Why do we not achieve our goals, despite starting out with the best intentions to do so? The one simple trick that will transform the way you achieve your goal—being aware of your thoughts.
There are many expert opinions on why someone fails at accomplishing their goals—lack of focus, lack of a plan, lack of motivation, and more. However, you can have all the focus, planning, and motivation at your fingertips, and still fail. So what is it that prevents you from reaching your full potential in achieving your goals?
Psychologist and life coach Beata Justkowiak turns to mindfulness expert Pierre Gagnon for his views, and his answer simply is mindfulness.
Beata: Why is it that we set goals but often cannot reach them?
Pierre: When we set our goals, we do so in a rational way. In a sense, we overestimate the rationality of our character, and underestimate our emotional aspects. The part of our brain where decisions are made is the prefrontal cortex. It is similar to a small stage in a theatre, limited in space and surrounded by a huge crowd that is the sub consciousness. The information we put on the stage, which is our goals, is there but only remains for a while until other stuff from the audience comes to bump it off.
B: What does it mean, concretely?
P: It is huge for us. We think we have free will but we do not really; we must be careful about what we decide to do, think or say. The audience in our case will bump our goals off the stage. Remember—the stage is small and without protection, so it is constantly under attack by the crowd, which is unconscious material.
We might have set our goals in a very rational way but when the time comes to reach a result, we will be affected by several non-rational elements. Most subconscious elements respond to two principles: running towards pleasant experiences, and running away from unpleasant ones.
B: Please give us an example of how it works in reality.
P: Let us say that your rational goal is to lose 3kg; we know that losing weight will reduce blood pressure and decrease the chances of getting sick. This goal is on the stage. However, in the crowd offstage there is the smell of chocolate cookies or the desire to watch television instead of going for a brisk walk in the evening. These elements will easily bump our goals off the stage if we do not understand the way the brain functions.
B: It sounds like suppression.
P: It is not suppression; suppression would not acknowledge what is present in the executive function of the brain. We actually want to be totally aware of the limits of the brain and act accordingly. We want to put our goals back on the theatre’s stage. To do so, we need to know the actual situation, which is what is on the stage at this moment.
B: How can we reinforce our goals, knowing that irrational aspects prevail and often replace our long-term goals?
P: In defining our goals, we should be very specific and detailed. In a sense, it helps increase the presence of our goals in the decision centre of the brain. Then actors will stay on the stage more easily when faced by an attack of the crowd, which is the subconscious. Being aware of our limits is also very empowering. We know how the brain functions, and thus avoid feeling guilty when we want deviate from our goals. We are then able to return often to a position of power and pursue our long terms objectives.
B: What is the role of mindfulness in all this?
P: Mindfulness is to be aware of what is happening in the present moment. Being aware of what is on the stage of our brain is extremely powerful and that is what mindfulness is about. Once we know that, we can act and see if it corresponds to our long term goals.
Beata spoke with Pierre Gagnon, a repentant economist who now teaches mindfulness meditation at Thanyapura. Pierre gets his rush from boot camps and tennis, enjoys smiling at people, and loves seeing people’s lives transformed by mindfulness practice.