Motivation and emotion/Book/2021/Meditation and goal attainment

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Meditation and goal attainment:
How can meditation be used to help attain goals?

Overview[edit | edit source]

This chapter outlines how stopping and becoming fully aware of goals through meditation supports attainment while considering how meditation mobilises goal attainment by linking the practice to self-determination theory, Maslow's self-actualisation concept and Locke's goal-setting theory.

The origins of meditation date back to around 1500 BCE, and it well and truly outdates Psychology that began in 1979[say what?]. Meditation only piqued Westerns[grammar?] societies[grammar?] interest in the last four to five decades (Singla, 2011). It now has a stronghold in wellness culture and has a permanent place in high achievers, including Formula One star Lewis Hamilton and Paul McCartney's daily routines[factual?].

In the current unique pandemic climate, where mental health services have been inundated with requests for support (Chakraborty, 2020), many are interested in new ways to overcome the psychological and physical barriers to goal attainment. This chapter reviews studies and research highlighting meditation's many benefits and encourages reflection on why we select goals, how we can attain them and the practical implications of theories that support a more effective motivational and emotional life during one of the most unsettling times.

Focus questions:

  • How will meditation help me achieve a goal?
  • What is the link between meditation and growth motivation theory?
  • Is meditation a form of self-actualisation?
  • What are the benefits of goal meditation?

Meditation first, goal attainment second[edit | edit source]

To understand how meditation helps goal attainment, firstly, it is helpful to define it. Meditation can be hard to explain, as you can meditate seated or in motion, for hours or minutes, on your own, or be guided by another. Because of the variability, there are currently nine popular types of practices in Western culture, [grammar?] this chapter considers meditation to be the dedication of taking the time to be present, focusing on your thoughts and feelings and being aware of your body.

Overview of the most popular meditation practices.

Meditation practice Activity
Mindfulness Most popular in Western culture. Pay attention to thoughts without judgment
Spritual Most similar to a prayer
Focused Using an internal cue like breathing or external cue such as the feel of the breeze to focus attention
Movement When movement guides the meditation
Mantra Saying a word, phrase, or sound
Transcendental Focus is on a personal mantra
Progressive relaxation Regulating the body by focusing on areas of tension
Loving-kindness Focus on strengthen feelings of compassion, kindness and acceptance
Visualisation Visualising achieving a personal goal

Meditation has replicable cognitive, psychological and physiological effects, as demonstrated in the following studies that assessed the impact of meditation on the brain, memory and heart.

Fox and colleague's[grammar?] analysed 78 functional neuroimaging studies of meditation involving over 500 participants. Results showed that meditation has a global effect on the brain, but specifically in the following regions:

  • The insula and frontopolar cortex [grammar?] this area regulates planning, problem-solving, and reasoning, and episodic memory retrieval; and
  • The dorsal anterior cingulate also showed stimulation, supporting expression, attention and regulation.

To reiterate the effects of meditation, an extensive meta-analysis of almost 2,000 studies on the cognitive effects of ageing has shown that meditation improves memory in most age groups (Gard et al., 2014). Linking meditation to improved memory is an important finding as memory plays a significant role in goal pursuit, as it leads to better attention and increases information processing (Avery et al., 2013).

To acknowledge how meditation impacts the entire self, we turn to the research on meditation's physiological benefits, including decreased heart rate, higher skin conductance, and better sleep. These benefits support a reduction in stress, greater ability to prioritise and more task-related focus (Sharma, 2015).

Meditation in practice

In 2016, the first clinical trial involving all men into meditation's effects on sex addiction was undertaken. The premise of the trial was that second-order meditation would reduce sexual craving by placing metaphorical distance between desires where participants had the time and space to reflect on and observe their cravings. It was also considered that the reflective nature of meditation can reduce self-attachment to sex.

The results were promising; not only did each participant report a reduction in addictive behaviours over six months, but they also noted other life improvements, including better sleep, satisfaction and non-attachment to self and experiences (Van Gordon, 2016).

