Learning to Embrace the Process

Have you ever found yourself disappointed with a perfectly productive week simply because you didn’t cross off every item on your never-ending to-do list? Or maybe you lost 6 pounds as a result of completing the Whole30, only to be disappointed because you had a goal of losing 10.  Or perhaps you abandoned your gym routine because you committed to getting in 5 weekly sweat sessions but you only found yourself showing up 3 times a week. Maybe your scenario is slightly different, but I think we have all been in a similar situation. 

Have you ever wondered why we are disappointed? After all, we were productive, we did lose weight, and we were showing up to the gym.  I mean, aren’t these all really great things? Of course they are! So, what is the deal?

I personally think that the problem here is the tunnel-vision that comes along with setting a big, hairy, high-reaching goal.  Sure, goals can be great, but sometimes they also prevent us from noticing all the small victories and growth we achieve along the way to reaching that goal.  If we are only focused on the final goal and what that will bring us, we can end up crashing and burning, losing all of our progress gained along the way.  So, how do we prevent our goals from getting in our own way?

We let go of the goal itself and embrace the process that will get us there!  

Let me tell you a story that I think embodies this concept. 

My husband, Joe, is from Colorado and throughout our relationship we have made it a priority to visit his parents in their home town of Ouray each year.  His parents’ house is tucked away in the mountains and sits at about 9,000 feet in elevation.  Each time we are there I am in awe of the natural beauty surrounding this surreal place.  Amazing mountains, scenic views at every turn of the head, lots of beautiful snow in the winter and mountains just waiting to be explored in the summer.  Amid all this beauty, one thing that I am always drawn to as we pull into his parent’s driveway is the rock walls and pathways that are spread throughout his parent’s property.  I initially noticed these because they aren’t the type of walls or pathways that you pay a contractor to build, they are too unique for that.  I am drawn to them because you can tell they have a story to tell.  The first time I saw them, I knew there was something to them.  What I didn’t know was just how often I would think about them.

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When I first asked my father-in-law to tell me the story of this wall, his face lit with excitement as he told me that  those walls had taken him 20 years to build, carrying each stone though various trips up the mountain from town.  “Jane’s Wall” was what he called it. 

At first, I thought he was joking.  I honestly couldn’t fathom starting a project that you knew would take so long to do by hand.  But, hearing him talk about it, I knew it wasn’t the final “finished project” that he was after.  He truly embraced the process of building something that he knew would be special one day.  And the more I thought about it, the more I fell in love with this idea of Jane’s wall.  I loved it because it was the process that made it so great.  If my father-in-law had been chasing the goal of building a wall for his wife, we could have simply stopped when the wall was complete.  But then there wouldn’t be those beautiful walkways that ran throughout the yard, or the dry-stream that wrapped around the porch.  And really, after looking at it today, without those parts, it wouldn’t have the same effect.  And I realized that was exactly the point.  It wasn’t a project that would ever really be complete because it was a constant work-in-process and it was the process that made it both so fulfilling and so great.   Without focusing on the goal, it never occurred to him to be bothered that any one day’s work may go unnoticed, or that when the snow rolled around for the winter that you may not be able to see this project for another 4 months. 

Without focusing on the goal, he could be content each time he was working on the process because that was what he had grown to love.  The walls and the walkways were simply a by-product.

And now, each time someone asks him who constructed all the stone work (trust me, it’s impossible not to ask) he gets the fulfillment of telling them that he did it, trip by trip and stone by stone.  Each milestone, finishing a portion of the wall, a sidewalk, or the dry stream, was exciting but each day was also fulfilling.  And even today, with a property filled with beautiful mountain stones, he continues the maintenance to keep it looking nice.  Never a huge project, just a process that he still enjoys to this day.

