Being Mindfully Ambitious

On the surface ambition and mindfulness tend to be on opposite sides of the spectrum; directly challenging each other’s ideology.

Ambition is a forward-facing force that pulls one forward, whereas a significant part of mindfulness is being present in the now.

This dichotomy is something that has been a challenge for me to reconcile or balance, as I have grown in my practice of mindfulness in the last 18 months. In my exploration of the different perspectives and ideas that could help me find a balance or flow between these energies, I have identified a couple of things that assist me to be mindfully ambitious without compromising on either of the two components.

Create time and space to plan and think about the future

Mindfulness is all about being aware of what is happening in this moment, what is my mind doing right now and how am I feeling. The challenge with ambition is that it involves a thought process that focuses on the future, where we dream up audacious goals and imagine new realities. This process takes us out of this moment.

The trick is then to designate time for this process. When I give my mind the opportunity to think about the future right now purposefully, then I am aware of my thoughts. I am purposefully and mindfully imagining, visualising, conceptualising, setting goals and planning.

What sometimes happens though is an experience akin to daydreaming, where we find ourselves being pulled away from this moment and the work we need to focus on right now, in favour of the allure of the future. And this happens mostly unconsciously, which then creates a significant gap in our experience and contentment of being right here, right now versus where we hope to be in future.

Be clear about my why

Knowing why I do certain things or pursue the goals I do is an essential part of what informs my values. My ”Why” and my values then becomes my North Start in guiding me from one moment to the next. I can also re-orientate myself in any moment relative to that North Star.

A good example of this is whenever I consider a decision or action that relates to accelerating growth. The first test that this decision needs to pass is whether I’m clear about why I am even considering this. The second criterion is whether the how part of executing this decision aligns with my values.

Often, I would find myself considering things because I feel we should be doing better or we should at least be beating another company that just published their latest success story. I know though that this is a terrible catalyst for me to do anything. Just being aware of when this happens though, enables me to come back into this moment and focus on the thing that I’m working on right now. That is mindfulness.

Stick to my habits, comfort zones and coping mechanisms

I have evolved my mindfulness practice to the extent where every day includes individual practices that either serve as comfort zones or coping mechanism.

This includes proactive habits like having a slower morning routine (trying not to work before 8 am), meditating for ten to fifteen minutes a day and writing my gratitude journal. I also use a hard running session as a coping mechanism sometimes as a way of clearing my head and stopping a negative spiral from accelerating in mind.

What I know is that if every day includes these beacons or reminders to be mindful, I can better anchor my awareness and my experience of right now. This means that I am less likely to find myself looking unfavourably at past metrics (which I would wish or expect would look better) or being pulled into dreaming of a better future.

I have found that this has helped greatly in equalising the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial rollercoaster. The ups and downs are still there, and I still experience them; just not so strongly as before. The ultimate result is that my journey and experience as a whole is less bumpy, smoother and probably representative of a natural flow of things.

Remind me of the things beyond my control

I’m pragmatic, and I’m a planner. So when I imagine a version of the future, I also create a list of things that need to happen to realise that dream. This applies mostly to every entrepreneur that starts with a blank canvas and imagines what their business will look like in one, five or ten years’ time.

The thing that I often overlook is that I am merely a minor entity in the greater universe and I have very little influence — and no control — within that universe. And to make our imaginations come alive, we need the universe to conspire in our favour; some things need to fall into place without us having influence or control over those things.

The Stoic philosophers propose a simple strategy to determine whether you should spend any time even thinking about some of these things:

  • Do you have influence and control over something? If yes, then act on that.
  • If you do not have control over something, determine the extent to which you have influence over that thing. Act to that extent.
  • If you have neither control or influence, forget about that thing and return to this moment.

I thus remind myself often that I don’t need to take responsibility for the whole of the big picture that I imagine; I only need to be aware of the parts thereof that I control and influence. I can then just do good work today and trust that the universe takes care of the trust (or it doesn’t).

Think longer term

Most of the worthwhile things that we can pursue will require more time to realise than we would hope or expect. That time gap creates a disconnect between our expectation and reality, which means we are constantly trying to pivot or disrupt the status quo to turn our expectation into the reality.

Such things require time and the only way to leverage time is to live and work in this moment. Beyond this moment we need to exercise patience and acceptance that we neither control nor influence time.

This also relates to measuring our progress towards the goals we are pursuing. When we extend the time horizon in which things should take place, we avoid the perspective of feeling like we are not moving fast enough or that we regularly need to do more.

I have not yet figured everything out or achieved the state of entrepreneurial enlightenment.

What I do know is that when I actively and consciously pursue these actions, I find myself being more mindful without having to douse the burning flame of my passion and ambition.

I also regularly find myself in such a good moment, where it is easier for me to do good work and be happy.

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