Climbing Out of a Rut

It’s nearly 4:00 a.m. as I am writing this post. I’m still on that college sleep schedule of sleeping late and waking up late… I actually fell asleep at 8:30 p.m. after a fun and exhausting day of Christmas shopping, only to wake up at 11:45 p.m., unable to fall back asleep.

So here I am, writing away… And I need to make a confession to you all.

Ever since I came home from UCLA last Friday, I’ve been living in a sort of daze. A plateau period of low motivation and lack of “fight”. A rut.

As I mentioned in Post-Finals Reflection, I have a tendency to feel lost and low after accomplishing a feat or completing a milestone– in this case, successfully completing my first quarter at UCLA. I told you guys that I was determined to break this cycle of post-achievement depression by setting new goals for myself and working towards accomplishing them.

I have to apologize, though, for I have not practiced what I’ve preached. For reasons I’m still trying to decipher, I have not been my usual motivated self this past week. I have not been working hard each day to grow myself. Coming into winter break, I had all sorts of goals in mind– incorporate running and meditation into my daily routine, get my sleep schedule back on track, write a blog post each day, prepare for next quarter’s classes, read a lot of books, and catch up on dancing.

Sadly, I can’t say I’ve been making great strides towards accomplishing most of these goals.

It’s so strange. For nearly my whole life, I always saw myself as disciplined, hard-working and goal-oriented. Very type-A and hungry to achieve. My therapist has described me as being “unusually motivated, even for a pre-med student”. So how can I reconcile my behavior of the past week with my long-standing identity as a hard-working person?

I guess the answer is, people change, for better or for worse. When I was young, discipline was all I ever knew. To relax, let loose and have fun was a foreign concept to young Belicia. This girl was a machine… she was disciplined beyond her years. She identified so strongly with having an incredible work ethic– knowing that she could work harder than anyone else was her greatest source of pride.

The truth is, I am no longer that same girl. My life circumstances have changed. I got injured, and I was forced out of the world of competitive athletics. It took me a long time to come to terms with the truth that, from the moment I left the gymnastics world four years ago, I’ve grown soft. I’ve allowed my discipline to slip, little by little.

According to my therapist, this so-called “loss of discipline” may not be as bad as I perceive it to be. Maybe it’s indicative of growth– a transition from a very extreme way of thinking to a healthier, more balanced way of living. Perhaps she’s right. But a part of me still looks back to the “gymnastics days”, and wishes I could regain at least some of the discipline I had in the past.

Now, I don’t know if life warrants the extreme amount of discipline that a highly competitive and difficult sport like gymnastics did. But I do know that, if one wants to achieve any goal, having a certain level of structure and discipline is the only way to do it. And lately, I’ve had neither structure nor discipline nor commitment to my goals.

I am disappointed in myself for allowing myself to slip as I’ve done this past week, and I apologize to my readers for not staying true to my message of personal growth.

What I’ve come to realize, however, is that just like life, one’s habits and levels of motivation are in dynamic motion. We all experience highs and lows. We have periods of intense motivation and periods of lethargy. It’s all a part of being human.

This is me at a low point. It’s me struggling to find strength to get up each morning and fight towards my goals.

I think the best attitude to adopt in periods such as these is that of the growth mindset, or knowledge that you have the power to change for the better. You have the power to turn your life around, no matter how deep the hole you’ve dug yourself into. You have the power to eliminate destructive habits and build up healthier ones. Each day brings a new opportunity for change. If you ever find yourself in a rut, like I am currently in, firstly realize that it’s all part of being human.We slip up sometimes. There will always be days when we really, really don’t want to get out of bed, or when we don’t feel any fight within. However, in the words of a good friend and truly inspirational person, “How I feel is irrelevant compared to what I need to do to get what I want/need out of life.”

We are all collectively navigating the tumultuous waters of life, with some more experienced and knowledgeable than others. If you guys have any advice for people struggling to find motivation and strength to move forward each day, please do share.

