For the last several weeks, we’ve discussed topics that pertain to themes that pop up around this time of year: Reflection and forward thinking. This week’s conversation builds on the conversations from the last few weeks and leans into the forward thinking that many people often engage in at this time of year.
That’s always the question that athletes are asking…both of themselves and of fellow athletes. An athlete will no sooner cross a finish line or accomplish a goal, and someone - sometimes themselves, sometimes someone else - is asking, “What’s next?”
In fact, it’s not uncommon for athletes to be asking this question even before they accomplish one goal. The most common reason I’ve encountered for this is that many athletes fear not having a goal. So, they make sure they have one even before they know if or how they are going to achieve their current one.
I find both of these situations to be problematic. In both cases, the athlete (and anybody else who is thinking about “What’s next?”) is thinking ahead to the future. No matter how much we may like to think that we can multitask and do many things at once, it’s not actually possible. We can divert our attention and do several things, but we will not be doing any of them as well as we could be if we remained focused and undistracted on a single thing. So, when we think ahead to the future, we are by default not focusing our attention and energy on the present, which means we are compromising our potential in our present goals.
This focus on the future robs us of the opportunity to see even greater gains and goal accomplishment in our present. Who knows what we might have accomplished if we put most - if not all - of our energy into our current goal and current training and if we were not distracting ourselves from that by thinking about “What’s next?”
Shed the Default Setting
As humans, it’s not unusual for us to be focusing on the future, on what is next. In fact, it’s honestly wired into us; on a primal level we evolved to be forward thinking, especially when it came to considering elements of survival, such as food and shelter. It is in the best interests of our species if we are thinking about the rainy days or winters ahead so we don’t starve or die of exposure to the elements when they do come.
So, given that we’ve evolved to be forward thinking when it comes to our survival, it makes sense that the behavior would carry over into our lives as athletes. Simply put, forward thinking is a “default setting” for our species. But just because it’s part of our “default setting” (and therefore easy) to look ahead doesn’t mean that we should always do it for all circumstances that we encounter in our lives. Here’s one of the most important things I’ve learned in both life and from being an athlete:
If we’re always focused on “What’s next?” or The Next Big Thing, we are depriving ourselves of the opportunity to be happy and fulfilled now.
It’s Not a Bad Thing
Now, don’t misunderstand me. Looking forward to what is next or to our Next Big Thing isn’t inherently a bad thing. We can and should set goals for ourselves and remain optimistic about our futures. But it’s so very important to balance that forward thinking with being present enough in the now to see the truth: There are Big Things and Beautiful Things all around us - right now. Those things are not necessarily off in some distant, imagined future.
If we take the time to look around and appreciate the Big Things that are in our present, it may help us to see and forecast a different future for ourselves. By giving a different level of attention to our present, our results in the imminent future may be different (better!), which can open doors for different Next Big Things to come. If we distract ourselves with the future, our success in the present may be limited, thereby limiting our vision and potential in the future. In essence, appreciating the current Big Things can - paradoxically, perhaps - set the stage for an opportunity to consider even bigger or more exciting Next Big Things.
The Bottom Line
Learning to balance goal setting and forward thinking with mindfulness and intentionality in our present can be the key to unlocking so much for endurance athletes. It helps us achieve our present goals with greater success, thereby helping us to set the stage for future goals that we may choose to set. Don’t let yourself become so excited about and distracted by The Next Big Thing that you neglect to see the Big Things all around you. After all, the Big Things around you were once those Next Big Things you were once so excited about in the past. Allow yourself to play them all the way through to their fullest potential.
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.