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Trust the Process

I was reminded recently about the power of trusting in the process.

We are so outcome-driven as a society these days. It makes perfect sense because results show us not only that we achieved our goal, but how *much* we've achieved it. For example, let's say a person wants to lose weight. They can set a goal for how much weight they've lost, but numbers illustrate their progress so that it's not just blind action-taking; numbers help show us what's working and not working. Or, more abstractly, an organization meant to serve the community may work towards a noble goal like feeding the underserved or providing therapeutic services to families, but we don't know how effective those efforts are unless we find ways to measure the results.

Sometimes, the goals seem simple: Whether we want to move to a different home, read a book, or bake a cake, we'll know that the goal has been accomplished once the desired outcome has been achieved. We'll be moved into the home. We'll have read the whole book. We'll have a cake.

Funnily enough, we don't think about how goals are frequently broken down into steps. Moving entails packing things and coordinating how to get all those things from one place to the next. Reading a book involves getting through each chapter. Baking a cake involves steps regarding how each ingredient is introduced, mixed, and heated. In fact, research shows that breaking goals down into achievable tasks helps the person feel much more motivated to engage in them.

Something may feel impossible when we look at an outcome that can seem grandiose or far-off, but breaking things down into tasks and smaller goals along the way makes it much more digestible for our brains. When I first started out on my PhD journey, the research dissertation felt like an alien language! The idea of getting workable results seemed foreign. But as my professors continued to explain, trust the process. Focus on the process, not the outcomes. The outcomes will come naturally as a result of the process.

Relatedly, I watched a continuing education video yesterday about helping people with anxiety, and the same thing was repeated as a way to help overcome anxiety: Trust the process and experience the moment of going through something, rather than thinking about the future and where you *think* you should be. Anxiety is not always a bad thing (even though it can feel that way!). Focus on what you are doing and trust that it will turn out however it needs to go.

For example, someone who has anxiety about finding a job can focus on the job search process instead of anticipating whether or not they will get contacted by potential employers. Someone with social anxiety can focus on the act of engaging with others rather than worrying about what will happen after the conversation. Another person working on a thesis can focus on the writing and following the correct structure rather than worrying about whether or not their advisor will like it. The part we are worrying about is the desired outcome, of course, but worrying about it is less productive than actually following the process that we know will lead us to success. And focusing on the process helps us stay mindful and in the moment with these anxiety-producing situations, which is another deterrent to letting our anxiety take control of us.

Of course, all that is easier said than done. It takes practice, and the development of a process or plan for how to pursue the goal. However, following that process allows us to shift our minds to the present and to focus on what we are doing, rather than to become absorbed in worry. Fear and feeling "not good enough" often come from worrying that we need to be able to accomplish unrealistic feats, whereas following a realistic process allows us to accomplish what is just right.

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