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Marrying the Present With the Future - A guest column

As we begin another new year with renewed optimism, Ibiza Therapist Daga Cybruch returns with some advice on mindful goal setting

Whether with a champagne cork pop or a meditative stillness, with the beginning of a new year an urgency for change arises for many of us. The 'new' brings promise and responsibility, and - at the same time - it spreads this untouched, uncoloured quilt of months, weeks and days calling us to respond - what am I going to do differently? What is that promise I'm making to myself? How will I action my dreams and plans?

Setting goals may be the first step to creating the life we want. We organise our actions around accomplishing those goals and we get our daily motivation from them. Our goals are the expression of our conscious reflection about ourselves and our lives. Are they, though?

Create From the Heart

Let's start with reflecting whether the desired results we strive to achieve are truly ours. Often, we succumb to the outside expectations, 'recipes for happiness', we turn our eyes and ears to the teachers, gurus, friends, family, and strangers to find out what a good, successful, happy life is, what do we need to DO, GET, MAKE, BE LIKE to be fulfilled.

What we want, or think we want, is largely a product of social conditioning. We pursue objects and experiences which we believe will bring us happiness, but it is not necessarily true. The more remote from our personal values our goals are, the bigger chance we'll fail somewhere on the way chasing them.

It is worth dedicating time to self-inquiry and formulating goals that reflect our personal truth. This is how we ignite passion and joy even in the most challenging moments. But when we try to reach objectives adopted from other people without thought, the process often turns into an ordeal.

It is the Journey, Not the Destination

Do we tell ourselves that only when achieving our goals or when our lives are successful? Do we condition our happiness on that future result? If so, then we open ourselves to failure from the start. We 'abandon' the present moment and deprive ourselves of the possibility to feel fulfilment and joy NOW. We 'outsource' the responsibility of our happiness to uncontrollable events and objects, while trying to control what is beyond our power - the exact outcomes of our actions.

The traditional approach to goal setting most times is rigid and strict, and potentially harmful to our sense of self and our self-esteem. "Success is only achieved when the goal is accomplished, otherwise, it's failure" - and too often we see ourselves as failures when not getting the result we assumed. Attachment to the desired 'success' also makes us focus our attention on the future - as happiness is conditioned by achieving the goal. It distances us from the only reality we have - the present moment. It doesn't appreciate progress, nor gives us the means to measure progress.

If we set our goals in a traditional, solely outcome-validating manner, we might often find ourselves rushing to achieve them, becoming stressed stressed when we see no or little progress and burning out from lack of motivation. We are set to fail as we chase an impossible dream - we believe we can control the outcome and we condition our sense of fulfilment on that unattainable goal.

All this is not to say that there is no point in setting goals, or that we should remain passive as we cannot control any outcomes. On the contrary, we need the clarity and motivation offered by goal setting, but we want to do it mindfully. So, what does that mean exactly?

Engage Mindfulness

Start with mindful meditation.

  • Connect with your breath and your body. Feel your feet firmly grounded on the floor, your body relaxed but alert, resting on the support of your spine. Focus your attention on your felt sense, your body breathing itself, your belly rising and falling, your heart beating.
  • Without judgment, with curiosity and openness, examine for yourself: Are your goals aligned with your values and who you really are or are they just a reflection of external pressure? Are you putting more weight on the outcome or is the process of achieving the goal equally important? What are your bodily sensations when you think of your goals? Do you feel expansion or contraction? Do you feel pulled towards or away? What are the feelings you notice when connecting with your goals? How do you feel about pursuing them? Is it joy and excitement or fear and overwhelm? What is the feeling you want to feel? Can you connect with gratitude? Do the mundane or uninteresting actions necessary for achieving the goals put you off, do they seem insurmountable? Or do you feel motivated to overcome any obstacle without judgment?
  • Check-in with yourself - observe your sensations, emotions, your breath.

Set your goals from that place of intimate connection with yourself. Don't worry if you cannot describe or specify them right away. Sometimes you need to allow them to mature in your mind, let the heart and mind communicate to find the right name and description of your goals. With kindness and curiosity towards yourself, continue the self-inquiry. Connect with your values.

Begin by describing yourself using active verbs, not just adjectives. Paint a self-portrait with words that carry meaning. You may say: 'I enjoy finding new ways to use old things; I like being creative and I pay attention to the natural environment' or 'I am a person who likes to question old systems and beliefs, and I enjoy being challenged'.

From there, focus your attention on what you value most in life. Go further, beyond the mental images of what your mind tells you is important for you, and you might discover what truly matters to you.

Values - Your Inner Compass

Your values are reflected in the answers to questions such as: How do I want to be as a human being? How do I want to behave? What are my deepest desires for myself as a person? Your values show you how you want to treat yourself and others. They reveal your life's direction, they form the internal compass that guides you and gives your life meaning and purpose. Values are very individual - there are no right or wrong values, and people have different values.

Look for inspiration in values 'checklists' such as offered by Acceptance and Commitment Therapy creators or other spiritual sources. What rings true the most? Examples of values that go beyond family, status, friendship, or money are acceptance, compassion, cooperation, humility, reciprocity, self-development, trust, security etc. Notice how your values relate not only to your own life but also to the lives of others and the world. Reflect on the impact of pursuing your goals on your environment - what is your contribution?

If your values are simplicity and creativity, then setting a goal to have a bigger apartment in the busy city centre or taking up a well-paid but monotonous job will not fill you with a sense of meaning and passion. What matters to others might not matter to you and that's ok.

Stay Curious. Adapt. Grow

Set your goals from a place of connection and alignment. Be inclusive and trusting. Let go of control and judgment and rely on your sense of meaning and intuition. You will experience challenges, failures, and setbacks but, when you pursue goals that are meaningful for you and your values are clear, it's easier to face the obstacles. They don't rid you of the sense of accomplishment because taking action and staying focused on your goals is enough to feel like your life ALREADY has a purpose. It is the journey, the everyday decisions, the baby steps, and the sense of continuous progress that create a feedback loop of self-motivation and reward.

As you pursue your goals, keep the spirit of inquiry and adventure alive. Embrace the uncertainty and be aware of the moment-to-moment experience - only then can you respond creatively without losing sight of your values and goals. When the situation gets complicated, revise how attached to the outcomes you are and how much more you can let go of control. Respond to problems and challenges with your values in your heart and mind, the decisions will then come easily and with less hesitation or doubt.

When you concentrate on what you can do now, when you pay attention to how you grow throughout the process of working towards your goals, when you notice your expansion as you progress - you gain a greater sense of empowerment and control over your life. With this mindful approach, setting and pursuing your goals becomes a transformative experience - a sustainable life change rather than a single point-in-time shift. And any outcome makes an occasion to celebrate rather than a reason to value ourselves or our lives.

Daga Cybruch is an Ibiza based counsellor and writer, collaborating with various projects focused on personal development and mental and emotional wellbeing. You can find out more about Daga at

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