Mindfulness & Goal-Pursuit

Photo by Jeremy Stewart on Unsplash

A common approach to behavior change and productivity is to force ourselves to act, or to restrain ourselves forcefully from acting on impulses. We push ourselves to go exercising, for example, or restrain ourselves from eating chocolate in order to lose weight.

While this may work for a while, it often breaks down at some point, for example when we are stressed, emotional or worn out. An overly forceful approach to self-regulation may also lead to mental health issues. Together with Judson Brewer and Kirk Warren Brown, we have developed a theory which proposes how, by simply being aware, we can overcome unhealthy habits and change our behavior for the better without necessarily forcing ourselves (see also here).

Indeed, there might be a mode of self-regulation and goal-pursuit that is more effortless and joyful than the forceful approach. In this state, we are highly productive without much thought about potential future rewards. We act in a way that is authentic to us, we do not beat ourselves up when something goes wrong but rather learn from it. It is akin to the Flow-state as described by Csikszentmihalyi or to autonomous self-regulation/intrinsic motivation as described, for example, in self-determination theory. We authentically express ourselves and have much energy.

I am thus interested in optimal modes of goal-pursuit and the perfect balance between “pushing ourselves” and letting things “flow”, for example as we aim to establish an exercising routine or reach our professional goals. I am also interested in how self-compassion plays into effective and sustainable goal-pursuit, as reaching goals should not have to come at the expense of our mental health or relationships.

Video shows an example of how one could apply the mindful self-regulation approach for behavior change–in this case reducing intake of added sugar.