 

 

 

 

How I’ve Grown During My First 10 Weeks at UCLA (part 1)

Hey everyone!

I got back from UCLA on Friday 12/9/16 and have since spent the past few days relaxing, catching up on sleep, reading, writing, watching Christmas movies on Netflix, filling out applications for premed clubs and emailing professors about undergraduate research positions. I’ve also started a new habit of running twice a day– once in the morning and once in the evening. I’m determined to get back in shape and shed the “freshman-ten” I’ve gained during my first quarter at UCLA. Speaking of which…

I want to take you guys on my journey through my first quarter at UCLA, highlighting how I’ve changed and grown during the first pages of a pivotal life chapter. Because so much has happened during the past ten weeks, there was no way I could fit everything into a single post. Enjoy part 1 of this series!

The first and foremost change I’ve experienced during my first quarter is (of course) yet another worldview shift. I feel like anytime I reach a milestone or overcome a challenge, I question my previous long-standing beliefs. But this worldview shift is an important one.

I think I finally understand the value of “finding balance” in life. I mean, REALLY understand it.

Growing up as a competitive gymnast, my life was, ironically, very off-balance. Everything was devoted to gymnastics. Such is the nature of this demanding and competitive sport– if you want to go far in gymnastics, you have to sacrifice a lot in the process. There isn’t any other way.

While I stopped gymnastics four years ago due to an injury, I have still carried on this single-mindedly determined mindset in all my pursuits, be it dance or school. This ties in with my innately perfectionist and competitive character. Never in my life have I wanted to settle for mediocrity… For a long time, I believed that if I wasn’t the best in my pursuits, I wasn’t worthy… that the only way to live a meaningful life is to be the best at whatever you do.

Going in to UCLA, I was a very focused and very determined pre-med student. In case you don’t know, UCLA is famous for its sheer number of pre-med students. When I first arrived in LA, it seemed as if every other person I  met was on the pre-med track. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t intimidated. I knew I needed to earn virtually perfect grades to get into a great medical school. As usual, however, I took the pursuit of my goal to the extreme. Starting week 1 of fall quarter, I was already buried in the books, locking myself in study rooms and frantically learning chemistry concepts like I was fighting for my life. My mindset during the start of the quarter was, “I cannot fail. I MUST get straight A’s, or I won’t get into medical school and my life is over.” (Yes, a distortion indeed.) Come week 3, I was pulling unnecessary all-nighters in the name of “getting more things done.” I wouldn’t let myself sleep unless I understood the concepts. I really pushed myself to the physical and mental limit, believing that I had no limits, like I was a robot.

Because of the work I put in, I got off to an excellent start academically, earning high marks across the board. At what cost, though? My social interaction was very limited, and as a result, my social anxiety crept back, largely because I wasn’t giving myself the social interaction I needed to fight the anxiety. While most of the people on my floor were bonding with one another through meals and movie-nights, I felt like an outsider. I constantly turned down invitations with the excuse of needing to “study”, even though I had already studied for six hours that day… I ate my meals alone. I wasn’t dancing nearly as much as I wanted to. There were moments when I’d be alone in my dorm, on the verge of tears, not knowing why. I felt empty. Lonely. This was not how I had envisioned my college experience to be. I thought I’d be branching out, getting involved in many clubs, becoming a leader in my community. The reality– I was so engrossed in my studies, so tunnel-visioned and obsessed with getting good grades for med school, that I completely lost sight of what truly matters. Relationships. Experiences. Memories.

So yeah, I was getting great grades… but my mental health suffered. My relationships suffered.

This was precisely the type of thought pattern I held as a gymnast. Set a goal and obsessively fight to achieve it, without any sense of balance. It was happening again… the unhealthy tunnel-visioning that inevitably leads to burn-out and broken relationships. That was the story of my life… being the outsider, the lone soldier, the martyr, all because I hungered for success. I had reverted back to my old ways as a gymnast.

