SMART goals mean that: (S) you should know exactly what it is you want to achieve; (M) you should be able to measure your progress; (A) it should be possible for you to achieve it, though not too easy; (R) it should relate to your wider goals; and (T) you should know when you'll want to have reached your goal. Whenever your confidence takes a bump and you need a quick and simple pick-me-up, take a mental step back for a moment. Think about the problem in the bigger story of your life. Will it still matter in a week, a month, or a year from now? Many of the things we worry about cease to matter after a while, so zooming out like this helps to speed up the process of building confidence by giving you some instant perspective. Improving your confidence, and so your life overall, is a noble goal. However, it's important to remember that there is no endpoint. Even when you reach the goals that you have set for yourself, new ones will take their place. Plus, no matter how long or hard you work at something, it will never be completely perfect - and that's OK. Accepting this fact of life will set you free to enjoy the process of making progress. It's good to be motivated and focused, but you needn't lose your sense of humour along the way. If you suffer any kind of setback, whether it's a late train or a bad date, try to find something funny about the situation. When you decide not to take things too seriously, these frustrations will lose a lot of their power to derail you. On difficult days, laughter is the best medicine for the soul. There are certain behaviors that aren't suitable for changing through a price pact. This kind of precommitment is not recommended when you can't remove the external trigger associated with the behavior. For example, nail biting is a devilishly hard habit to break because biters are constantly tempted whenever they become aware of their hands. Such body-focused repetitive behaviors are not good candidates for price pacts. Similarly, attempting to finish a big project that requires intense focus while working next to a colleague who wants to continuously show you the latest photos of their "super-cute" puppy is unreasonable. Price pacts only work when you can tune out or turn off the external triggers.

Implementing price pacts like my "burn or burn" technique work well because they require short bursts of motivation--a quick trip to the gym, two hours of focused writing time, or "surfing the urge" of a cigarette craving, for example. If we are bound by a pact for too long, we begin to associate it with punishment, which can spawn counterproductive effects, such as resentment of the task or goal. Despite knowing how effective they are, most people cringe at the idea of making a price pact in their own lives--I sure did at first! I struggled with committing to my "burn or burn" regimen because I knew it meant I would have to do the uncomfortable work of hitting the gym. Similarly, shaking Mark's hand and pledging to finish my manuscript made me sweat. Only later did I realize how illogical it was to resist a goal-setting technique that makes success so much more likely. Expect some trepidation when entering into a price pact, but do it anyway. Though the study discussed above was one of the most successful smoking cessation studies ever conducted, some 48 percent of the participants in the deposit group did not achieve their goal. Behavior change is hard, and some people will fail. Any program for long-term behavior modification must accommodate those of us who, for one reason or another, don't stick with it. It's critical to know how to bounce back from failure--as we learned in chapter eight, responding to setbacks with self-compassion instead of self-criticism is the way to get back on track. While trying a price pact, make sure you are able to be kind to yourself and understand that you can always adjust the program to give it another go. None of the four pitfalls negate the benefits of making a price pact. Rather, they are preconditions to make sure we use the right tool for the job. When used in the right way, price pacts can be a highly effective way to stay focused on a difficult task by assigning a cost to distraction. As this simple example illustrates, theories change or get refined to provide a better understanding of our world. The spherical theory was a significant advancement over the flat Earth theory, while the oblate spheroid theory is an even better refinement. As psychologist Keith Stanovich notes, when scientists argue that all knowledge is tentative, they're typically referring to this process. We're not going to suddenly discover that the Earth is, in fact, a square. But we may further refine our knowledge of the spherical nature of the world.

The theory may be altered, but we're getting closer to the true nature of the Earth.14 Or consider the case of continental drift. Scientists originally thought that land masses on the Earth were stable, but anomalous evidence brought that theory into question. In the early 1900s, meteorologist Alfred Wegener noticed that the west coast of Africa and the east coast of South America appeared to fit neatly together, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. In addition, fossils of a freshwater reptile called mesosaurus were found in only two places, Brazil and West Africa, and other dinosaur remains were found separated by the vast Atlantic. Scientists first explained this data by hypothesizing that the dinosaurs must have walked across an ancient, but no longer existing, land bridge. However, as we learned more about our Earth through the study of plate tectonics, we found evidence that the Earth's rigid plates lay atop a layer of hot mantle, which would enable the continents to shift. As the evidence that our landmasses have been moving over time grew, the scientific community shifted paradigms to embrace continental drift. In this way, our knowledge progresses. So what do we get from science if all its facts are provisional? As we saw in the last chapter, the strength of our beliefs typically follows a continuum, from strong disbelief to strong belief. Where we are on the continuum should be governed by the extent of the valid and reliable evidence in support of a belief, and science provides us with the best way to uncover that evidence. Of course, science sometimes finds conflicting evidence. Remember, individual studies can be flawed or biased (e.g., many studies finding no link between smoking and health risks were purportedly funded by tobacco companies). Since every study will not necessarily reach the same conclusion, we must consider the preponderance of the evidence gathered by scientific researchers if we're to set our beliefs in the most informed manner. In effect, we should ask ourselves if there is general consensus in the scientific community on the issue. If the answer is yes, the most informed belief would be the one that coincides with the consensus view (whether it leads to a stronger belief or disbelief in a certain phenomenon). If, on the other hand, there is no consensus in the scientific research, the most informed position would be to stay at the midpoint of the belief continuum, recognizing that we just don't know. Can the consensus view be wrong? Of course! But it's still the best evidence we have to base our beliefs upon.

