I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about habits, productivity, and solving procrastination. Through this research, journaling, and self-reflection, I’ve come to learn that I could be significantly more productive in my life if I apply just one rule to all my thoughts:
Focus on the process. Not the Goal.
How I got to this
While down in the dumps during my first year of law school, I did a lot of soul searching to figure out why I was so depressed and shook that year. Before that year, getting good grades was easy for me. Easy to the point that I didn’t always care to try as hard as I could for good grades.
My main focus was not shooting for straight A’s in all my classes. I wanted to learn. I didn’t want to excel at wrote memorization. I didn’t care for cramming a subject and dumping everything after a final exam. I wanted to dive into a topic and actually understand it inside and out.
It’s why I didn’t make straight-A’s my priority. You can apply certain tricks and methods to be able to push your mind to the point of getting straight A’s. But most of these tricks rely on short term learning, excelling at a test for only one given day, and then focusing on the next subject. That’s not learning a subject. That’s learning how to take a test.
It’s one of the main reasons I never liked standardized testing. I did really well on standardized testing throughout my education years. But I never felt like that was encouraging me to actually learn anything. Learning is getting to a point of true mastery where you can engage in a subject. Learning isn’t memorizing how the evaluators are going to score your exam and only focusing on those scores.
I used to focus on the process of learning and not the goal of straight A’s. And that worked for most my life. I learned how to become a computer engineer and develop software and then was able to learn the law enough to get my bar card. (Don’t get me started on the bar exam and how that’s just wrote memorization of a bunch of subjects for 2 days)
Enjoying the journey
Focusing on the process isn’t just for learning. When I was a little boy my family had the opportunity to go on a fair amount of road trips. Even though I love rockets and airplanes and everything aviation, I preferred taking a road trip over a flight because it made the process of vacationing more fun!
This is something I didn’t realize until I went on the first road trip with my girlfriend. She didn’t go on any long road trips as a kid. So I had the chance to share my family’s ways of packing snacks and drinks that satisfied any craving, kept you gassed up, and didn’t leave behind a massive mess. I got to show off navigating with a paper map instead of blindly following a GPS. And we experienced the ultimate form of meditation: cruising on an open highway for hundreds of miles as you continuously roll to your destination. This was enjoying the process in all its glory. Looking back on that trip, I realize that I have so many more memories of the actually trip itself than the destinations we drove to.
The reason why I’m talking about all this
I’m writing about this today because I’ve realized that for the past few years, I’ve been focusing on the wrong thing. I’ve been focusing only on the end goal of every action that I do. That has been killing me inside.
I set myself up for emotional failure. In my work, I set myself up for wanting to win each and every case even though it’s not possible to win every one. As a public defender, the odds are heavily stacked against me and yet I still thought I could beat them. This resulted in large hit to my sense of self-worth.
Outside of work, I tried exploring dozens of hobbies to see if that could get my mind straight. But I went through the same defeating process every time. I would research a hobby to figure out how to achieve true mastery instead of just starting and learning as I go. This would inevitably result in me quitting a hobby because every time I started, I would see how bad I was at the hobby, how it would take me years to master said hobby, and I would end the present day dejected that I wasn’t at the level that I wanted to be.
I was focusing on the goal. And this was hurting my mental health.
Snapping out of it
This realization came about from reading the book Atomic Habits. I’ll be honest, I feel like the book is heavily derivative of Tiny Habits by B.J. Fogg. (If you want to learn more about the science of developing habits, I strongly suggest you check that book out.) But Atomic Habits did help me with taking the skills I learned from Tiny Habits and figuring out how to actually apply them.
Tiny Habits is a great resource for learning how to ditch bad habits and getting good habits to stick. I’ve applied that method to a couple of habits that I wanted to develop and, so far, it seems to work. What the Tiny Habits method didn’t do for me was help me find out which habits I should be focusing on. This is where Atomic Habits came in handy.
While “Atomic” definitely sounds tinier than “Tiny,” I think Atomic Habits does a good job at making me take a step back and looking at the big picture of my life. It has helped me reevaluate my thought processes and figure out areas in which I can improve. One of the key takeaways has been this post, right here.
I still have a good portion of the book to get through. But looking at the Table of Contents, I think it’s going to be a lot of the same from Tiny Habits. Out of the whole book, the first few chapters are going to be the key takeaway for me and what I will implement going forward in my life.
If you haven’t read Tiny Habits yet, I would absolutely recommend Atomic Habits. If you have read Atomic Habits and want to take a deeper dive in the science behind habit formation, take a look at Tiny Habits!