I used to be the type of person who needed to know what I was headed towards—what job I want to end up with, the type of person I aspire to be, what physical changes I wanted to make with adopting a healthier lifestyle—and that was not working out for me.
I practiced a pattern where I set a goal so specific where, if I was doing anything that either didn't help or steered away from that goal, I felt like I was failing. In my mind, having these goals meant having a linear path towards my own success, and I thought, "Once I become successful, I'd stay successful and be able to sit back, relax, and be happy" but nope!
Because I've tunnel-visioned on my goals and based my definition of success on what others might perceive as success (well paying and noble job, a 36-pack of abs, the illusion that I know myself down to the bone), I was frequently unhappy, I was never good enough, and I was extremely hard on myself every time I messed up which was...not fun.
So what do you do when something's not working out? You do something else. This past year has been a whole mess of unexpected obstacles. I learned that you can feel like you have everything you might ever need one day only to have those things taken away the next. It definitely sucks to deal with, but a change in mindset can help alleviate how much it sucks. A few things that I've been practicing in order to shift my mindset are:
Appreciating where I'm at in the moment. Let's use body image as an example. What even is a healthy body image? I used to think that a positive body image was loving your body once achieving your fitness goals as a testament to your hard work. But why should anyone be happy only once they've shaved off an x-amount of pounds? Why should anyone wait to be proud of themselves once they've yielded physical results? Let's face it, "permanently sustaining" an active and healthy lifestyle to the degree that we all fantasize about requires a pretty substantial amount of privilege. People need time, money, proper education and coaching, and an immune system of iron in order to achieve that media-level fitness, and although it might seem very doable in the moment, life can certainly get in the way. Work gets too wild, injuries happen, people get very ill. For me, I've definitely battled with losing physical progress due to being ill for a month after my orthopedic surgeries and dealing with an intense bout of stress due to personal issues, and this made me realize how unsubstantial it is to base my worth off my physical progress. Everyday I try to remind myself that even the detrained, soft version of myself deserves the same amount of love that the more toned version of me gets. What matters is that I keep trying to get healthier from whatever point I'm at in that moment.
Viewing my mistakes as stepping stones and emphasizing the value in education. I used to have overly high expectations of myself since I had switched to Kinesiology. Since my major entails a lot of sport and exercise sciences, I felt the need to know everything there was to know about exercising and keeping the right form because if I didn't, I felt like a failure. But hey, I didn't pursue the major only to show off that I already know everything, that is definitely NOT the point of education. We all start from somewhere, and it's not embarrassing to make mistakes every now and again. You have to mess up sometimes to know when you're doing something right anyway. Everything is a learning process, and it's important to appreciate that.
Minimizing comparing myself to others. This one's a given. Don't compare your body to some other person's body, don't compare your life successes with someone else's accomplishments. Don't compare your life to how other people choose to present their own lives on social media. It's all toxic, unproductive, and gets you no where. I've struggled with this a lot, it's VERY difficult to avoid comparing yourself to others when society is so damn competitive. It helps to appreciate other people as their own individuals and to be content in your own agency.
Keeping the bigger goals in mind while staying flexible. This alone has made me less stressed out and more excited about the future. I know a few things about myself, I know what I like, I know what I don't like—but why does that have to translate to a having singular job title that I am expected to want to do for the rest of my life? The world is constantly changing and there's an immense amount of non-specific to strangely specific jobs out there. Like, yo, we live in a time where lifestyle Instagram posting is a full-time job. Perhaps this is specific to the U.S. and a few other countries at the moment, but it's so difficult to commit yourself to one thing when we live in a time and place where technology and daily things have become so efficient, that we have time to explore several passions (Assuming some sort of financial stability), and sometimes, those passions shift. In short, life has a million potential paths. I've found it useful to try and pursue things one at a time, it helps me gauge what I like more and less and overall gives me a better idea of what I could see myself doing for the long term, although I see myself doing several different things in the future.
All of these little changes I've been working on have made me more appreciative on the path I'm on rather than overly focused on where I want to be. It's okay to set goals and dream about the future, but how we go about reaching our goals is how we spend most of our lives. Might as well learn to appreciate it for what it is along the way.