Mindful Agility

Resolutions Just Humiliate Me: Goals and Reactivity

February 01, 2022 Heather Bejenaru Season 1 Episode 3
Mindful Agility
Resolutions Just Humiliate Me: Goals and Reactivity
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Improvement is hard enough, whether we're trying to fix a Fortune 100 company or quit smoking. Our reactivity can create unrealistic expectations and then encourage others to dictate our futures. Reactivity tells us to give up when our first attempts fall short. It tells us to feel guilty, which can sideline us further. 

Mindfulness meditation teaches us to harness those few seconds between our emotions and actions. It can push the pause button on our amygdalas and increase our likelihood of success, in everything we do. 

Join us as we explore the intersection of mindfulness and agility in overcoming challenges and achieving our goals.


  • Greening, DR, Align to a Driving Purpose, https://senexrex.com/driving-purpose/
  • Tang YY, Posner MI, Rothbart MK (2014) Meditation improves self-regulation over the life span: Meditation improves self-control over the life span. Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1307(1):104–111.
  • Valk SL,et al (2017) Structural plasticity of the social brain: Differential change after socio-affective and cognitive mental training. Science Advances. https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.1700489

Support us

  • Like, Share, Subscribe, Follow.  Email to pals, post to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. All these things help promote our mission, to help more people live fulfilled lives. When friends around you live more fulfilled lives, it makes your life better, too!
  • Like our Facebook page, "Mindful Agility podcast," to see notifications of new episodes.
  • Join our private Facebook group, "Mindful Agility Community," to discuss the topics of mindfulness and/or agility. In the short term, we're hosting free weekly Zoom get togethers with members.
  • Donate to the cause (and get some cool benefits): https://patreon.com/mindfulagility


  • The sting separator sound used in this episode is a derivative of Swing beat 120 xylophone side-chained by Casonika, used under license CC BY.


  • Daniel Greening, host, agile coach, and computer scientist
  • Mirela Petalli, co-host, meditation guide, and neurocritical nursing instructor
  • Dan Dickson, business coach, executive and management consultant


[00:00:00] Cold Open

[00:00:00] Heather Bejenaru: You're working on resolutions now? Most of us do that in December and by January 1st , we've already failed. 

[00:00:09] Daniel Greening: Welcome to the Mindful Agility podcast. I'm your host, Dan Greening. My co-host is Mirela Petalli. We're joined today by Dr Heather Bejenaru.

Today we're discussing goals and reactivity. 

[00:00:26] Welcome

[00:00:26] Daniel Greening: The Mindful Agility podcast helps you tackle challenging projects. If you want to get useful stuff done faster, this podcast is for you. 

Mindfulness and agility are two of the most helpful perspectives in leading more fulfilled lives. Mindfulness practices help us gain greater insight and clarity, while agile practices help us forge new paths. 

 Each episode is an agile experiment. We hypothesize this episode will help you gain more insight and build more value. We'll figure out the next episode after we publish this one. The journey itself is half the fun. We hope you'll stick with us.

Your likes, shares, subscribes and feedback tell us if we're on the right track. Send comments or questions to feedback@mindfulagility.com. 

[00:01:22] Doctor Heather Problem Statement

[00:01:22] Daniel Greening: Hey Dr. Heather. So the other day you asked what our next podcast would be about. I said we're thinking about doing something on resolutions or goal setting or something like that. 

[00:01:35] Heather Bejenaru: I asked you about it on January 2nd, but if you were going to do a podcast about resolutions, shouldn't you do it in mid December when people are actually thinking about resolutions? I always feel like I've already failed by January 1st. They don't last more than 24 hours into the new year. 

[00:01:51] Daniel Greening: Was it something you had to do every single day. So when you didn't do it on January 1st, you were done, for the year? 

[00:02:00] Heather Bejenaru: Like, I resolved, I'm going to exercise and I'm going to lose weight and I'm going to be healthy. And January 1st, all the stuff from New Year's Eve parties is still sitting there.

[00:02:09] Daniel Greening: You mean like the pecan pie? 

[00:02:12] Heather Bejenaru: And the donuts. 

So you say to yourself, I'll start tomorrow. 

But , I guess my goals in the past have been big ones, not the smaller achievable things. So I'm going to exercise all the time and I'm going to lose weight all the time. And so if I have a bad meal or a day I don't exercise, I feel like I'm a failure. 

[00:02:34] Daniel Greening: Hmm. So when you did set a goal were people around you going "Yeah! Heather go for that!"