The thing is, at the beginning of fall quarter, I thought I was past my former way of life. I thought I had tackled my distortion once and for all. The moment I was placed in a pool of competitive students at a top-notch university, however, it was like a switch was activated. I saw my goal and I went full throttle to reach it. It was back to the former belief that taking extreme measures was the only way I could be somebody in this life… the only way I could achieve my goals and reach success.

All the while, I was suffering inside, and I knew it, but I also believed that the degree of future success was proportional to the amount of suffering and martyrdom I put myself through in the present. Of course this type of thinking is illusory. But I didn’t truly realize the extent of my illusion until, during the end of week 4, I contracted a virus that rendered me bed-ridden for nearly two weeks (that’s one thing about living in a dorm setting with 90 other students in crowded quarters– expect to get sick at least ONCE each term).

Due to sleep-deprivation, my immune system was severely weakened, which probably protracted the illness. For nearly two weeks, I could not get out of bed, let alone study. Midterms were coming, and I was freaking out because I wanted so badly to do well. There were two nights in particular where I had spiked a fever and was shaking uncontrollably with cold sweats. I considered calling 9-1-1. It was a scary time, but I’m grateful that my brother, Austin, was there to bring my Tylenol and food when I was at my worst and couldn’t care for myself.

My memory of week 6- midterm week- is very hazy. Thankfully, the worst of my illness had passed by the time I faced midterms, and I managed to do pretty well on them, in spite of my condition.

My period of illness taught me a valuable lesson, however. I remember vividly the first day I was healthy enough to leave my dorm room and attend my math lecture. Never in my life had I been happier to go to an 8 a.m. math class. The sun was shining bright, the birds were singing, I was alive and breathing, and every inhale sent a wave of sweet, cool air into my raw lungs. I laughed with joy as I sauntered to Moore 100 lecture hall, head pounding with euphoria. That day, I realized how precious and beautiful life was. I also realized that, pre-med or not, I no longer wanted to spend my days locked in a dark room, away from people, away from the sunny Los Angeles weather, head buried in a textbook. I realized that life was too short to deprive myself of the simple beauties of relationships, laughter, sunshine and passion. Yes, it is important to have a great GPA for medical school. But is it everything? Of course not. Doctors are not emotionless robots. They are PEOPLE. Smart, focused, determined, compassionate PEOPLE.

Being a pre-med student does not mean you have to deprive yourself of happiness in the pursuit of getting into medical school. Yes, you must study hard, but what’s more important than studying hard is studying SMARTLY and EFFICIENTLY so you have time do pursue other activities beyond schoolwork.

I’d say week 7 was a major turning point in not only my college experience, but also my life. I began to make time for dancing. I committed myself to UCLA’s Latin Dance Team, forming close bonds with my fellow dancers. Instead of eating alone in the dining halls, I ate with my floormates, all of whom welcomed me with open arms. Instead of studying alone in my dorm room, I’d began to study in the floor lounge or in the library, so I wasn’t so isolated from people. With these behavioral changes, my mental health did a complete 180 degree shift. I was radiating with gratitude and newfound joy by the end of the quarter, even as finals were approaching. It is true that, during the second half of the quarter, I spent less time studying and more time working on growing myself and pursuing my passions. You may think that my grades suffered as a result. Interestingly enough, I realized that if I knew I had less time to study, I’d be much more efficient during my study sessions. It’s called practicing good “study hygiene”– being very efficient and focused during study sessions and getting the same amount of work done in a shorter period of time. The result: equally good grades and more time for pursuits that make you happy.

In the past, I believed that in order to achieve greatness, balance was something one had to be willing to give up. Now, as I grow older, I realize that balance is a REQUISITE for achieving not only career success, but also character success. If you really want to live life to its fullest, being able to balance work with relationships and extracurricular activities is a must.

