Once you have developed a habit of noticing ~ of mindful, gentle awareness ~ it is important to set a clear, simple intention. You can think of this as identifying The Big Want. What motivates you? What lights the flame of inspiration in your being? What is the guiding vision you have for your life?
While these questions can help you identify the big picture of where you are heading, there is an art to choosing a goal or setting an intention. And research has demonstrated several ways in which we set ourselves up for failure in our desire for change / movement:
- by choosing goals that are too abstract / lofty (e.g., I will conquer all of my fears) or overly ambitious (e.g., I will become fluent in a foreign language in three weeks);
- by focusing on too many goals at one time (e.g., I will overhaul my diet, start a daily exercise regimen, work regularly on my novel, write letters to my friends back east . . . all starting now!); and
- by failing to maintain adequate and appropriate resource (i.e., engaging the will takes energy and requires good nutrition, adequate rest, and exercise).
I invite you to recall your last attempt at New Year’s resolutions and notice how common it is to slip into these pitfalls of intention. (Check out my post on New Year’s resolutions here.)
In order to increase the possibility of meeting your goals, experts recommend the following.
- Attend to one intention at a time. Touch in with the Big Want that motivates you, and then identify bite-size, manageable, attainable goals. You are more likely to succeed by making successive small changes than by trying to leap from where you are to Where You Want to Be.
- Make the goals clear and specific. “I will refrain from eating refined sugar for three weeks, excepting one treat on Friday evenings and honey in my daily morning tea,” versus “No sweets.”
- Keep your energy up. Research indicates that willpower decreases as they day goes on. Not only that, but we apparently only have one well of willpower to draw from, for all of the activities that require the will. So eating good meals, with adequate protein and healthy fats, will help us maintain our resolve throughout the day. Additionally, setting aside time in the morning (when willpower reserves are plentiful) for tasks that require our will (e.g., exercise) increase the likelihood that we will meet our goals.
Once your intentions and goals are in place, continue to resource yourself in gentle, loving mindfulness. Notice how you feel when you meet ~ or don’t meet ~ your goal for the day. Just notice, allowing the information to inform your resolve. “Loving” is the key word to noticing. If it isn’t loving, it’s judgment ~ and, more than anything, self-judgment is a surefire way to sabotage the will. Part of this process ~ of loving awareness ~ is an acknowledgment of our present-moment wholeness, the realization that we are ok as we are, even before we engage a process of change.
This postcard is the third and final in a series on Engaging the Will.
Rafia Rebeck, MA, NCC, LPCC, is a Nationally Certified Counselor trained in the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. She offers a warm, sincere, and safe approach for those who seek personal transformation through mindfulness. Please feel welcome to get in touch by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. If this postcard was meaningful for you, I invite you to share it with others who may benefit.