In the past few weeks, I have been reading a lot about making resolutions, setting goals, and maintaining those goals. The New Year is a time when we reflect on where we have been and set new goals and create new paths toward where we want to be and where we want to go.
So how do we stay present while we set goals, an act that has the potential to take us away from the here and now? Goals are essential and important. They keep us focused, on a path, and heading toward something we wish to attain. But what happens when we put all our eggs in this future basket? We can get stuck in a frozen-in-time image of our future self and lose track of what we are doing in any given moment.
When we set a goal for ourselves, let’s say for example losing weight, we often see our lives as being better, happier, easier, more exciting, and more interesting at our goal weight. We often say, I will be less stressed when (fill in the blank), I will be happier when (fill in the blank), I will finally feel fulfilled when (fill in the blank).
It’s as if this future version of ourselves holds the key to our happiness and will freeze that happiness for the rest of our eternity. This is not living in the present, and living this way leaves much angst in its wake.
I read an article recently about a woman who lost over 100 pounds and was miserable when she reached her goal weight; she was panicked, obsessed, and overwhelmed by the thought of maintaining her new weight. This perfect version of herself was wrought with anxiety and frustration as she realized what it would actually take to stay at this weight long term. How disappointing it is when we realize that our desired, future, happier self is so miserable.
In order to maintain a goal, I have always believed that we must find a place in the present where we can ground our goals. We must accept the equation that commitment and consistency equal results. And acknowledge that the more we live in the present with our goals, the more successful we will be. Choosing each day to do our best, to commit and be consistent, we eventually see that our goal is our present. After much commitment and consistency, our goal becomes our new behavior, and this behavior can become quite effortless, like breathing in and breathing out.
While having larger, future goals are important, I feel making realistic goals that are manageable in the present is the best way of successfully incorporating a goal into one’s life. For example, if someone wants to eliminate refined sugar from their diet (a very worthwhile and significant goal), it may be more appropriate for some to take smaller steps to successfully master this behavior change long term. One individual may choose to eliminate soda and juice from his/her diet and drink water instead; this behavior change can be made one day at a time (commitment and consistency) until one day it is a part of one’s behavior, an effortless choice, the only choice.
One may choose to give up dessert, to buy only wholefoods, or to read all labels and stop refined sugar altogether. It is not so much which behavior we decide to change, it is whether we as an individual can commit to it daily, be consistent with that choice, and allow it to become a lifestyle change.
Patients often ask me what I mean by consistency. It can seem daunting and overwhelming to make a change for the long haul. Again we need to bring ourselves back to the present, and let go of our idea of our future self. We so want the frozen-in-time happy and healthy forever self, but at the same time, we panic at the idea of giving up sugar forever. We must let go of our preoccupation with the future and focus on the present; if, for the most part, we can behave in our desired way day by day by day, we are consistent. Of course there are exceptions. Being realistic, consistency can’t mean 100% of time for most of us, but if we shoot for 90-99% of the time, results can be seen, behaviors change, and new behaviors become an effortless choice.
Change happens in the present, not in the future. Goals may be set for the future, but they are attained in the present. Making a commitment to a goal is making a commitment to living in the present and doing the best that one can do in the present to live that goal. REMEMBER kindness helps too … if the consistency part is a struggle, modify the goal and start again. Each day is a new day and a perfect opportunity to live your goal in the present.
by Jenn Krebs, N.D.