And yet, people continue to disregard the findings of science because they don't fit with their own personal or political point of view. For example, when asked about global warming, a well-known conservative preacher indicated that he doesn't believe in it--that it's just a myth!15 It doesn't seem to matter that the vast majority of knowledgeable scientists now believe that substantial evidence exists for the rising of the Earth's temperature. One can only wonder what he was basing his belief upon. There are an enormous number of distinct sects within Buddhism. They divide into two broad streams of thought: Mahayana and Theravada. Mahayana Buddhism prevails throughout East Asia, shaping the cultures of China, Korea, Japan, Nepal, Tibet, and Vietnam. The most widely known of the Mahayana systems is Zen, practiced mainly in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and the United States. The Theravada system of practice prevails in South and Southeast Asia in the countries of Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. This book deals with Theravada practice. Traditional Theravada literature describes the techniques of both samatha (concentration) and vipassana (insight) meditation. There are forty different subjects of meditation described in the Pali literature. They are recommended as objects of concentration and subjects of investigation leading to insight. But this is a basic manual, and we will limit our discussion to the most fundamental of those recommended objects: breathing. This book is an introduction to the attainment of mindfulness through bare attention to, and clear comprehension of, the whole process of breathing. Using the breath as the primary focus of attention, the meditator applies participatory observation to the entirety of his or her own perceptual universe. The meditator learns to watch changes occurring in all physical experiences, feelings, and perceptions, and learns to study his or her own mental activities and the fluctuations in the character of consciousness itself. All of these changes are occurring perpetually and are present in every moment of our experiences. Meditation is a living activity, an inherently experiential activity. It cannot be taught as a purely scholastic subject. The living heart of the process must come from the teacher's own personal experience.

Nevertheless, there is a vast fund of codified material on the subject, produced by some of the most intelligent and deeply illumined human beings ever to walk the earth. This literature is worthy of attention. Most of the points given in this book are drawn from the Tipitaka, which is the three-section compendium of the Buddha's original teachings. The Tipitaka is comprised of the Vinaya, the code of discipline for monks, nuns, and lay people; the Suttas, public discourses attributed to the Buddha; and the Abhidhamma, a set of deep psycho-philosophical teachings. Toxic emotions. Before reaching for typical medical treatments, it's important to examine what I call the "three deadly emotions"--anger, fear, and guilt. Chances are if someone is struggling with depression, he or she is also suffering from the unhealthy influence of one or more of these emotions. Unresolved hurt, for example, often manifests itself as anger in relationships and can diminish a person's capacity for intimacy, which leads to isolation, bitterness, and resentment. Anger directed inward is a common fuel for self-destructive behaviors like addictions and eating disorders. Fear typically begins as ordinary worry, the normal "what ifs?" we all experience. But those can spiral out of control, turning into anxiety, panic attacks, and eventually generalized anxiety disorder--a common breeding ground for depression. Guilt comes in two forms: true guilt, when a healthy and emotionally developed person knows he or she has done something wrong; and false guilt, which is unwarranted and leads to shame. From there, it's a short step to feeling broken, unworthy of love, or otherwise "defective"--all precursors to depression. Unforgiveness. One of the most universal contributing factors to depression in our clients--which is often not explored by other treatment providers--is entrenched resentment or an inability to forgive. The negative emotions that linger when a person hasn't forgiven someone can create a state of chronic depression, which damages the body on multiple levels. We have seen such strong evidence that these factors play key roles in depression that our treatment approach routinely includes shining a light on those dark, secret places. Distractions and addictions. While technology has enabled us to create more community ties and stay in touch with far-flung loved ones, the disturbing and largely unexplored reality is that technology also promotes distinct patterns of isolation and social conflict that contribute to depression. Many of our guests at The Center exhibit all the signs of withdrawal from a physical addiction after just a few days without their electronic devices.