the antithesis of our culture's ever expanding list of tasks that require completion. In fact, the Zen Habits Method reads less like an action plan (although it's entirely actionable) and more like a set of principles to live by. I suppose that's the entire essence of a principle: something that's put into practice, something that is lived, not just something that is contemplated or thought about in moments of quiet reflection, isolated from your lived experience.
The Zen Habits Method
Elaborating on gratitude, Babauta emphasizes the importance of maintaining thankfulness and letting go of our ideals:
See the ideal, that the thing you lost should still be in your life, that you should be your old Self, and see how your Childish Mind wants that ideal and is causing your suffering because it can't have the ideal.
For Babauta, implementing zen principles doesn't have anything to do with suppressing your inner emotional life. Indeed, he sees no contradiction between letting of relationship-centred ideals and maintaining your love for another person:
Love can move you to overcome struggles.
In conclusion: four out of five stars.
people I admire
Bret Easton Ellis