I have a habit of falling into an Alan Watts wormhole every once in a while (a phenomena I like to call Alan Watt-the hell happened to half my day?). His soothing voice, his sharp wisdom, his amusing explanations. He teases, teaches and tests his audience in a way I’ve never seen anyone else do. And I always finish his talks feeling a little bit lighter about life. One talk I recently came across discussed his secret to life: I decided it was also the secret to achieve your goals.
“This is the real secret of life – to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realise it is play.” – Alan Watts
Life is about curiosity and experimentation, Watts says, it is not necessarily about reaching the right answers. If you focus solely on the destination, you’ll find yourself in a cycle of working without consciousness or enjoyment, barely noticing your achievements before getting right back into working again.
It’s a loop I’m all too familiar with. So how do we break it? And how can we use this lesson to achieve your goals, whilst enjoying the journey?
How to achieve your goals using the secret of life
As Watts so eloquently phrased it, the secret of life comes in two distinct steps:
- Be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now
- Instead of calling it work, realise it is play
1) How to become present
Ever driven somewhere, arrived and realised you have no recollection of the journey? Or finished a meal, realising you don’t really remember how it tasted? These are clear signs of being out of touch – from being unconscious. It’s easy to float through the day without really giving your full attention to the world, but it makes a huge difference when you do.
1. Identify your unconscious habits
Unconscious habits are one of the biggest distractions from everyday life. Going through everyday on autopilot is the simplest way to remain completely out of touch, although of course, we don’t mean to do it.
It’s a tricky question to ask yourself: what do I do unconsciously? By definition, these are the things you don’t realise you’re doing. It takes a lot of concentration, practice and brutal honesty to learn to question yourself.
Start by trying to prompt questions as often as possible. Leave yourself visual reminders, ask your friends to prompt you, set reminders on your phone throughout the day. Am I truly feeling what I’m doing right now? Do I want to be doing this? Is this helping or hindering my goals?
If you struggle to remember, set reminders on your phone or place visual reminders around you – coat your house in post-it notes or change your lockscreen to something that will trigger the thought. You’ll get better at doing it naturally over time.
2. Know what you want to do
Once you’ve identified your unconscious habits, you’ll need to know which you’d like to keep (but start to do consciously), which you’d like to kick, and new ones you’d like to create.
It can help to have a very general goal, a single phrase that encompasses your general intentions. For me, this year, I chose “grow”. So when I look at what I’m doing with my time or when I sit at a crossroads, I ask “will this help me grow?”. If the answers yes, I go with it, if the answer’s no, I reassess. Because this goal is so open, I find it allows me to keep my options open, I don’t need to shut many opportunities down, I just try to approach them in the most beneficial way.
Whenever you become conscious of what you’re doing, ask if it’s something you’d really like to be spending your time on and whether it’s truly helping you achieve your goals.
3. Exercise your attention span
The place we frequent most often, is our mind. And it’s a bit of a maze. Whether your thoughts are good or bad, they’re distracting from the here and now so strengthening your ability to concentrate will help you devote so much more energy to achieve your goals.
I’m going to give some advice that will earn a sharp nod from half of you and a strong eye roll from the rest. Meditate. I, for the longest time, never understood meditation. And even now, I still do it pretty unconventionally – I’m not a sit down and ‘om’ kind of girl. There’s many alternative meditations out there so experiment and see what works for you.
It’s about strengthening the muscle that brings your brain back to where you’re consciously trying to concentrate. And it works. You’ll find yourself more easily moving in the current moment, better able to work on your goals and (more importantly) enjoy them!
2) How to turn work into play
1. Tackle life with curiosity
I know that if I need to start doing something, I will try every devious trick in the book to skirt around the edges and avoid actually starting it. I usually referred to this as ‘preparation’, but it’s a procrastination technique. And the way I’ve learnt to tackle it, is by taking on a mindset that’s curiosity focussed, not results based.
When I start writing, I encourage myself by asking ‘I wonder what I can create from these thoughts’ or ‘it would be interesting to see what comes of this topic’ and then I start writing, no pressure, and see what happens. When you drop your expectations and enter a situation with curiosity and eagerness only, you’re allowing yourself to be more creative, to push boundaries and enter a better state of flow. There’s no need to worry about failing – without expectation, there’s no way to.
Someone recently gave me a piece of advice that, despite its simplicity, completely shook my brain. They said “Pride yourself with being a learner, not as someone who is good at things.” And I loved this, because it allows you to fall in love with the process and let go of the stress and the weight that comes with wanting to achieve your goals.
You might be thinking now (as I did) that this has got to be really inefficient, right? Without expectations, you can’t push yourself. But, I’ve found it doesn’t mean that at all. I still push myself to turn up. I approach each task with curiosity, but I make damn sure I approach every task. From a curious perspective, you’re better able to attack a problem from multiple angles, to try and try again, and, as you move more effortlessly, get a lot more done (to a higher quality, too!).
2. Concentrate on goals that excite you
If really you want to achieve your goal, you need more than just the idea – you need a reason as to why you want to achieve your goal. That’ll be your main driver to stick with it.
So get excited about it! If you’re not looking forward to journeying towards your goal, you’re probably in love with the result only. That makes it a tricky goal to face, I’d even go as far as saying it might not be the goal for you. Sure, I think being an Olympic athlete is cool, but am I prepared for hours upon hours of 5am workouts and strict meal plans? Hell no. So it’s not the goal for me. You only have one life: dedicating to goals where the journey AND the result bring you happiness is ideal.
So get motivated! Write about why you’re excited, tell people about your goal, create reminders for yourself – put up some visual reminders around your house, change your lockscreen, create a playlist that inspires you. Whatever helps you get (and stay!) excited, will help you stick to the plan and keep your enthusiasm going.
3. Stay balanced
It’s an important thing to say regardless of where you’re headed. Remember, mistakes, set-backs and the occasional lack of attendance is okay. This is play – we’re just being curious. Going in with a light-hearted attitude will help you take hits better and keep doing, as well as just enjoying it more.
Of course, it’s important to discipline yourself when you’re just procrastinating – pushing yourself isn’t necessarily bad. But take breaks when you need them. They’ll refuel and refresh you. Learning to be conscious of how you feel will also help you tell the difference between things like laziness/procrastination and a true need for a break. Burnout is detrimental to your goals and your health so finding this balance will help you twofold – it’s an excellent life skill.
Hopefully those few tips have given you some ideas to take forward to head out and achieve your goals. I think the biggest takeaway here is to remember to keep things light: life is for living, not for loathing.
Go get it! Love, Ella-Rose xx