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

See also

  1. 3 simple strategies to help you focus and de-stress
  2. 3 ways to become more stress resilient
  3. 3 ways to learn patience and amp up your well-being
  4. 4 proven ways you can feel happier
  5. 5 ways to bring play back into your life
  6. A Very Happy Brain
  7. Adapt to put stress in its place
  8. Anger management: Your questions answered
  9. Are your holidays a dietary free-for-all?
  10. Balancing work and life responsibilities
  11. Being assertive
  12. Bridge pose
  13. Can yoga help me keep caregiver stress in check?
  14. Caregiver stress
  15. Caregiver stress
  16. Cat/cow pose
  17. Chase away the winter blues
  18. Child's pose
  19. Cobra
  20. Control email to regain control of your life
  21. Coping with excess information
  22. Coping with job stress
  23. Coronavirus grief
  24. COVID-19 and your mental health
  25. Destress with breathing
  26. Denial
  27. Does stress make rheumatoid arthritis worse?
  28. Downward-facing dog
  29. Dreading a family holiday gathering?
  30. Ease stress to reduce your psoriasis flares
  31. Feeling overwhelmed? Take a break
  32. Forgiveness
  33. Great expectations: How to keep them from creating unhappiness
  34. Have you had a good laugh today?
  35. Holidays don't have to break the bank
  36. How decluttering your space could make you healthier and happier
  37. How sharing kindness can make you healthier & happier
  38. Job burnout
  39. Job satisfaction
  40. Laugh more, stress less
  41. Learn to reduce stress through mindful living
  42. Learn to say no and enjoy the holidays
  43. Lifestyle strategies for pain management
  44. Manage stress through problem-solving
  45. Manage stress to improve psoriatic arthritis symptoms
  46. Mountain pose
  47. Need better work-life balance?
  48. Stress-relief tips
  49. New School Anxiety
  50. Perfect holiday? Forget about it!
  51. Pet therapy
  52. Positive thinking
  53. Problem-solving
  54. Resilience
  55. Say no, to say yes to less stress
  56. Seated spinal twist
  57. Setbacks and criticism — Don't let them derail you
  58. Slide show: Yoga poses
  59. Social support: Tap this tool to beat stress
  60. Spirituality and stress relief
  61. Standing forward bend
  62. Stress and high blood pressure
  63. Stress and technology
  64. Holiday stress
  65. Prevent stress setbacks
  66. Stress relief from laughter
  67. How to say no
  68. Stress relievers
  69. Stressed out? Skip the late show
  70. Stressed? Set yourself up for success
  71. Support groups
  72. The power of positive thinking
  73. Tired of feeling hassled? Try these tips
  74. To manage anxiety, start with the way you think
  75. Use the 80/20 rule to manage time and reduce stress
  76. Warrior 1
  77. What is hot yoga?
  78. What is reflexology?
  79. Why aromatherapy is showing up in hospital surgical units
  80. Work-life balance