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Using science and mindfulness towards a more effective approach to goal setting (part II)

science and mindfulness towards goal setting
Just Start and do your best to make it happen!

Herein I continue to explore how science and mindfulness can help us with goal-setting. Please read first the Part I of this article.

6. Be aware that failure can happen to everyone and prepare positively for it.

The motivation of pursuing a goal relates to stages of wellbeing and confidence. But, when facing obstacles and minor failures that start piling up, we tend to abandon our goal as our self-esteem gets hurt. It's uncomfortable to be in this place of self-doubt activated by our inner criticism.

A failure is an event that happens to everyone. You're not alone in that place of uneasiness.

The idea is to plan for the obstacles, competing demands, and failures you can encounter along the way. Why? Like this, you embrace with awareness your reality while preparing a positive emotional response to personal setbacks and stay connected to your goal.

How can you prepare to overcome possible obstacles?

A. Identify possible barriers or triggers:

How am I likely to fail?

What are the physical/emotional / mindset obstacles I can come across?

What are the triggers?

Can anything in my external environment be a roadblock?

(by external environment I mean, the environment which influences you. For instance: relationships or workplace).

Please, take time to reflect and write your answers.

B. Make a contingency plan:

The psychologist Peter Gollwitzer created the if-then planning and showed in his research studies that this plan had a significant effect on goal attainment (Sheeran 2006). The If-then Plan can be summarized as "If the situation Y happens, then I will do X!". You create a link in your brain between a situation (the "if") and the behavior or action that should follow (the "then"). It's a mental plan on how you'll react to specific triggers or difficulties encountered along the way. You can use unpredictable failures to refine your if-then plan.


Let's say you want to start to exercise more. The goal can be: "Starting tomorrow, I will do yoga for 20 min, Mondays and Fridays at home at 5:30 am".

You can identify obstacles and create a series of if-then plans on how to overcome them.

One obstacle that I can anticipate is to wake up with the alarm without hitting the snooze button several times. I can put my alarm away from my bed below my yoga mat and say to myself: "If my alarm rings in the morning, I'll touch my yoga mat and start my yoga routine." Practicing this will turn over time into an automatic response from your brain.

C. Knowing "The Why" your goals are meaningful to you to keep you on track.

Knowing why your goal matters to you bring the clarity and motivation to keep you headed in the right direction even when you make a misstep. Please read part I of this article to know more about it.

When we start a change or developing something new in our life, there's a chance that we'll fail. Preparing yourself for failure begins with self-awareness. The acceptance that to fail is a normal circumstance occurring to us and all persons around us, opens a window of tolerance to uncomfortable feelings around it while making these powerful emotions manageable. An approach to shame, guilt, or self-pity that might arise is self-compassion. Research indicates that self-compassion enables us to see the situation with clarity "without the loss of perspective that stems from excessive self-criticism, feelings of isolation, and over-identification with one's experience" (Neff 2005) (Several scientific papers from Kristin Neff and colleagues). We are then prepared to take responsibility for our missteps and activate our inner curiosity towards the learning opportunity. Whether a misstep is predictable or not, you can always reframe a failure into personal growth: What is the gift/lesson behind a mistake? What can I do differently next time? It's crucial to reflect, and overtime, you'll avoid doing the same slipup again.

7. Change the label you give to yourself and see the final reward.

James Clear, the author of "Atomic Habits" explains, "The key to building lasting habits is focusing on creating a new identity first. Your current behaviors are simply a reflection of your current identity. What you do now is a mirror image of the type of person you believe that you are (either consciously or subconsciously)."

Examples (from James Clear):

Want to become strong?

Identity: Become the type of person who never misses a workout.

Small win: Do push-ups every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Want to be a better friend?

Identity: Become the type of person who always stays in touch.

Small win: Call one friend every Saturday. If you repeat the same people every 3 months, you'll stay close with 12 old friends throughout the year.

When you realize the person you want to become, you are then prepared to develop a new part of your identity, which naturally escorts you to new behavior. The willingness to change will be expressed in your goal or outcome.


Imagine your best possible self achieving your real goal.

I invite you here to self-reflect on who you wish you want to become. If it's difficult to answer the question, I encourage you to use the next visualization based on a tool of positive psychology called best possible self:

1) Please choose a comfortable position and close your eyes.

2) For some moments, focus on your breath, letting it flow naturally.

3) When you’re prepared, visualize how it will be when your best self accomplishes the realistic goal. Envisage as many real details as possible: what you will see/smell/hear and feel during the experience. Get in touch with how you manifest yourself once you reach that goal.

4) Who do you become as a person once you're there? More kind? More curious? More confident? More fit? More connected?

5) What can you bring more into your life and to others by being that way?

6) Please spend a few moments exploring it, and if you notice your mind wandering, that's okay and perfectly normal. Simply return to the exercise once you become aware.

7) When you're prepared, return to the breath and open your eyes.

8) Please write about your experience in a way that works for you to gain some clarity.

You can do this visualization every day or several times a week to keep cultivating in you the discovery of how you want to manifest in the world while being in action towards your goal. Keep growing today the gifts you want to offer to your future self because those are your personal reward.

8. Ground Yourself: Use Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the ability to pay nonjudgmental attention to each present moment of our life.

Life can be lived in a rush. At the end of the day, you might feel that you are not living your life but that your life is passing by. Bringing small moments of mindfulness to your life can improve awareness towards your thoughts, your feelings, your emotions, your surroundings. You can be conscious of your current reality. When you pay attention to the present moment, you can connect to yourself; you can feel more centered. The consequence is that instead of reacting to what is happening to you, you can choose how you want to act with a higher level of consciousness. Sometimes is difficult to do, and offering self-compassion can turn a reality check into a natural decision.

A recent study (Koestner 2020) made by three universities in Canada supports that "mindful people set better goals" as "mindful individuals may develop a greater ability to recognize goals that are congruent with their authentic selves." Mindfulness helps a person to understand and align a goal to what matters the most while maintaining it alive in one's heart. This alignment makes the goal emotionally rewarding. Plus, practicing mindfulness brings kindness to our hearts in difficult times, which can help reduce the harsh self-judgment and embracing reality as it is, and grow with the learned lessons.

If you wish to bring mindful moments into your life, you can try to:

-Meditate for 5 min or more (there are several apps available and free)

-Pause for 2 min and focus on your breath several times a day.

-Wash your hands and focus on the feeling of the water touching your hands.

-Walk slowly and pay attention to the movement of your feet.

These exercises are practical and helpful when you need to center yourself; it slows you down and brings you to a more grounded place. With a constant and expanded practice, you can start to feel deeply connected to yourself, helping you to find what matters the most.

A goal can lead to Personal Growth and a lifetime-change:

-when you commit to a realistic and specific plan of a series of small and consistent incremental steps and transform each of them into action.

-when you are aware that your present decisions lead to your future actions.

-when flexibility is giving yourself time to reflect and reframe your plan or goal if required.

-when you consciously give yourself a break of one day just to be and check how you are.

-when you free yourself from the constraints of self-criticism and self-pity if a failure happens, by directing kindness or self-compassion to your heart.

-when you enjoy and acknowledge the accomplishment of each milestone while knowing intentionally who you want to become and how others around you can positively benefit from that (The Why behind your goal).

Begin and do your best to make it happen.

Dare to trust yourself.

Image: @ Langston


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