With classes beginning, I am sure many of you have set both long-term and short-term goals for yourself. Goals are great especially if they are specific, measurable, attainable, and time-bound. There is a lot to be said about goal setting but I am not here to write about goals right now. Instead I want to touch on how obsessing with goals and the end product can become counter-productive to our success and well being.
I can remember back to a time when I would constantly stress over the future. I would frequently and anxiously calculate the grades I needed to get As in my courses. Then I would start calculating the grades I needed to reach a certain GPA for the entire academic year. Then I would start spending hours on admission websites trying to calculate what GPA I needed two to three years down the road in order to make it into professional school. This behavior continued regularly for a few years. I wish someone could have told me how inefficient and stressful I was making my life.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that you should not plan ahead and look into the future. I believe it is important to set long-term goals and plan realistically what grades you need to achieve in order to get to your next step. However, I think it is best to do this once, very thoroughly, and then set it aside. Once you know this final destination (long-term goal), it is best to focus on the process that will allow you to reach that point. Focusing on the process will allow you to remain in the moment, clearing your mind of unnecessary clutter. Most students today are anywhere but in the present moment. We are constantly worrying about the future or stressing about our past. Constantly thinking about the future and/or the past will not help us reach our goal. Instead, it can frustrate us and lower our self-esteem because we are constantly thinking ahead to a point that we have not reached yet.
Lets use an example to illustrate staying in the present moment versus always thinking ahead to the end product. Lets imagine you are trying to learn how to become fluent in Spanish. Someone who constantly thinks ahead to the end product can quickly become frustrated wondering why he or she hasn’t progressed fast enough. Or perhaps they spend their time judging their progress, wasting their energy on this rather than on learning. This end-goal-thinking and frustration can easily lead one to become discouraged and quit altogether. In contrast, someone staying in the present moment while learning Spanish would not be overly preoccupied with reaching the end goal of fluency. Rather, they would give their best effort everyday and focus all their attention and effort on learning to make them a better Spanish speaker. In which one of these two cases do you think success will be reached? In the former situation, much of the focus and attention is unnecessarily wasted on stressing over the end product. In contrast, staying present in the moment will help reduce stress, anxiety and worry while improving your day-to-day ability to learn and ultimately reach your end goal.
I know this transition won’t be easy, we have essentially been programmed since early childhood to always be looking ahead. This will take practice but I promise you will become a lot more relaxed and successful in achieving your goals if you work at this. If you catch yourself constantly thinking ahead or wondering why you haven’t achieved your goal yet, remind yourself gently to bring your attention back into the present and focus on the task at hand. I hope this can help some of you reframe your mind to turn your attention on to the process of practice instead of obsession over the end product.
The views expressed in this blog are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the University of Victoria. I monitor posts and comments to ensure all content complies with the University of Victoria Guidelines on Blogging.