I live in Salt Lake City. If you’ve never been here, it’s a huge valley almost completely surrounded by majestic mountains. I live on the east bench of the mountains so my home overlooks the valley and I can see all the way to the mountains on the other side of it.
At this time of year, the mornings are kind of magical. When the sun comes up just before 7 A.M., because of the mountains, it’s not quite up. You can see that the light exists and that the sky is bright, but you can’t see the sunlight shining on anything because it has to make its way up and over the mountain first.
I wake my little one up for school at seven every day and for the hour that we’re getting her ready and out the door for school, the sun is slowly making its way across the valley. It’s one of my favorite things.
It starts with just a glimmer of sun on the tips of the west mountains and as it rises higher in the sky, more and more of the mountains are washed in a blanket of sunlight.
Then it makes its way down to the valley floor and across the valley. Every few minutes when we glance out, more of the valley is covered in sunlight, and then eventually it gets high enough that we are no longer in the shadow of the mountain here at my house and we get to feel some sun too.
It’s like the sunset, or fall leaves, or the blossoms in the spring to me, it’s just magical and mind-blowing every time. Even though I’ve seen it before and I know it’s coming, I still just find so much joy and wonder in it.
On one particular morning, I woke my daughter up as usual, and she ended up getting dressed and coming and snuggling with me in my bed. As we lay there, I looked out the window at the sunlight starting to hit the tops of the mountains and anticipated watching it make its way down the mountain as usual.
As I sat there and watched it, it occurred to me that it felt like it took an endless eternity to move. Sitting and staring at it trying to see it make progress seemed futile. The change was so imperceptibly small. As the seconds ticked by, I found myself thinking, “Is it stuck? Is it broken? What is happening?”
My typical routine of just sort of glancing at it as I pass the window throughout the morning is so fun because I could see the progress. I go about the business of getting my daughter ready and I look out and it’s moved all the way down the mountain.Then I do a few more things and I look out and it’s partway across the valley.
Every time I look in between tasks, it’s made some progress. But when I was staring at it, focused only on it, it seemed as slow as molasses. Sound familiar?
The value of presence
Thomas M. Sterner says in his book, The Practicing Mind, “When you focus your mind on where you want to end up, you are never where you are. And you exhaust your energy with unrelated thoughts instead of putting it into what you are doing.”
When it comes to our goals, being present in the process (rather than focusing on the end product) allows us to channel our energy into doing and practicing. That’s what moves us forward.
Presence is being fully engaged, rather than just passively observing. As I sat still and tried to watch the sun move, I felt agitated and impatient because I was focused on it getting somewhere else.
This is how we get with our goals. We look at our progress with the end in mind and we end up never being where we are. We’re in the past thinking about all the evidence that’s holding us back from success, or we’re future-focused on how far we still have to go.
It takes us out of the moment and uses the energy we could be pouring into making aligned decisions, practicing skills, and exercising patience now and it spends that energy instead on imaginary things that get us nowhere.
View weight loss as a process instead of a journey
I use the word journey frequently about the weight loss experience, but I think often that puts the experience in a more passive context. It’s just a thing that’s happening. It’s traveling from here to there.
What if instead we reframe it as a process? A series of actions or steps taken. When we do this it moves it from passive to progressive.
Sterner says, “When you focus your mind on the present moment, on the process of what you are doing right now, you’re always where you want to be and where you should be. All of your energy goes into what you are doing.”
Focus on the process, not the product
Now, here’s one aspect of this that I love. If your focus is on the product – losing 30 pounds – you won’t see all the little steps it’s going to take to get there.
If you instead focus on the process – eating on your plan, eating foods that feel good in your body, not eating when you’re full – you’re paying attention to what you’re doing now and the task at hand.
You get to feel successful at accomplishing that goal over and over all day long when you have your process broken down into small achievements. And, as I’ve talked about before, celebrating along the way is crucial to forming new habits that stick.
When we get present and focused on the process, we can then get to work practicing the skills we need to build to reach our goal, instead of thinking about how far we have to go, how long it will take, or how hard it will be.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we take our eye off the prize completely. We just use the goal as a rudder under the water, out of sight, to steer our practice instead of the measure of how we’re doing.
Practice, process, presence
Think about one aspect of the weight loss process that feels challenging to you right now. Maybe it’s planning ahead, maybe it’s dealing with urges and cravings, or maybe it’s the pace of the weight loss.
For most of us, what makes planning ahead challenging is our experience of it from the past. We have memories of it taking too long, being restrictive, or not knowing what to eat. It feels hard.
Or we have thoughts about the future. We worry about having to execute the plan and not wanting to. We think about having to say no to ourselves, not being able to be perfect at it and all the beating ourselves up that will commence when we are not.
This takes us out of the moment.
If we get present and focus on the process, all it requires is that we write something down. We write down foods that we want to eat tomorrow. We just have to think about what we like, what we want to eat, and write it down.
We practice making decisions from love.
We practice tuning into what our body wants.
We practice being realistic and kind with ourselves.
Then we exercise the quiet perseverance of patience as we practice, make adjustments, and improve.
You can tell you are focused on the product and not the process when you feel impatience or frustration or other forms of agitation kind of start to creep in. Those are signals to you that you are drifting out of now and into the past or future. Just notice this and bring yourself back to the present.
What is happening now? What is the process you are in? How can you be where you are?
The four S’s
I want to share with you the four S’s from The Practicing Mind. I think they’re great tools to help you as you focus on the process of getting to your goal, rather than just the product or the achievement of it in the end.
- Simplify – This is about being realistic. Ask, “What is the simplest version of this task or challenge,” and see how creative your brain will get to work breaking it down to a simpler form.
- Small – Break your bigger goal down into smaller sections. Instead of taking on planning all your food for the whole day or week, think smaller. Could you plan one meal or one snack ahead of time?
- Short – You can do anything for a short amount of time. Think of the parts of the process that you feel are important, but that your brain is telling you take too long or that you don’t have time for. How could you make them shorter and doable for you?
- Slow – We are in such a rush to get where we want to go. I think this concept of slowing down is key. When we slow down it forces us to pay attention, to notice what we are doing, thinking, feeling. Slowing down facilitates presence.
Think about what would happen if you slowed down during your meals – the prep, the cutting, the chewing.
If you incorporated slowness into each part, you might actually taste your food. You might notice colors and textures and smells. You might start to notice what it feels like in your body and be able to tune in to when you are full.
Slowing down allows you to be where you are and acknowledge what matters.
One of my favorite nuggets from this book that brings the four S’s together is this:
“Let’s just see if I can .”
Insert your simple, small, short, slow part of the process here and see what magic you can create.
Swimming versus treading water
The last thing I’ll leave you with is an analogy that illustrates this concept of slowing down and being where we are.
Imagine you want to swim across a small lake to a lovely grove of trees on the other side. If you put your head down and focus on moving your arms through the water and propelling yourself forward you will eventually get to the other side.
If you try to keep your eyes on the trees the whole time you are trying to move toward them, you will end up doggy paddling, treading water, and burning up massive amounts of energy with your ineffective swimming techniques.
In this analogy, we can see that focusing on the process of getting to the other side, rather than just on how far away the trees seem is what gets us where we want to be.
This seems pretty clear when you look at it this way.
Yet many of us are doggy paddling and slowly sinking, trying to keep our eye on the goal that doesn’t seem to be getting any closer.
Focus on the process. Not the product. Practice and have patience. You will get there and build so many skills in the process.
If you’re searching for a realistic, permanent weight loss solution that will actually work this time, learn more about my weight loss coaching program.