How to focus on the present for long-term progress

Sometimes, the big picture can make your head spin. Here's how to let go of worries about the future for a minute and set yourself up for real progress.

"Focus on the long game" is common advice for making healthy changes. Just say no to that second donut. Think about your long-term health. Practice self-control.

The reality: Often our brains are wired for instant gratification, so sometimes they need help with long-game thinking. Pondering the importance of your big, future goals can leave you feeling overwhelmed.

How will I ever get there? I've already failed, so what's the point of trying?

If the pressure of a big, long-term goal is making your brain spiral, it might be time to reset and focus on the here and now. After all, it's the small decisions you make every day that lead to big progress.

So have a strategy for the moments when everything feels too big.

Step 1: Take 3 deep breaths. It can help to try breathing in for five seconds and out for seven seconds, three times. Focusing on your breath gives you time to calm your body and mind.

Step 2: Check in without judgment. What are you feeling? What are you thinking? Take a minute to look at what's on your mind and your reaction to it. And here's the key: Practice observing, all judgments aside. This is a time to see what you can learn about yourself.

Step 3: Talk back to that voice in your head. Self-compassion means talking to ourselves the way a good friend would talk to us. When you notice negative self-talk, step back. Practice a kinder, more flexible way of thinking.

For example, your brain says "I can't do this because I'm not a hard worker." Try something different. "I'm moving in the right direction." After a while, these positive thoughts can start to stick.

Step 4: Do one small thing. What can you do in the next five minutes, hour or day that can help you move toward your goal? Maybe it's taking a 10-minute walk before your next meeting. Or going to bed 15 minutes earlier. Doing something, even if it's small, can help you build the confidence and the momentum you need to keep going.

May 29, 2019 See more In-depth

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