Submitted by Laura Deeter, firstname.lastname@example.org
I recently reread Ben Bergeron’s excellent book Chasing Excellence, and I’m respectfully playing off his title for this article. For those that don’t know, Mr. Bergeron is an elite CrossFit coach. He’s coached the 4-time CrossFit Games winner Mat Fraser, as well as 3-time Games winner Tia-Claire Toomey. He has a lot to say about mindset and its relationship to success. I highly recommend the book, his podcast, and his YouTube channel. He believes the mind is the key to success; in CrossFit we call this a weaponized mind. A mind that cannot be shaken from its journey no matter the obstacles, a mind that recognizes the process is the key to success. And he says a large portion of our problems stem from the wrong definition of success.
What is success? Ask 100 people, get 100 answers. I’ve often asked this of my students. Their answers are predictable: money, family, good business, nice car (ok truck), fancy house, taking vacations. I personally believe a lot of us would define success in this manner. External factors are always our goals. Get good grades to get into a good college. Get good grades to get a good job. Get a good job to make money. Make money to buy things. The goal is always external. Professors fall into this trap as well. Do this work to get this grade to pass this class. Do this, get this reward.
In these …. surreal times, reminding ourselves that the journey is the important aspect is paramount. Our journey just abruptly took a hard right, one that, I for one, didn’t see coming. But we are all still on a journey. The journey to be professors, writers, lecturers, students, administrators…insert your own title here. This journey also includes being a: parent, sibling, spouse, significant other…again insert your family roles. The important thing to note here, is while the way we travel this journey is now altered, the fact remains we are all still on a journey. A journey to become better versions of ourselves. THAT is the ultimate goal; become the best version of you.
I’m not saying don’t have external goals. Humans are goal-oriented, and it’s good to have goals. Set a goal to get the A, the promotion, the raise, the nice car. Those are admirable goals. External motivation helps keep us going when internal motivation goes on vacation. But, the attainment of the goal isn’t the key to happiness. The process of attaining the goal is the secret. Fall in love with the process, and the goals will eventually happen. Is your goal to get an A? What process is needed? Attending class, taking notes, reviewing the notes, looking at old exams, completing all the assigned work/reading, and maybe even a little last-minute cramming are all parts of the process. I will admit, it is hard to fall in love with doing problem sets over and over and over, but the weaponized mind recognizes this as a necessary part of the process. The process is what sets up success, not the goal. The goal is simply a result. The goal is constantly changing, but the process of goal attainment doesn’t generally change much. Find the process, learn the process, specialize in the process and the goals will happen. Loving the process means happiness no matter the goal because the goal isn’t the end-game. The weaponized mind loves the process and will not be distracted from the process.
What does this mean for our students? It means helping them see the process, helping them to visualize distractions and process how to overcome them. It means teaching them that if they have done the work and can honestly say they gave their very best effort on something, the end result doesn’t matter. If the goal is an A, and the student gets a B are they a failure because they didn’t attain their goal? If the goal is the most important thing, then yes, they might feel they aren’t cut out for this, they gave their all and the result was disappointing. “I studied all night long and I only got a B”. But the student who gave their all on the process recognizes the B doesn’t matter because the journey IS the end result!
All processes need analysis and tweaking. We need to show the students how to do this as well. It means helping them analyze their process to look for places where gaps exist. Did they really spend 4 hours studying? Or were they sitting at their desk for 4 hours, but half of it was really spent on their phone? Their studying process might need to change. Turn the phone off and read for 10 minutes. If that is too long, read for 5 minutes. Then look at the phone for 3 minutes. If flash cards don’t work, find a different process. The student who struggles to read could watch a video, or listen to directions. Continually tweak the process.
Find happiness in the discovery and implementation of the process. It’s a mindset shift for most people; it was a huge mindset shift for me as well. But I’m happier as a result. The process will lead to happiness, not the goal. This shift in mindset allowed me to remain calm in the face of uncertainty. OSU says “move everything online”. Old me would panic, come up with reasons I cannot. New me acknowledges this is difficult and indeed might even suck, but it is what it is. I will not be swayed by distractions on the goal to learning/teaching. What is the process now? What are the steps. Find the process.
Like everything humans do, this takes practice and practice takes time. Practice on the little things. One assignment, one project, one small distraction. Recognize a lifetime of mental thoughts and reactions won’t change overnight. But learning to weaponize the mind builds mental fortitude, something a lot of folks lack. It is NOT ignoring feelings and emotions. It is acknowledging them, and even in the face of uncertainty, unhappiness, etc finding the process to get things done. Loving this process is success, not the end result.
"Happiness is not found on the other side of achievement. (We need) to find happiness/fulfillment in the process of chasing that goal. The chase to betterment itself is what we should be striving for." Ben Bergeron