Why do so many people take so much time to worry about the future, yet spend a minimal amount of time to take a breath, look back and see how far they’ve come? Asking for a friend…
I recently updated my CV in order to apply to a few different jobs and scholarships after graduating from university (made it!) so I started to think about my strengths, my soft and hard skills, the accomplishments I could write about in order to present myself as a potential employee. Although I had just reached an important milestone in my professional career, and although I should have been pushed and carried by the satisfaction, joy and self-confidence that you expect when reaching the end of a three-year-long path, I struggled greatly to come up with the positives about my person and my professional capacities. Why?
Whenever I promise myself that there will be a reward at the end of any challenge I set, I’m really just lying to myself.
I believe I am one of many people who tend to minimise their wins and maybe even take their achievements for granted because they have high expectations of themselves. Whenever I reach any goal I’ve set for myself, a goal I had set in order to motivate myself to become better at what I do, to become more qualified in my domain or to become a better version of myself, I take very little time to congratulate myself. And while I’m a fond believer of the cue-routine-rewards formula that is at the centre of Charles Duhigg’s ‘The Power of Habit’ and refined in James Clear’s ‘Atomic Habits’ (two books I highly recommend if you’re looking to understand how habits work, how they influence the way we live our lives and how you can change them), I often overlook the ‘reward’ part of that formula. So whenever I promise myself that there will be a reward at the end of any challenge I set (apart from the obvious reward such as receiving a degree), I’m really just lying to myself. I tell myself that I will take the time to look back at all the work I did, take into account all the hours I spent on research, acknowledge all the times when I worked when others didn’t, and that I will finally allow myself to feel a sense of fulfilment, of having reached the destination I set out to reach. But these moments remain very rare.
The problem is that, although I have so far been able to keep up the lie with myself, there will come a moment when this system won’t work anymore because the goal I’m working towards in itself is not enough to keep myself dedicated to it. Since my brain constantly observes that it isn’t rewarded with the time to reflect on a successful past in order to produce dopamine (the ‘happy hormone’), staying motivated will become increasingly challenging. And even though I have read about these things, even though I think I have learned how to wire my brain in order for it to perform as I wish, I still catch myself worrying about the potentially troublesome future in times when I should celebrate how far I’ve come.
The importance of tomorrow does not invalidate the relevance of yesterday.
I’m certainly not an advocate of ignoring the future; so much of what we do today will influence the lives we live tomorrow, we do shape our future with everything we do in the present and this should certainly not be neglected. You can’t ignore the future and it will catch up with you sooner or later. But!! the importance of tomorrow does not invalidate the relevance of yesterday. Every achievement is worth being honoured. We tend to forget many of the struggles we went through when we think of past challenges and consequently downplay their worth.
That is why it is so important to take a veeery deep breath, to take as much time as you need to contemplate the walk you’ve walked so far, so that you can remember the days when you pushed through work although you felt sick, when you gave that presentation although you hated public speaking, when you pulled an all-nighter to study when all you wanted to do was sleep. This is where you will be able to build your confidence and grow the belief in yourself: by reminding yourself that you already are all these things. That is how you’ll master the future you’re so afraid of.
Celebrate your wins and take them with you wherever you go. Learn to use the past to your advantage and the future will be a much less scary place.