Thursday, March 21, 2013

Not so SMART goals...

Photo: M. Laplante - Seagulls over a Vancouver Island beach

Zen philosopher Alan Watts once observed that the downside of goals is that they encourage a mindset of perpetually focusing on some future event at the expense of fully experiencing the present.

In the West, we're constantly bombarded with the message that we must set goals, preferably goals that can be measured in concrete terms, e.g. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-sensitive).

Thus our lives become defined by numbers or things, e.g., the income or possessions we must have or own to achieve a certain status, the weight we need to lose to be healthy, the number of 10K races we must run to be fit, the degrees we must have to be considered usefully intelligent...

And, of course, as soon as you achieve that goal, you're expected to set new ones. Our happiness is perpetually defined by future accomplishments or possessions, some of which may be impossible because of  circumstances beyond our control.

Eastern philosophy emphasizes happiness through mindfulness... being fully engaged in this moment (the process) without consideration for the outcome.

Meditation is the most obvious way to develop this skill. But anything that causes you to 'lose your mind and come to your senses' is effective. Listening or playing music, creating art, a random walk through a forest or along the beach,playing with your child or dog... anything at all where you are caught up in the moment.

Somewhere between the two philosophies is probably a happy medium that we should strive for. The point is that you have to consciously decide to engage in mindfulness because we here in the West tend to give too much time and energy over to our left-brained / goal-oriented selves.

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