[00:02:42] Heather Bejenaru: Not really, because in my experience, with all the failed resolutions, I don't usually share them with other people. 

[00:02:48] Daniel Greening: Oh, that's true. It's embarrassing. It's like, " Hey guys, guess what? I resolved to eat healthier!" And then two days later they come to visit you and you're like chowing down on the donuts right?

[00:03:00] Heather Bejenaru: Are you referencing something you have seen recently? 

[00:03:04] Daniel Greening: We have both been chowing down on the donuts that were, uh, 

[00:03:08] Heather Bejenaru: thoughtfully given to us? 

[00:03:12] Daniel Greening: The backstory is a friend tried to give a big box of donuts to some other friends recently. When they said, "get those donuts out of here!" he brought them over to Heather's house. Then we both started eating them and feeling guilty. 

[00:03:30] Reflecting on Dr Heather 

[00:03:30] Daniel Greening: Mirela, I'm listening to this conversation with Heather, and reflecting on other conversations we've had with folks. A lot of times our resolutions are doomed from the start. 

[00:03:43] Mirela Petalli: We start off with so much excitement and eagerness. And when we don't follow through, we are left with confusion and disappointment. We don't know what happened. Why is it so difficult? 

[00:03:55] Daniel Greening: The new year transition invites us to reflect on the past and consider the future to set our intentions for the present. But many of us mindlessly react by doing what everybody else is doing. We feel embarrassed, guilty, or pressured to improve. We pick an arbitrary improvement area. We think unachievable goals inspire us to do better. 

Our emotions motivate ridiculous goals and we fail immediately. We feel guilty and maybe we try some more. Eventually we realize we can't really succeed. We feel embarrassed. So we try to forget about our goal and hope everybody else does, too.

[00:04:37] Mirela Petalli: Hm. I think this has a lot to do with our need for acceptance. We often choose our goals because of outside influences. We want to feel part of the group. We don't stop to think about what we really want, why we want it, how it serves us, and how it affects everyone else around us. 

[00:04:58] Daniel Greening: That's it right there. We don't stop to think. Our reactive actions are mindless. 

Reactivity comes from an ancient part of our brain called the amygdala. Some psychologists call it the lizard brain. It's sort of a neural dictator that takes over during crises. It helps you, and your genes, live on. Our amygdala, when it does take over, suppresses thinking and floods us with emotion. 

All of us experience overwhelming emotions of anxiety, anger, euphoria, pride, humiliation, and guilt. In a crisis that doesn't require much thinking, emotion driven reactions can make things better. But in subtle situations like driving or finding agreement with a spouse, emotion driven actions can make things worse.

[00:05:52] Mirela Petalli: And the amygdala reacts the same way, whether it is a real or a perceived threat. For example when you enter your garage in the dark and see something that resembles a snake, the amygdala kicks in and you get scared whether that is a real snake or just the garden hose. 

[00:06:09] Daniel Greening: The emotions themselves aren't the problem. It's the actions we take when we don't think first. Our amygdala triggers fight or flight instincts. We feel anxious or guilty, so we thoughtlessly drink or smoke to escape. We feel angry, so we thoughtlessly fight. We feel depressed, so we thoughtlessly comfort ourselves by eating. We feel proud, so we thoughtlessly brag about our wins and alienate potential friends. 

[00:06:41] Mirela Petalli: Mindfulness can help us become aware of these emotions, as they are happening. We are usually ruminating about things that have happened, or worrying about what's going to happen next. If we train our brains to come back to the present moment and observe with curiosity and without judgment, what is happening, both in our bodies and our surroundings, then we are able to break those patterns of reactivity. 

[00:07:08] Diffusing Reactivity

[00:07:08] Daniel Greening: We keep talking about nonjudgmental curiosity because, well, first the antics of our emotions can be pretty damn amusing. And second, being amused helps us think creatively. 

The reactive way of handling emotions is to try to suppress them. This just transforms the current emotion into another one: resentment. How often have we reacted to a friend's emotions with " Don't be angry" or " Stop being so sad"? Did it ever work? If you want to see some resentment in action and how it turns people into unthinking robots, look at politics. If you think the other side is full of idiots, that's your amygdala taking over! We are all its mindless victims.

[00:08:00] Mirela Petalli: But we don't have to be its mindless victims. The frontal lobes, part of the cerebral cortex, can stop the reactivity of the amygdala and help us make informed rational decisions. Recent neuroscience research has shown that mindfulness meditation helps strengthen the frontal lobes of the brain. When we practice mindfulness, we learn to notice and examine with curiosity, our feelings, sensations, reactions, and thoughts. 

