If someone were to ask me how I’m doing at the moment, I’d feel the pressure to lie through my teeth and tell them that I’ve never been better. Given the series of events that have unfolded in my life as of late — from getting slammed with exams to losing sight of the long-term goal — this could not be any less true.
Being overworked and feeling imbalanced is a theme the Fall semester builds that has a sense of annuity to it. I recall feeling similarly last year and felt this pressure to keep it to myself. I’m still searching for an answer as to why people experience hardship and feel pressured to reserve themselves. This sense of isolation that comes with keeping your problems to yourself only tends to do more damage. With that, I’m trying to practice transparency by making more efforts to talk through the things that bother me with a friend; though, this can become challenging in practice when you have trouble pinpointing problem areas in your life.
You need to start understanding your why factor and setting goals to strategically approach anything that might currently be or have the potential to become a hurdle in your life. For instance, I have recurring meetings for two obligations that frequently overlap. I have to determine the first priority and cancel certain meetings in order to attend the next one. In my experience as a chronically busy person, prioritization has helped a lot with sifting through my sometimes never-ending to-do lists.
Even with good habits like prioritization, I find myself sitting at a place in my life where I struggle to strike a balance. At the moment, it feels like there’s barely even enough time to address problematic thought patterns and fixations. I know many students can relate to feeling like there’s not enough time to be a student. The pre-professional atmosphere at Cornell can become overbearing at times when you’re being pulled in every direction all at once. It’s in these times that it’s most important to remember what our long-term goals are –– far too many people forget exactly what or why they are working towards something without realizing that the experience of getting to the end goal is just as important as achieving it. I think of the cliché phrase: “Life is about the journey, not the destination” which reminds me that I should be wistfully willing to move more quickly.
Identifying the “why” factor that motivates you to set long-term goals doesn’t have to be elaborate or unusually serpentine –– for instance, it’s perfectly okay to be money-motivated. A “why” factor might look like wanting to make positive contributions to the world. It’s also common to have multiple “why” factors; there aren’t any rules to finding sources of inspiration in your life to help you achieve those long-term goals. These will be the motivating factors that pull you out of a slump when you’re struggling to find a silver lining to face adversity with ease.
Instead of engaging with your negative thoughts and feeling sorry for yourself, try practicing a healthy habit to find encouragement. It’s also quite important to stay honest with yourself — I notice that whenever I am falling into a negative thought pattern I tend to sugarcoat things. I can think of several times that I’ve maybe taken an exam and underperformed but chose to respond with leniency letting myself know that everyone has bad days. In truth, this has never pushed me to change my behavior and habits — if anything it encourages me to continue down the same path. I recommend reading a book in your free hours, the prospect of putting your phone down and taking time away from the internet can help reveal the true state of your mind. Even more, it can be an educational read under the self-help genre offering insights on addressing problem areas in your life. I recommend two reads as a starting point: Unwinding Anxiety by Dr. Judson Brewer among other classics like Atomic Habits by James Clear.
My main takeaways from these books are regarding anxiety habit loops and feedback loops. Dr. Bewer best recognizes an anxiety habit loop as a “framework for thinking about how habits are formed and destroyed” with three components. The first is looking for your triggers; the second is a behavior attached to this trigger; the third is the result. When recognizing your anxiety habit loops you’ll identify a negative habit that impacts your behavior and achieve new tiers of accomplishment. The next is a general feedback loop as noted by Clear — an idea centered around action and reward to regulate a bad habit. Clear describes this in terms of “cue, craving, response, [and] reward,” where the reward can act as short-term motivation to build a long-term habit and bring you closer to your goal.
Write down your why-factor(s) and think more carefully about the sources of inspiration in your life. If you’re like me and tend to fall into negative patterns you need to identify sources of inspiration and focus on the long-term.
Adam Senzon is a second-year student in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. His fortnightly column My Two-Sents covers a plethora of topics ranging from advice on navigating life challenges to more complex topics of injustice within the law, labor and sustainability. He can be reached at [email protected].
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