In the previous section of this blog post, we described how you can identify if you are contributing to your stress at work by focusing too much on progress. In this section, we first dwell on why we sub-consciously develop this mindset. Then, we move on to describe what we can do to avoid over-focusing on progress.
Why does Preoccupation with Progress Occur?
– ‘If I do not continuously look out for progress, I will grow complacent’ –
As psychotherapists, we see a lot of people who function around this thought. You probably keep ‘checking’ and ‘monitoring’ whether things are going right and whether you are moving in the right direction. Have you tried to understand why you do this? Possibly, you check excessively for progress because somewhere, you fear being left behind. Many of us believe that if we do not consistently check if we are progressing enough, we would get complacent. This thought is inaccurate. It is basic human nature to grow and develop. We are automatically attracted towards growth, not towards stagnation. Think about a situation where you were really stagnating. Didn’t you sense it? Surely, you would have had an unpleasant feeling you wanted to change. You would have automatically wished to do something about the situation. The very fact that stagnation is unpleasant means that you wouldn’t choose to be in that state. You would naturally work towards growth even if you don’t pressurize yourself to do so.
– ‘Minor events could be Indicators of Major Consequences’-
Some of you may believe unknowingly that minor events, such as your boss pointing out a few flaws in your work, are indicators of major consequences, such as ‘the boss dislikes me’, or ‘he is probably not going to allow me to head projects now”. You may try reasoning out, saying, ‘Im not saying it will happen, Im only saying it may happen’. But somewhere, internally, the apprehension remains. You may keep wondering whether…just whether your chances of progress have been affected. It’s like a ‘you never know’ is always operating in your thought processes making you overestimate the impact that minor events can have. Your boss’s overall impression of you is going to matter much more than small things gone wrong with your work. What is the real probability that you would be denied a pay raise/promotion because of minor glitches? Very little. If you come across as overall efficient, motivated and diligent, smaller things going wrong occasionally would not pose a real barrier to progress.
– If Everybody’s talking about it, It must be the Right way to Think! –
Everybody has casual discussions about work. You may encounter a lot of people who repetitively discuss their chances of progress. Slowly and again unknowingly, you think that because many people talk about it, it is the right thing to do. But this isn’t necessarily true! Frequent discussion of this sort can reinforce in your mind that focusing fervently on progress is needed in order to be successful. You need to remind yourself that over-focusing on progress can stress you out and is not necessarily healthy.
How can We Better Manage such a Preoccupation?
– Understand that a Mindset is different from Reality –
When you believe that focusing solely on progress will lead to progress, it is a mindset. It reflects your perception of reality and not reality itself. Perceptions, if believed in strongly can lead you to focus excessively on some aspects of reality at the cost of others. It is similar to seeing splashes of red in a painting and calling it a red painting. It makes you miss out on the hues of green, blue and yellow in it. Similarly, because you are preoccupied with progress, you focus only on where you stand in the ladder. This makes you miss out on understanding other, healthier aspects of work. You don’t notice the way you are growing and developing with each day of work, how you are gradually able to take better decisions, how you take lesser time in completing tasks than you did before and how the sheer joy of working feels. You miss out on so much, in return for what? Is it truly worth it?
– Understand that Progress needs Time –
We all need our own time and space with tasks before we grow comfortable with them, learn them well and master them. When you focus excessively on progress, you don’t allow your mind this space to grasp and learn. You don’t allow yourself the time that everybody needs to progress. Pushing yourself to learn at a rapid pace and pressurizing yourself not to make mistakes is demanding too much from your mind. This makes you tense, stressing you out. When we say, ‘don’t have unrealistic demands’, it applies not just to you versus others, it also applies to you versus you! Be fair to yourself and allow yourself the time to grow and progress.
– Be in the Present –
When you focus excessively on progress, your mind is constantly evaluating the future. In the bargain, you fail to absorb completely events occurring in the present. If you find yourself making silly errors or forgetting minor but important details, it is usually because you are preoccupied with how you will perform. Again, isn’t this preoccupation coming at the cost of your performance itself? Imagine, if you weren’t all the time thinking about how the task will turn out and instead focused on the task itself, would you have forgotten those details? Or made those silly errors?
Attending to the task at hand right now with all your resources will actually see you understanding, internalizing and therefore executing its nuances much better. When we absorb things more elaborately, we always perform better. Think back to the time you were completely absorbed by your task and carried it through for the joy of doing it, without worrying about how it would affect your chances of progress. Didn’t you develop a deeper understanding of the task? And execute it well too? Maybe you were also able to apply your learning to other related tasks as well. Being in the present can help you a great great deal.
We’d like to leave you with an analogy. Compare the work scenario to a scenario of mountain climbing. While climbing a mountain, it is more important to be mindful of each step one takes rather than watching out for the peak. An excessive focus on the peak of the mountain or on the topmost rung of the ladder can cost you in a number of ways. It leaves you frustrated with your current standing, day after day and makes you feel you’re not good enough. Forcing yourself to climb quick could lead you to take a miscalculated step and fall, because you were too preoccupied to notice moss-laden pebbles along the way. Lastly, when you actually reach the peak you so wanted to, you are unhappy. Unhappy because you took so long to get there.
An excessive focus on progress may well delay progress instead of accelerating it. Give each job your best, not because you need to move ahead, but because you enjoy doing your best. Notice the difference 🙂
Post contributed by: Sadia Raval and Malini Krishnan
Malini is a Clinical Psychologist and she worked with adolescents and young adults at Inner Space, from 2010 to 2015.