Can We Really ‘Just Do It’?

Mindfulness and Effort

By Terence Stone

As part of the week of mindfulness for the Living+ community on Google+, on Tuesday, I discussed the importance of intention and the necessity of mindfulness in realizing clear intentions. Today, I’d like to speak about the importance of effort in achieving our goals within our mindfulness practices and in daily life.

Three friends – Effort, intention, mindfulness

Effort and intention really need to be at the core of anything we do that we believe is worth doing. I would argue that the two go hand in hand. You cannot really have one without the other. And you cannot clarify either without mindfulness.

As I said in my last post, in order to uncover our truest intentions, we must employ mindfulness, which means we must cultivate mindfulness, which means we must put forth the effort to do so. Otherwise, we cannot clarify our intentions or achieve our goals.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, that’s pretty obvious.” Fair enough, but in my experience we humans (especially westerners) have a skewed notion of effort. We use platitudes like ‘just do it’ or ‘you can achieve anything you put your mind to’ or ‘do what you’ve gotta do.’ Of course, in essence, they are useful messages, but what do they actually entail?

Getting inside ‘Just do it’

When we hear those things, we often believe that we simply need to flip a switch and be that way, and if we can’t then there must be something wrong with us. This is utterly absurd. Instead of condemning ourselves, we should look at why we feel that way, ask ourselves how we can go about clarifying our intentions, and organically find the reason to put forth effort.

It is not simply about forcing one’s self to blindly undertake some endeavor. Instead, we can use mindfulness to discover why we may be resistant to taking or continuing a course of action. Are we afraid? Is the intention unclear? Or does it actually conflict with our values and deepest desires?

It is no secret or coincidence that the sixth fold in the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism is Right Effort (right intention is the second, right mindfulness the seventh). I think it defines effort quite aptly as the persistence in abandoning all unskillful thought and behavior, and in cultivating skillful habits of thought, action, and behavior.

Effort is about persistence or commitment, which is a fluid process that ebbs and flows. It is not about bludgeoning one’s mind into a corner and forcing discipline upon it. If we do this to our mind, it is more likely to become frantic and unruly.

First, we must employ the effort inevitably involved in mindfulness to uncover our intention. When we clarify our intention, then we can set a very viable goal. When those two things are in place, effort often arises naturally.

Furthermore, we do not simply complete this process and drop it. When we’re on the path to our goals, we must make the decision to be mindful every day about our intentions. In this way, the appropriate effort will continue arising organically.

Be gentle with yourself

Finally, I’d like to add one last thought about intention, effort, and mindfulness for this week. Many of us tend to operate with an astounding amount of self-hatred. For some, it cripples them from taking any action. For others, it drives them to action as a means to make themselves better in the hopes that one day they will be good enough.

Be gentle with yourself, especially when it comes to cultivating mindfulness. Realize that it is not about planting any seeds, but rather it is about giving the seeds that are already there the nourishment they need and deserve.

There is a place within us that is already complete, whole, and beautiful. It is peaceful and untouchable. It is the essence of our life and consciousness. It is love. All the self-loathing, and negative thoughts toward ourselves and others are just false layers that restrict our access to that core.

Only through mindfulness do we begin to realize that we can peel off and throw away those layers. Then we can allow the light of our truest state of being to envelop the entirety of ourselves.

Wishing you unquenchable clarity of mind and heart.

Photo by Jason Scragz

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Chief Editor and Founder of Urban Spiritual, I’m a classically trained (and training) actor and singer living in New York City, who has performed in the U.S. and Europe. I’m also a writer, traveller, meditator, arts-lover, and well-being enthusiast.

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