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Ep. 4 — The more you struggle, the more you lose sight of your goal

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David The Optimist owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of The Optimistic Perspective Podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as his right of publicity.

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Let’s start with a simple goal that sounds something like “I want to lose 5 kilograms in the next 3 months”. That’s not an impossible goal and the chances to struggle are low.

You may have to eat less and pay attention to what you eat. You may have to start exercising and go to the gym 2-3 times/week. There are some habits that you have to add to your life or remove from your life and you know it.

You create yourself a plan and you are excited about starting your journey towards losing weight.

In the first week you don’t eat any junk food and you can proudly say that you only ate one chocolate. For you, that’s a big success. You also went to the gym two times and you feel really good.

The second and third week you continue with your plan and everything seems to work out great for you. You can see the progress you’ve made and you’re happy with your results.

But then, something unexpected happens in your life. It can be anything – your pet dies, a friend of yours gets sick, you don’t get the raise you wanted at your job.

That unexpected event makes you lose focus and, for a week you start eating junk food again. After one week of constantly ordering pizza and shawarma, you remember your goal and you try to get back in the game.

But things are not the same. You still feel like you want to eat junk food and you don’t have as much energy to go to the gym. And you force yourself to do it, but you keep eating junk food.

One month more passes and now you’re frustrated that you can’t stop eating junk food. You force yourself to go to the gym and it makes no sense that before the unexpected event you were able to restrain yourself from eating junk food and now you can’t do it anymore. It frustrates you so much, it’s the only thing you’re thinking about.

Have you ever experienced something like this?

In this kind of situations, your focus is not on the goal anymore, but on the struggle.

All of a sudden, you shift from focusing on losing weight to focusing on not eating junk food and that messes up everything.

What you focus on is what keeps growing

As soon as you start focusing on what you shouldn’t do, you’re trapped.

It’s like telling you not to think about a fuchsia elephant riding an UFO. It’s in your mind now, it’s what you’re thinking about.

The more that fuchsia elephant is in your mind or gets to somehow be part of your environment, you’ll keep thinking about it. And it doesn’t even have to be the entire image. You can see a pink UFO and then start thinking about the elephant.

What I’m trying to say is that your focus can easily shift to something else than what you initially set yourself (your goal) and if you are not strong enough, you’ll lose your focus right away.

Eventually, because the image of a fuchsia elephant riding an UFO is so present in your mind, you’ll start associating it with sounds, smells, actions, words, ideas, and so on. It will be everywhere.

While that’s an extreme case (the case where you see it everywhere), you’ll get there because you can’t let go of it. You’re too emotionally attached to the fuchsia elephant and it makes you crave for it constantly.

Now let’s go back to our situation with losing weight and eating junk food.

For some reason, that unexpected event triggered some intense emotions inside of you and you’ve probably used food to lower the intensity of those emotions.

Don’t worry, we all do it.

But if you don’t become aware of it and you keep doing it, you’ll replace your goal with your struggle and instead of focusing on losing weight, you’ll focus on how to stop eating junk food.

While they’re related, they’re two different things.

Losing weight can mean many things and eating less junk food is one of them.

But simply because your entire focus is on eating less junk food, you can have the healthiest died and still gain weight because losing weight is not just about food.

And now, not only you don’t eat junk food anymore and it frustrates you because you have cravings, but you also can’t lose weight because losing weight is not only about what you eat. And that frustrates you even more.

When you become obsessed with your struggle, take a step back

Take a few minutes and think about your life. Think about your current focus.

Is your focus about something that you want in your life or something that you want to remove from your life?

Your goal is about having something in your life and it can mean traveling more, losing weight, reading more, being more sociable, and so on.

Your struggle is about removing something from your life and it can mean overcoming the fear of the unknown, eating less sweets, prioritizing your time better, being less anxious, and so on.

Don’t let your struggle be your main focus.

Remember why you started your journey and let go of your struggle. Your main focus shouldn’t be to remove something from your life so don’t invest effort into it.