Outside of the narrow scope of sex addiction, addiction as a whole could benefit from meditation awareness training. Unlike other treatments for addiction, it has no side effects, is cost-efficient, and is unobtrusive.

Not all goals are equal[edit | edit source]

In this image, this meditator could be undertaking xx meditation, as using the external cue of the waves crashing on the beach to focus thoughts.
Figure 1. Depicting focused meditation. Perhaps the meditator is using the waves as external cues to increase focus.

A goal is a future-focused outcome that requires energy to attain it, and it can be anything from running a marathon to dedicating time to a daily meditation practice to increase a sense of personal calm.

Extrinsic vs intrinsic goals[edit | edit source]

Yet, not all goals are equal; some are extrinsically motivated goals such as being wealthy, driven by the pursuit of environmentally stimulated rewards such as envy and power. The other type of goal is intrinsically motivated, like increasing a sense of personal calm, and the reward comes from within and does not require any external validation. Often research suggests that goal attainment tends to be more successful when the goal is intrinsic, such as if the tasks required to achieve the goal are personally engaging, then not as much effort is needed (Reeve, 2018). This suggestion is evident in a study which looked at intrinsic goals plus meditation and evaluated their impact on exercise self-efficacy in [where?] college students (Neace, 2020).

To gain a base rate of participants[grammar?] motivation and self-efficacy, each student provided details about their demographic[grammar?], current beliefs about exercise and undertook a trait assessment [of what?]. Neace and colleague's[grammar?] analysed base rates and adherence to goals to reveal that mindfulness and intrinsic motivation independently predicted participants who are more likely to exercise, suggesting that mindfulness combined with intrinsic motivation contributes to increased exercise goal attainment in the college population.

Based on what you now know about extrinsic and intrinsic goals, is option A or B more likely to lead to greater success?

A. I want to be a psychologist that[grammar?] positively impacts people lives, so I must study consistently and access learning opportunities to become the best practitioner I can be.
B. I want to be rich, so I am studying to become a psychologist who can charge hundreds of dollars an hour.

Meditation plus action equals goal attainment[edit | edit source]

While this chapter has outlined how meditation can support a mind and body that is more prepared to accomplish goals, meditating on a plan alone will not lead to achievement. Pioneer in goal-setting theory, Edwin Locke, stated that challenging goals were more successful than general, easy goals, as long as the challenging goals were specific, realistic, and intrinsically based[factual?]. He also recommended measuring progress to provide feedback, as feedback helps benchmark success. Locke reasoned that if individuals were making strides towards success, they were further motivated by feedback. Even if individuals are not making progress, feedback still reinvigorated motivation as the individual strides towards the ideal state (Reeve, 2018).

An exciting series of studies on visualising success highlights the importance of all three components of meditation, action, and attainment. In these studies, participants either:

  1. Focused on the goal they wished to attain (outcome simulation)
  2. Concentrated on how to achieve the goal (process simulation)
  3. No directed focus (control group)

Results showed that simply visualising the outcome did not support achievement. Instead, focusing on accomplishing the goal, which include[grammar?] the mental processes needed to focus on planning and problem-solving, supported goal attainment (Reeve, 2018).

To put this study into practice, consider the following scenarios:

Outcome simulation

Picture yourself crossing the marathon finish line, now experience the feelings of achievement, such as joy and pride.

Process simulation

Visualise yourself one month out from the marathon. What are you doing to ensure you will cross the finish line? From today onwards, what will you do each day to progress towards the goal? See yourself tying up the laces of your runners, stretching and hydrating. Picture yourself doing all these tasks.

Based on the [which?] visualisation study, is outcome simulation or process simulation more likely to lead to goal attainment?

Outcome simulation.
Process simulation.

