Using mindfulness to support goal-setting

Living mindfully means living in the present moment, that’s an accepted and true definition.

It’s a great way to live, but we can misuse the concept of living in the present moment to our detriment.

If we live with no forward-thinking, with poorly defined goals – and no structured plan on how to achieve them – we can become disorganised, aimless, and chaotic.

Long and medium-term challenges – like paying the mortgage, achieving a sales or savings target, or growing a business – might be conveniently put off because they don’t feel like a priority in the present moment.

Of course, the bank isn’t interested that your long-term goal didn’t fit your armchair definition of mindfulness.

Financial stress becomes an inevitable outcome of chaos in life.

Taking an approach that literally nothing in the future matters because looking after this moment is the answer to all life challenges is a strategy doomed to fail.

This is a wilful misreading of the broader meaning of mindfulness, which when practiced properly is a holistic process that improves our lives.

Mindfulness is all about awareness, curiosity, and action of our reality. That includes paying attention to obvious risks and challenges now, tomorrow, and next year.

Mindfulness can be used to support our financial goals in powerful ways if properly applied.

Why mindfulness is useful with personal finances

At its most level, mindfulness is: “The ability to pay attention to what you are doing,” says Andrew Fleming, Founder of Financial Mindfulness.

“Paying attention to your finances allows you to avoid mistakes and make better decisions when you are making choices when it comes to; spending, saving, investing, and managing your finances,” Mr. Fleming says.

Mindfulness practice can help with obvious but hard-to-control problems like overspending in two ways. The first is to help you stop re-living the kind of fantasy in which it’s somehow okay to continue living beyond your means. You become more aware of the situation not as you want it to be, but as it really is,’ says Mr. Fleming.

“The second thing it does is to create calmness, less emotional reactivity, and a balanced mind, so you can deal with the ups and downs of life.

“Then you are better equipped to deal with whatever situations you face, with calm focus and clarity.”

The state of being financially mindful “means being aware and paying attention to your finances,” adds author and neuropsychologist Dr. Nicola Gates, who has worked closely with Financial Mindfulness.

But mindfulness is not only a holistic mindset.

It can also underpin a daily practice of mindfulness skills that can be used for specific purposes like avoiding compulsive shopping and supporting goal setting.

But first, let’s take a quick refresher on the fundamentals of effective goal-setting.

The basics of goal setting

There’s a lot of theory on goal setting, but a very simple summary might conclude that the clearer our goals are and the smaller and more specific they are, the better our chances of achieving them.

Achieving easily achievable goals supports our ability to tackle and achieve ambitious larger goals, we gain confidence and a belief we can do this.

In the simplest terms, goal setting is:

    • Setting a specific intention, target, or objective;
    • Underpinning it with the measurable results we want;
    • Detailing the tasks and steps needed to get there ;
    • Applying those steps to a timeline;
    • Building in reviews; and
    • Reassessing, revising where necessary.
    • Recommitting to regular (i.e. daily, weekly) actions

To be clear, a goal needs to be realistic and clearly articulated.

A SWOT and/or SMART analysis on our goals will always help.

SWOT means asking:

    • What are the strengths of our plan?
    • What are the weaknesses?
    • What are the opportunities; and
    • What places it under threat?

A SMART analysis involved asking if a goal is:

    • Specific;
    • Measurable;
    • Achievable;
    • Relevant; and
    • Time-bound.

Using mindfulness to visualise a goal

This is where mindfulness really adds value to traditional goal-setting methods and tools.

Visualising success in achieving goals might sound a little left-field to some, but it’s compelling and ultimately it supports positive thinking.

A good starting point is to ‘see yourself’ engaged in the regular tasks and steps needed to complete your goal – and enjoying them, feeling positive emotions as you do these tasks.

Literally, this is about seeing yourself, in your mind’s eye incorporating these tasks effortlessly in your routine and achieving a state of ‘flow’ – which is essentially being ‘in the zone: being fully energised and immersed in a task.

Visualising yourself experiencing positive impacts from sticking to your tasks is important.

Make sure you are not visualising someone else or an idealised version of yourself.

It’s you and you are enjoying it.

Literally allow yourself time to visualise yourself doing the tasks, enjoying them, and benefitting from them.

Breathe slowly and close your eyes as you do this.

You can also visualise yourself arriving at the achievement of your goal and the positive emotions associated with this.

Two minutes a day doing this will actively support your goals and can be a powerful part of your goal-setting toolkit.

Be careful not to stay in a place of predicting the outcome especially not for some kind of quick gratification – for example obsessively thinking about how to spend the money you save from achieving a savings goal.

If this works for you, you may also want to do another visualisation: imagining yourself reflecting in later life on how achieving the goal helped you at an important time in your life.

So, to summarise, the three visualisations that can support your goal setting include:

    • Enjoying doing the tasks;
    • Achieving your goal; and
    • Looking back on how important it was that you achieved the goal.

A reminder: for these visualisations to work you need to be trying to attach positive feelings and emotions to the goal.

If you start bombarding yourself with negative thinking, don’t stress out about it – this can happen. It’s a good idea to stop and do a simple breath meditation or try again later.

Goal-setting is important but not easy.

Mindfulness as a mindset is powerful and can help us to stay aware and focused on our financial goals.

But it can do more than that, mindfulness can actually be used to reinforce the idea of success with creative visualisations which are relaxing and strongly support positive thinking.

It makes sense to employ mindfulness as a tool to help you set goals and stick to them.

So, what have you got to lose?

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