Just let go of it – that’s effortless.

And go back as soon as possible to what you initially wanted.

Fun Fact: 0 % Better Students

Did you know that optimistic students are more likely to excel in school by 12%?

Alright, what I shared with you until now is how we usually get to a situation where we focus more on what we struggle with and how we can get back to focusing on our goals. From now on I’ll share a few more insights on these things.

Let’s start with some examples of real-life unexpected events and how these events can impact your focus and motivation.

Anything that disturbs your balance can be seen as an unexpected event.

Here are some examples: you lose someone you love, your boss doesn’t care about your well-being, you can’t get a raise and find it difficult to get another job, you are diagnosed with cancer, your house is destroyed by a tsunami, COVID-19, and many more.

When these kinds of unexpected events impact your life, they usually create some disturbance in some other (secondary) aspects of your life.

For example, if you used to hike every weekend when COVID-19 first started, then you were forced to stay inside and couldn’t hike anymore. These unexpected events can create chaos in the aspects of your life that may have nothing in common with them and understanding it can help you better manage the situation.

What are the healthier alternatives to cope with intense emotions instead of turning to food?

Last year, I struggled a lot with losing weight. I still do a bit, but I’m way better now.

Whenever something unexpected happened in my life, I used to use food as a way of coping with the emotions. I was trying so hard to not eat food but it was the only way I knew of coping with intense emotions.

Right now, I don’t really have a different strategy, but I got to a place where my emotions are not so intense and that allows me to not give into the trap of using food as a coping mechanism.

The mechanism is still there but the emotions are not as strong anymore, which makes the coping mechanism not as active.

To get to this point, I created a morning routine that helps a lot. You can find more about my morning routine in one of the episodes called Make your morning routine feel effortless.

What are some specific methods or exercises to help you redirect your focus from struggle to the original goal?

As I mention previously, take a step back.

And I don’t mean metaphorically.

Stop whatever you’re doing, stand up, close your eyes, think about your current situation. Feel all the emotions connected to your current situations. Go through all the thoughts and feelings that are holding you in your current situation and become aware of them. It’s a process that can take you two minutes or twenty minutes. Just be patient.

And when you are aware of it all, while having your eyes closed, take a step back and imagine you have in front of you the version of you who’s struggling.

You don’t have to do anything but to not see yourself as that version anymore. Don’t identify with it. Let it go.

How can you acknowledge your struggles without letting them consume your entire focus?

The more you spend time with what you struggle, the more it will feel like a goal. But something you want to remove from your life shouldn’t be a goal.

To make sure you don’t get to a point where your struggle consumes your entire focus, find ways to detach from it and let it go.

You can do that by talking with a friend about how that specific struggle is making you feel or you can write in a journal about it. But, at the same time, there’s something more important that I recommend doing, and that is celebrating your smallest wins.

If you struggle with eating junk food and one day passes without any junk food, celebrate it. Be happy about your achievement and become aware of it.

What strategies you can use to stay connected to your motivation throughout your journey?

For me, motivation is about energy and how I feel. Which is tricky because it’s difficult to have a constant positive level of energy.

There are two things that I do when it comes to sustaining a positive level of energy.

The first one is meditation. In the days that I meditate, my energy is exactly how it should be. I’m engaged in what I do and I feel like I’m advancing towards my goals.

The second thing I do is analyze if my daily activities give or take energy from me.

When an activity takes energy instead of providing energy, it puts a pressure on me and that’s how I know I have to change something.

For example, recently I realized that this podcast is taking more energy from me than I expected and I was put in a situation where I was thinking about doing it twice a month. But instead, I decided to take a step back, relax, breathe and do my best to continue my weekly episodes.

If I’ll ever need to take a break or won’t have time to release an episode, I’ll accept it and skip a week. But until then, I’ll do my best to release one episode per week.

With love and optimism,
David

What did you learn?

What are some valuable things you learned about the connection between struggle and focus?

I would love to know what you think, so share your insights with me using the form below.

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