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Gosh, I just love it.  I think about this story for many different situations, but in particular, I think of Jane’s Wall as it relates to our health and how we should view it.  Of course, this is easier said than done, I realize that.  But, so often we get caught up in the idea of chasing down a goal and what the achievement of reaching that goal will bring us.  When I lose 10 pounds, then I’ll be content with my weight.  When I can see my abs again, then I’ll gain confidence.  If I could just lay off the sugar, then I’ll be setting a good example for my kids. 

Wouldn’t it be great to let go of the idea of our health project being “complete” or “perfect” and truly fall in love with the parts of the process?

Moving our bodies through walking, or dancing, or climbing up a mountain simply because we enjoy it and not because we are chasing after a smaller number on a scale. Or making a home cooked meal for the family simply because we enjoy the time around the table together as we eat that meal.  Or laying off the sugar because we are obsessed with the way we feel when we actually do it.  What if we could let go of this idea that the goal will make us content and celebrate the person we are becoming each time we stick to the process because we enjoy it? I honestly can’t think of a better approach.  

Yes – there will be moments in life where goal setting with our health is helpful and maybe even necessary.  But, I truly believe if we are able to let go of the goal itself and fall in love with the process that gets us there, we will start to notice the small victories along our health journey that we would otherwise overlook.  Maybe consistency in your gym process allows you to get your first push-up. Or, your commitment to cleaning up your diet allows you to swap your sweet tea habit for unsweetened tea.  On their own, each of these mini-milestones may seem insignificant if your goal is stringing together 10 push-ups or cutting out sugar altogether. But each time you achieve these mini-milestones that come from consistency with the process, you find a new “set-point”.  And with each new set-point, you have a new opportunity for growth and a new opportunity for another mini-milestone.  And before you know it, you have a collection of these mini-milestone, or mountain stones, that will accumulate to a major milestone with your health, or to build a beautiful wall.  The more you are able to focus on the process the more visible your successes become because you aren’t fixated on reaching the final goal, and only the final goal.  So, let’s let go of the long term goal and embrace the process that will help us to reach that goal.  

As with most changes, big mindset shifts don’t happen overnight.  They need to be practiced and there may be set-backs along the way.  Know that this is normal and as with most things, it will get easier each time you practice.

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To help you get started, see some real life examples below where a simple shift in mindset might help you let go of the goal and really embrace the process.  Remember, consistency in the process will eventually drive you to the goal.

Real Life Reframing Examples:

Common Goal Setting With Exercise Routines:

I will go to the gym 5 days a week so I can lose 10 pounds which will make me feel good in my skin

Reframing Exercise:

I love how I feel when I move my body consistently.  I will find ways each day to make myself feel good.  On days when I am rested and feeling ambitious, I will hit the gym.  On days when I am tired, I will stretch or do yoga. On days I am somewhere in between I will walk or jog around the neighborhood with the dog. On days I am feeling silly, I will have a dance party with the kids.  My process may look slightly different each day but I will move my body daily. I will also check-in with myself so I notice how I feel before and after. 

With this reframe, you give yourself the flexibility to choose the exercise you are going to enjoy the most that day while still embracing the process.  If you learn to enjoy the process, you are more likely to stick to it.  By checking in with yourself, it will be easier to draw connections on how this exercise makes you feel.  

Common Goat Setting with Healthy Eating:

Lately I have gained weight and am feeling sluggish. I will track my daily food intake so I can reduce my caloric intake because I want to change my body composition.

Reframe for Healthy Eating:

Lately I have gained weight and am feeling sluggish. I will commit to introducing more vegetables and protein into my diet before turning to the processed foods that provide me comfort because I think this will allow me to have more energy.  To set myself up for success, I will do some meal preparation on Sunday while listening to my favorite podcast.

With this reframe, you are focusing on providing your body what it needs in order to provide you with energy and not around depriving your body of calories.  You are also finding a way to enjoy the process by stacking this prep with something you already enjoy.  If you can start to enjoy the process of preparing your food it will allow for healthier food choices throughout the week.