There's a quote by Victor Frankl that I think illustrates beautifully what practicing mindfulness can do for us. 

" Between stimulus and response lies a space. In that space, lie our freedom and power to choose a response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness." 

So practicing mindfulness teaches us to notice when our amygdala has been activated. We then stop, take a mindful breath, bring our frontal lobes back online, evaluate the situation, and make an informed decision about what's the best course of action 

[00:09:08] Daniel Greening: I actually noticed myself taking that pause, recently. I have some friends who love to watch mindless television, with advertising and all that. We were eating dinner, all sitting around a table, and I was the only person who couldn't see the TV. They were watching a sitcom, and their eyes were glued to the television. 

I felt myself getting anxious. A previous version of myself, might've said, "Hey, I can't eat with this happening in the background!" What I did instead was take a breath, exactly like you said, and I breathed out. And then I thought, "I'm going to pay close attention to the present moment."

So I watched my friends watch television. I noticed how that went for them. Of course, they were talking about what was happening on the television, and that was creating a stronger bond for them. I kind of marveled at the control television has. But I also thought about how grateful I was for my friends. And that was a totally different reaction than I would have had a couple of years ago. 

I think meditation brought that capability to me. 

[00:10:22] Mirela Petalli: That's such a great example of mindfulness, Dan. We start understanding ourselves and our goals better, not only when we pause, but when we also start asking questions such as, " What is it that I really want to achieve? Why is this important to me? What does this mean for my future?

[00:10:42] Daniel Greening: Executives in big organizations face the same challenges with reactivity. Before researching this episode, I didn't know salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff practiced mindfulness. But I did know Benioff drove agile practices throughout the company. Salesforce is massively successful. 

[00:11:03] Mirela Petalli: Sounds like a great combination of agility and mindfulness. 

[00:11:09] Retrospection[00:11:09] 

[00:11:09] Daniel Greening: As the beginning of this episode, Dr. Heather made fun of me for not doing it in December the traditional month for resolutions. It turns out we were building up some anxieties of our own. In early December, we had produced a 45 minute draft introductory episode, released it to beta reviewers and got lukewarm comments. We threw it away. 

We replaced it with a much less ambitious episode. The beta reviews were better and we released it. We started working on a goal setting episode January 1st. But the topic started exploding and unraveling. 

[00:11:48] Mirela Petalli: It was overwhelming, especially in the beginning. We had so many ideas and lots of material. 

[00:11:54] Daniel Greening: It took about four weeks to put this one episode together. We had to split out several subtopics. This episode is only one of those subtopics.

[00:12:06] Mirela Petalli: But we used both our mindful and agility practices to navigate through it all. And here we are. 

[00:12:12] Daniel Greening: Mindfulness and agility support each other. What kept my amygdala at bay, a perspective from mindfulness, was thinking about this project as a production experiment, a perspective from agile. The goal wasn't to produce a perfect episode. The goal was to create and deliver a viable episode, to listeners. Only after we delivered something, could we test marketing techniques, measure traffic, retention, and vitality. We needed to find out if our message was resonating, and to do that we had to deliver a message.

[00:12:51] Mirela Petalli: Right. It is important that we use the skills ourselves. We're learning in the process. 

[00:12:58] Meditation Introduction

[00:12:58] Daniel Greening: How do we cope with anxieties, fears, guilt and depression? These emotions trigger reactivity and those destructive actions or inactions can stall us, sometimes for years. The most effective way to deal with our emotions is to accept them. To take advantage of the pause between emotion and action, often just by taking a breath. A few seconds of mindfulness can make the difference between success and failure. Meditation practice helps us develop the skills of mindfulness, so we can call on those skills in the seconds we have between emotion and action. 

 Mirela is going to lead a 10 minute meditation to explore goals and reactivity. Try it when you have those 10 minutes. After the meditation I'll summarize and close this episode. 

Some listeners will have experienced a guided meditation and others not. I suggest you find a quiet place where you'll be undisturbed for 10 minutes. If you're driving, riding a bike or doing anything that requires your attention, meditating at the same time can be dangerous. Pause now, if you want to situate yourself. But if you're an experienced meditator and want to meditate in the midst of chaos, that's okay too. 

Here we go. 