Meditation and growth motivation theory[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Mindfulness grounded in Self-determination theory[edit | edit source]

Meditation as a goal attainment tool goes hand-in-hand with Self-determination theory, a prototype of Growth Motivation Theory. Self-determination is all about intrinsic motivation, and it is interested in tapping into ways to make life better. The theory is made up of three parts, which include:

  • Autonomy is the feeling of being confident to make choices.
  • Relatedness is the feeling of caring for others and cultivating a support network.
  • Competence is the sense of being effective in the environment by having the skills to match the demand.

When these psychological needs are met, it usually leads to enhanced performance compared to activities that do not give freedom, enjoyment or outcomes that matter to the individual.[factual?]

Self-actualisation is the realisation of potential[edit | edit source]

Abraham Maslow, the founder of humanistic psychology, jump-started the idea that psychology was not merely for the ill-minded but that the goal of psychology is to support individuals to flourish. What differentiated the ill-minded from the flourishing was the ability to self-actualise. In his famous hierarchy of needs, also known as the hierarchy of happiness, Maslow outlined that human beings must meet all basic needs before reaching the top of the pyramid, labelled self-actualisation, which consists of safety, love, status, belonging and self-esteem. This concept is the epitome of growth, which includes reaching your full potential, increased abilities and gratitude.

Self-actualisation is a primary goal of the typical meditation practitioner, and it is a proactive self-improvement effort and provides an ongoing support system for continued growth and development.

Maslow also outlined six recommended behaviours to encourage self-actualisation. Among the six is Let the Self Emerge (Reeve, 2018), which sounds eerily similar to the description of meditation practices. For example, he urged people to shut out the world, look inward and be guided by their inner voice, who will tell you who you are, what you want to be and how to achieve it.

However, it must also be acknowledged that although Maslow believed all people could reach the top of the pyramid, some would never, due to dark forces, such as complacency and safety. He reiterated that those influenced by the dark forces are the norm and that only a small percentage will reach their full potential[factual?].

Figure 2. Maslow's hierarchy of needs showcases that once individuals meet their survival needs, they can move up into growth needs, such as meditation.  

Theory meets real life[edit | edit source]

Due to the many benefits of mindfulness, organisational psychologists are looking to capitalise on the potential advantage it can bring to the workplace. In 2014 Meditation Awareness Training was conducted with managers to see if it would yield improved work-related stress and job performance. All participants showed improvements in six key areas including, "changing attitudes towards work, improved job performance, letting go of self, phenomena feedback effect[explain?], well-being at work, and taking responsibility for one's spiritual growth" (Shonin & Gordon, 2015, p. 899). These positive results have linkage to metacognition that is essentially thinking about thinking. Results showed that regulating work-related thoughts leads to better preparedness, strategies, and ultimately better goal achievement outcomes.

Practice and planning leads to progress[edit | edit source]

It has been reiterated how meditation can support goal attainment, yet the goal of meditating also needs to be addressed. Thankfully, Galla and colleagues (2016) constructed studies investigating self-regulation's role in determining if subjects would complete their meditation homework. The studies tested if designing action plans of when and where to meditate would increase compliance. Across the board, those with strategic plans meditated more, but only if they were self-determined. The after-study surveys also show increased emotional well-being among participants, especially those high on self-determination. These results suggest that even though the premise of mindfulness is to focus on the present, it does help to plan practice.

Criticism of self-determination and self-actualisation[edit | edit source]

Undoubtedly, both theories have benefited the field of psychology and the global community, yet it must be acknowledged that the [which?] approach has its fair share of criticisms. Underlying self-actualisation is the assumption that all individuals grew up having all of their basic needs met (Kaur, 2013)[explain?]. Metaphorically, it assumes we all started on the same starting line, but what we know is true is that some are more privileged than others. Those who had their basic needs met have a psychological and developmental head start, so it could also be reasoned that the self-determination trio should be expanded to include environmental support as the antecedence to autonomy, relatedness and competence.

