Keep your eyes on the prize to be happier and fitter

In this blog, I am including a really interesting TED talk, which exhorts you to Keep your Eyes on the Prize. By keeping your eyes on the prize, you will perceive less effort in achieving your goals. The talk is mostly about how fit people perceive exercise effort as less troublesome than the unfit (of which I am a member). And then what to do about it. I like this focus on action. Not just identifying the issue but coming up with helpful ideas to do something about it. This video offers useful insights not just for those of us wanting to take more exercise but for other goals too. This video is well worth a look.

One aspect of perception which the speaker Emily Balcetis points out is that the normal focus of our perception, where we see things the most sharply, is the size of our thumbnail on an outstretched hand. And everything else is blurry and less focused. So, we see things near to us more clearly. Because everything else is unclear, we could then misread or misunderstand things that are a bit distant. Just because at that distance they are not clear. Most of us have goals, most of them are some time in the future and most require effort to achieve them. It could be learning to play the guitar, or taking the driving test, or sorting out the clutter in our home. So Emily is giving an insight into why these distant goals are hard to achieve. They feel vague at this distance. Whereas the stuff right in front of us is in sharp focus and the immediate demands can take our attention away from those distant but vital goals.

Emily Balcetis proposes the idea that by focusing on a goal a bit further away but still nearer than the end goal, we can get our eyes in. By refocusing on the middle-ish distance for that goal we can start to see things sharply and get that goal in focus. When we perceive the goal as nearer, it becomes more achievable.

So, to reduce the effort involved in achieving a goal, focus clearly on it. Maybe setting some interim goals where you can get a clearer idea of exactly what that might look at, just because they are closer in time. Create a sharp image of that goal (final or interim) and let everything else go blurry. Hypnosis is a great way to clarify that image of your goal so you can start on achieving your dreams.

This insight about the blurriness in the distance links to something we already know about the way perception is involved in maintaining anxiety. Anxiety is the bundle of feelings that we get when the fight or flight hormones are flooding our body. These hormones can set our heart racing, make a knot in our insides and a host of other symptoms that we don't like. And often our thoughts can start to focus on how horrible these sensations are, how we really don't like them, and we become anxious as we worry about what these sensations mean, and whether they will ever go. When we feel anxious, our perception changes.  Our focus of attention shifts from the arm's length to about 10-15 metres so that we can scan the environment for danger.

This is one of the reasons why it is hard to concentrate when we are anxious.  We are directing our attention and focus too far away. Close work becomes blurry as we move from arm's length to the environment around us, looking for trouble. To feel better, make an active and conscious shift of attention. Tidy up your desk. Make a cup of tea. Talk to a colleague. All these things keep your attention close and focused.

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