[00:14:21] Meditation

[00:14:21] Mirela Petalli: Thank you for taking this time to meditate with us today. You will hear a bell at the beginning of the meditation and one at the end. The bell is an invitation to come back to the present moment. 

First find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down. It can be any position where you feel comfortable, but also alert. While we maintain an intention to be still, you can adjust your posture at any time if needed. 

You can either close your eyes or keep them slightly open, focused downward in front of you. 

In this meditation, we'll use mindfulness, curiosity and self-compassion to explore and understand the relationship we have with our goals. 

Let's start by taking a few deep, slow breaths. Take a deep breath in through your nose. Fill your lungs with air. Relax your belly. And then let the air out slowly through your nose. 

 Let's take one more deep, slow breath. 

See if you can release any tension, and relax your body a little bit more with each out-breath. 

 There is nothing to do right now. 

Now allow your breath to return to normal. 

In today's meditation, we'll use the breath as the anchor. 

Anytime that you get distracted, just notice it, and gently bring your attention back to the breath. 

Now bring your attention to your body. 

Become aware of your position, whether sitting or lying down. 

The temperature. 

 The feeling of clothes against your skin. 

The movements of your belly with each breath. 

Try to include your whole body. In your attention. 

And notice. How you feel. 

When we focus our attention on an object of meditation, whether our breath or sensations in the body, we are not looking to change anything. 

Or feel a certain way. 

We are simply observing what is happening right now. 

This way of observing helps us cultivate a sense of curiosity and wonder.

By noticing when we are distracted, and bringing our attention back to the object of meditation, we cultivate mindfulness and compassion. 

Our goal is not to get rid of distractions, but to notice them without judgment and then start again. 

I now invite you to think about a specific goal that you have, or that you have had recently. 

Imagine reading the words written by you. On a piece of paper. 

My goal is... 

[00:18:40] Closing

[00:18:40] Mirela Petalli: Now, bring your attention to your body again. Do you notice anything different? 

There might be thoughts, sensations, emotions. 

Just notice what is happening, without judgment. 

 And gently bring your attention back to the breath. 

And now I invite you to think of achieving your goal. 

Here are some questions. 

How will your goal affect you? 

Who will you be after your goal is achieved?

 Try to observe your thoughts without getting caught up in them. 

 As you consider these questions, see if you can notice sensations and emotions in your body, and how they change. 

If nothing comes up. That's okay. You can try this at another time. 

As many times as you need. 

Let's take a few moments in silence to explore these questions 

 How will your goal affect you? 

Who will you be after your goal is achieved? 

 We'll now let go of thinking about these questions, and bring our attention to the belly again. 

Notice the rising and falling, with each breath. 

Let's take a few moments to just relax, and rest. 

We will now slowly start to get out of meditation. 

Bring your attention to the room. 

Notice the sounds around you. The temperature. 

 Start moving slowly, your fingers and your toes, your arms, your legs. 

And when you were ready. You can open your eyes. 

Thank you for taking this time to meditate with us today. 

[00:22:48] Closing

[00:22:48] Daniel Greening: Improvement is hard enough, whether we're trying to fix a Fortune 100 company or quit smoking. Our reactivity can create unrealistic expectations and then encourage others to dictate our futures. Reactivity tells us to give up when our first attempts fall short. It tells us to feel guilty, which can sideline us further. 

Mindfulness meditation teaches us to harness those few seconds between our emotions and actions. It can push the pause button on our amygdalas and increase our likelihood of success, in everything we do. 

May your mindfulness and agility help you overcome all obstacles and fulfill your goals.

[00:23:34] Credits

[00:23:34] Daniel Greening: Don't forget to subscribe, rate the podcast and share with your friends. We're new podcasters and we depend on your support to keep going. 

The show notes provide references as well as links to additional content and community, if you want to dig deeper

Many thanks to Heather Bejenaru, for her contributions to this podcast. Our co-host and meditation guide is Mirela Petalli. Dusan Bosnjakovic helped shape this episode early on. Beta reviewers include Heather Schenck, Dan Dickson, Divya Maez, Ron Lussier, Matt Zimmerman and Hasan Abdurahmonov.

Mirela, we have too many friends with unpronounceable names. 

[00:24:20] Mirela Petalli: They have provided great feedback. So I think we should forgive them. 

[00:24:24] Daniel Greening: I'm Dan Greening. See you next time. 

[00:24:28] Daniel Greening:

Dr Heather Problem Statement
Reflecting on Dr Heather
Diffusing Reactivity
Meditation Introduction
Meditation: Goals and Reactivity