Appreciating the roads we travel

The downside of wanting it all…and wanting it NOW

By: Larry Hirschowitz

One can often see a twinkle in their eyes when speaking to the more mature members of our community about the good old days. Despite the incredible challenges of those early years in Jewish South Africa, there is a sense that life was calmer and more serene.

In current times, conversations around dinner tables frequently centre on the stresses of modern-day life; economics, politics, family squabbles, etc. Despite having more material possessions today than ever before, it appears that we are less happy. Research actually suggests that once one’s income affords a reasonably comfortable life, having more money does not increase happiness. In fact, the more materialistic a person is, the more likely they are to get depressed and experience lower self-esteem.

Our consumerist culture encourages the paradigm that the more we have, the happier we will be. We are all aware of this not-so-subtle message that creeps into our consciousness. We recall the famous song by Queen – I want it all and I want it now. The message is clear and we are aware of the global narcissism that this dictum has cultivated.

However, there is another angle to this discussion. Our endeavours to have it all and to have it now have progressively battered our ability to tolerate frustration and discomfort. We are obsessed with seeking efficiency in all our daily activities. We have become a goal-driven world with little regard for process. It’s the end that counts, so let’s get there as quickly and as painlessly as possible. The process is an inconvenience, or at best a mere distraction when we strive to become more efficient.

We teach our children to study hard in order to achieve good marks, and if their results are poor, they deem their efforts to be a waste. However, if we change our perspective and encourage studying for the value of the learning process itself, as well as for one’s own personal development, so much more is gained. This is a process-driven perspective, in contrast to the traditional goal-driven perspective. The experience of gaining knowledge through effort is incredibly fulfilling, which in turn builds intrinsic motivation. The latter is well-established by research to be better associated with success than the motivator of material reward.

Perhaps the best analogy and the most apt for this time of year is the journey to the holiday destination. While trying to bear the discomfort of sitting in the car for inordinate lengths of time we attempt to reduce the distress by distraction. The more technology available, the more distraction we have to escape the discomfort of the journey.

If the lengthy drive is only perceived as a means to reach the destination, we lose the opportunity the process provides. However, we can also view the journey as a wonderful start to the holiday. It provides an opportunity to connect with our families. It also allows for the appreciation of the beauty of the extensive landscape through which we travel. This is living in the present and living in the process.

People who are goal-driven focus on the future and tend to be more anxious. In contrast, people who embrace the process are grounded in the present and tend to be less stressed in general.

The work year begins with the goal of getting back to the beach in the December holidays. We endure work throughout the year and become increasingly excited as the holiday time approaches. We finally get to our destination and schlepp the umbrellas, chairs, and cooler bags to the beach. We set up, this is the moment…we finally settle into our chairs…and after 5 minutes, now what? Boredom seeps in…what can I do to distract myself from the process of enjoying the moment…? So, I search for my phone.

There are numerous tools and techniques that facilitate a process-driven consciousness.

The rapidly developing field of mindfulness is significantly beneficial. On a simple level, mindfulness involves focussing on one’s immediate situation. This means that one is totally immersed in the present. One technique is making ourselves conscious of the sensory input we are experiencing at a particular moment, becoming aware of the sounds, smells, physical sensations, etc., that we are experiencing. We allow our thoughts to flow without analysis or judgment and just stay in the present moment.

The art of mindfulness is a lengthy and complex process and beyond the scope of an article. There are numerous books, programmes, and courses available on this topic.

Another approach to developing a process-driven mind-set is through celebrating one’s efforts. Adults attach their self-worth to their achievements, yet most parents and educators encourage the exact opposite paradigm in their children and students. Students are awarded certificates for most improved and the like. Parents frequently indicate that they are less concerned about school marks as long as their child tries his or her best.

While we encourage the value of process in our children, we do not afford ourselves the same “luxury” as adults. This means that all the work we do is valueless, if the outcome is not successful. It is essential to note that a process-driven mind-set does not preclude the value of outcomes. Results or outcomes are clearly essential for survival. Nevertheless, there is tremendous benefit in valuing each and every step in our journey.

A suggested mechanism to develop appreciation for our own efforts is to examine the words we use (internally) to evaluate ourselves and compare these words to the ways in which we would respond to our children. The language we use has incredibly powerful influences over our thoughts and feelings. Becoming aware of self-descriptive language and transforming it to an encouraging and appreciative narrative facilitates the acquisition of a mind-set that not only appreciates outcomes, but also values the process of working toward our goals.

This is particularly pertinent to the onset of a new year. New projects begin and rather than looking only toward the next upcoming vacation, use this opportunity to start the process of cherishing each step of the journey.

Larry Hirschowitz is registered as an Educational Psychologist. He holds an MA in Psychology and an M.Ed in Educational Psychology. He has many years of experience in private practice and school environments. He currently works at Yeshiva College, as well as in private practice. He focuses on counselling, assessment, and educational guidance.


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