The Big Question
Mindfulness and planning. This is a question I get a lot. How can I plan, and I have to plan in my life, if I’m being mindful? And I’d actually like to say that being mindful is the best way to plan.
So I’m going to walk you through this. So for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Barbara Heffernan and I am an online life coach, a mindfulness meditation instructor, and I’ve been a psychotherapist for the past 20 years.
How can I plan if I’m mindfully in the moment? And to that one thing I’d like to say is that even monks, even Buddhist monks, who are on retreat for long, long periods of time, even the Dalai Lama, even people who have spent their entire lives, developing a mindfulness practice, they plan, we need to plan, we’re human, we need to plan.
Definition of Mindfulness
I’m going to talk you through how to plan mindfully and what the opposite is. I’m going to provide you with the four keys to planning mindfully. And I want to start with the definition of mindfulness.
So this is a definition, it’s a pretty classic definition, I pulled this from Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is a well-known mindfulness teacher and leader actually in the overall mindfulness movement. And the definition of mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.
So let’s think about that a minute. If we are paying attention on purpose in the moment in the present moment here and now non-judgmentally can we do that while we plan? And I would like to say the answer is yes.
Planning and Worry
So to understand the difference between planning mindfully and its opposite, let’s talk about the difference between planning and worry. We humans, we have this brain that projects into the future, which has helped us survive.
And that ability to project into the future can be a very productive thing. The problem with that ability is that we get lost in those projections and it turns into worry. So we end up trying to play the chess game out 10 moves ahead of where we are, or we get totally lost in a fantasy.
It could be a good one, or it could be a terrible one when we begin to think about the future. So when we go to plan, we don’t just kind of plan we project and we get lost in those projections. I believe that your planning could be greatly enhanced, if you take maybe 10 minutes to do a mindful meditation prior to sitting down to plan.
And if you become grounded in the moment and create a sense of stillness and a sense of safe enough now and okay, enough now, then planning from there will be a totally different experience. Let’s go through the four keys to planning mindfully.
The first key is developing the observer. Now this is one of the main things that I believe mindfulness meditation does for us. As we sit in mindfulness meditation, the part of our brain, that’s the observer of what goes on strengthens.
And that observer is the nonjudgmental observer. With this observer who’s kind of like, Oh, that’s interesting, like, that’s happening. And so developing that observer can help us so that when we shift from say a mindful meditation pose to going into planning mode, we can be very aware of what’s happening for us physically.
Like if I think about planning for that career switch, I want, do I suddenly get anxious? Do I suddenly feel all sorts of energy in my body. Well, the observer can help us note that and take care of it and not have it get complicated into the overall planning process.
The second key is focus and reflection, being focused on our plan and reflecting on what we really want and what we really can accomplish. And what’s within our control and not within our control, super helpful for planning, right? So again, mindfulness meditation and an attitude of mindfulness can really strengthen your focus and your ability to reflect in a meaningful way.
The third key might be challenging for some people: not being overly attached to an outcome. This gets in our way when we plan a lot. Let’s say we want to plan so that we get the ideal job. Well, the universe is complicated. Maybe we don’t get exactly the ideal job, but maybe we move along ways towards it. But regardless, what we need to do right now is to focus on what steps we need to take today, this week, next week, then a month, two months, what are the current day steps we need to take to achieve that goal.
And if I get too lost in thinking about achieving the ideal outcome and I’m really attached to the outcome and nothing else is going to satisfy me, nothing else, this is where this is the job I need. This is what the partner I want needs to look like. This is where I need to live. And we’re super attached to those outcomes. We’re going to self sabotage because there’s going to be a part of us that says I can’t achieve that. That’s never going to happen. That’s fantasy, or we will just be so anxious, we never actually get to the planning. And so we really need to keep the focus on present day. What can I do now? So loosening our attachment to a particular outcome also comes through a mindfulness meditation practice.
And again, that does not mean that you don’t move towards your goal. In fact, I would say in my own life, I have moved much more clearly towards the goals I truly want and the things that will truly make me happy once I began to have a serious mindful meditation practice, because I was able to focus, I was able to reflect, my observer was developed, right? All of these things came together to help me move forward in a more productive way.
And then the fourth key is not getting lost in projections. And again, it doesn’t matter whether your projections are good fantasy projections or anxious projections. Neither one of those actually helps the planning process.
So an answer to the question, how do I plan if I’m being mindfully in the moment? The answer is actually that it’s the best way to plan.
Do you ever put onto your to-do list or onto your week’s goals or your months goals, moments that can help you feel joy? Do you ever mindfully plan for mindfulness? So you could also have a plan for sitting in mindfulness meditation.
Obviously you could have a plan to tackle one of your daily chores. You could say, okay, I’m going to do the dishes mindfully. And then when you do the dishes, you really just focus on the feeling of the soap and the water and the dish and the feeling and the movement without all the chatter.
You just bring all of your attention to the sensory moments of doing the dishes. So that would be also a way to mindfully plan for mindfulness to choose one chore that you do every day. And it could be a chore you don’t like, and then to do it mindfully and see if you can let go of some of that chatter that generally goes with it.