Our goals give us the direction necessary to expend our energy, to feel inspired and motivated. But if we focus only on the moment we will achieve our goal, we lose the ability to focus on doing the work it takes to actually get there. This leads to a sense of struggle and an impatience with the process.
So, how do we break this pattern? How do we reconnect to the moment-by-moment experience of achieving? It's a lot simpler than most people realize.
And then what?
It starts with the mantra, "And then what?" This phrase refocuses us on the process and on the present. It calms us and improves performance.
When I was in my late teens, I was studying jazz improvisation with perhaps the best jazz pianist in my area, Don. One day after a lesson, Don sat down at the piano as I was packing up and started casually playing. He said to me offhandedly that if he didn’t work harder, he would never really get good at playing. I was stunned. He was the best I’d ever heard. I told him if I could play as well as he could, I’d be content to do nothing but sit and listen to myself play all day long.
He smiled and said thoughtfully, "You know, that’s what I said to my teacher years ago when I first heard him play." Up until that moment I had felt that if I could play like Don, I would feel truly happy. His skill level as a musician was years beyond mine. Yet despite what he had achieved, the level of skill he had acquired, he still had that feeling of waiting to feel like he'd "arrived."
Always looking to the next achievement and not celebrating the progress you have made cultivates a feeling of exhaustion and dissatisfaction. We all know this on some level, yet we continue the cycle over and over.
If you’re practicing or learning something difficult and find yourself feeling frustrated and impatient, let that become a reminder that you are not focused on the present moment. You're fixated on some point in the distant future. Besides making you feel miserable, this state of mind severely limits your ability to perform.
To escape this mindset, stop and ask yourself, "And then what?"
Take a moment to put yourself in the future, to see yourself crossing the finish line of your effort. Will that moment change your life forever? Will you never feel any longing again? Will you feel completely realized as an individual?
The answer is always no. It's only satisfying to meet goals that were challenging to achieve. Otherwise, the achievement is meaningless. We crave opportunities to challenge ourselves and grow beyond our limits. That finish line, that goal is a milestone by which we can measure our growth. Crossing the finish line lasts a fraction of a second. The feeling of satisfaction comes from the pride of having run the race. And then what?