Figure 3. A core criticism of Self-determination theory and actualisation is the assumption everyone has equal opportunities.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The relatively recent interest in blending new sciences, such as humanistic psychology and ageless techniques, like meditation, yields exciting results that can change treatment methods for the ill-minded and teach us more about flourishing, as Maslow would say.

The referenced research highlights meditation as an in-expensive, discreet, flexible, and accessible tailored approach to treatment for dark forces, especially in the current pandemic where the need for mental health support has increased.

The research referenced throughout from addiction to expanded positive emotional states has promising results for using meditation as a motivation tool to encourage goal attainment.

A future research opportunity would include placing individuals whose careers have suffered due to the pandemic on a visualisation meditation treatment schedule, where participants envision the process of creating a resume, applying for roles and gaining employment and compare the job success rates to a control group who have not utilised any meditation practices.

This chapter explains how self-actualisation and self-determination combined with meditation creates an exciting growth motivation combination. Through figures, examples and interactive learning features, it is evident this knowledge can be used and supports an understanding of human behaviour in everyday life.

While meditation is an old practice that outdates the entire field of psychology, it presents exciting possibilities and provides an ageless solution to support modern psychological problems and is a reliable tool to support personal growth and development.

References[edit | edit source]

Avery, R., Smillie, L., & de Fockert, J. (2013). The role of working memory in achievement goal pursuit. Acta Psychological, 144(2), 361-372.

Chakraborty, N. (2020). The COVID ‐19 pandemic and its impact on mental health. Progress In Neurology and Psychiatry, 24(2), 21-24.

Fox, K. C., Dixon, M. L., Nijeboer, S., Girn, M., Floman, J. L., Lifshitz, M., Ellamil, M., Sedlmeier, P., & Christoff, K. (2016). Functional neuroanatomy of meditation: A review and meta-analysis of 78 functional neuroimaging investigations. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 65, 208–228.

Galla, B. M., Baelen, R. N., Duckworth, A. L., & Baime, M. J. (2016). Mindfulness, meet self-regulation: Boosting out-of-class meditation practice with brief action plans. Motivation Science, 2(4), 220–237.

Gard, T., Hölzel, B. K., & Lazar, S. W. (2014). The potential effects of meditation on age-related cognitive decline: a systematic review. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 89–103.

Kaur, A. (2013). Maslow’s Need Hierarchy Theory: Applications and Criticisms. Global Journal of Management and Business Studies, 3, 1061-1064.

Neace, S. M., Hicks, A. M., DeCaro, M. S., & Salmon, P. G. (2020). Trait mindfulness and intrinsic exercise motivation uniquely contribute to exercise self-efficacy. Journal of American College Health, 1–5. Advance online publication.

Reeve, J. (2018). Understanding Motivation and Emotion (7th Edition). Wiley Global Education US.

Sharma H. (2015). Meditation: Process and effects. Ayu, 233–237.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W. (2015). Managers’ Experiences of Meditation Awareness Training. Mindfulness, 6, 899–909. Singla, R. (2011). Origins Of Mindfulness & Meditation Interplay of Easter & Western Psychology. Psyke & Logos, 32(1), 20.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., Dunn, T., Singh, N., & Griffiths, M. (2014). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for Work-related Wellbeing and Job Performance: A Randomised Controlled Trial. International Journal Of Mental Health And Addiction, 12(6), 806-823.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M. D. (2016). Meditation Awareness Training for the Treatment of Sex Addiction: A Case Study, Journal of Behavioral Addictions J Behav Addict, 5(2), 363-372.

Venditti, S., Verdone, L., Reale, A., Vetriani, V., Caserta, M., & Zampieri, M. (2020). Molecules of Silence: Effects of Meditation on Gene Expression and Epigenetics. Frontiers In Psychology, 11.

External links[edit | edit source]

[Add bullet-points]

Watch mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe describes the transformative power of doing nothing for 10 minutes.

Read about wellness the Lewis Hamilton way.

Listen to Headspace meditations for free.