I’ve also learned to be okay with COMPROMISE. Some days, I simply don’t have time to dance as much as I want to, because in college, studies come first. It’s called prioritizing, and it’s a very important life skill. I shouldn’t feel guilty or bitter about putting my studies before my extracurriculars, so long as I’m trying my best to make time for both.

I’m so glad to have emerged from this rocky but enlightening first quarter at UCLA with another distortion conquered. Setting high goals and disciplining yourself to achieving them is important to reaching success. This I learned from a very young age. But if you compromise your health and integrity and happiness in the process, what is it all worth?

Life isn’t just about achieving goals. Goals are markers of growth. But as human beings, we can grow is so many dimensions… I used to define success as being the “best” in whatever career I pursued. Now I realize how naive that definition was. Career success does not necessarily lead to “life” success. As I bring up time and time again, one could be the world’s greatest neurosurgeon, but if one’s life is devoid of relationships and happiness, what is it all worth? By practicing work-life balance, one is empowered to grow in multi-dimensions, not just academically. In doing so, one becomes a more well-rounded individual. One can say, “I have it all.” This, I believe, is the hallmark of living a meaningful life.

Post-Finals Reflection

I am officially DONE with my first college finals, marking the end of my first quarter here at UCLA. What a milestone. I cannot stress it enough when I say that these past ten weeks FLEW by, and within this short time span, I’ve grown immensely and learned so much about myself. More on my first quarter college experience to come. In this post, I want to let you guys in on some of my post-finals contemplations.

Initial feelings: RELIEF. Not much surprise there. A stifling burden has been lifted from my chest… These past two weeks (since Thanksgiving holiday) have pretty much been non-stop studying, with dance practices and YouTube dives in between to revitalize my now-fried brain. Last Thursday, I took my Human Aging final exam, which was a bit harder than I had anticipated. I’m crossing my fingers for that highly coveted A, although I’ve already told myself that even if I get a B, I WON’T repeatedly beat myself up for it, because I know I put my best foot forward. The chemistry final was on Sunday (I know, finals on Sunday’s?!), and it really wasn’t too bad, although I know I got one Lewis structure question wrong. Today I finished off with a math final. It was actually quite difficult… nearly everyone I spoke to agreed that the final was much harder than expected. The testing conditions were substandard– the room was freezing, the dang door was making so much noise as people entered and exited the room, and the professor kept pointing out errors in the test AS WE WERE taking the exam. Poor testing environment aside, I am proud of myself and my classmates for powering through the tricky exam and problem-solving our ways through the questions that looked unfamiliar.

In the past, I’d have a tendency to fall into a mild state of depression after accomplishing something I had been working towards for a long while. The day I finished AP tests during senior year of high school, I locked myself in my room and cried. After months of studying for these exams, I felt completely empty and lost without a concrete goal to guide me.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Really Belicia? You had just finished the last challenge of high school, you were about to have the longest and most relaxing summer in your life, and in a few months you would be off to start a new chapter at an amazing university… and you were crying?! What for??” 

However, this whole trend of goal-induced depression is more common than you’d think. The most obvious example is that of Olympic athletes. They dedicate their whole lives to one moment of glory on the Olympic stage, and when it’s over, they are left wondering, What do I do with my life now? 

When you work towards a goal for so long and finally achieve it, it’s normal to feel unsure of what to do with yourself after reaching what you’ve been fighting for. Such is one of the pitfalls of tunnel-visioning yourself in the pursuit of a single goal. Maintaining a reasonable degree of balance in your life during the pursuit of a goal is an important way to make sure your life is intact once the goal has been reached. But it is also the type of goals you set for yourself that affect how you cope after you’ve achieved them.

 

In the past, I’d often set goals based on EXTERNAL validation, like winning a gymnastics or dance competition, or getting a 100% on an exam. If the goal was achieved, I would experience a transitory moment of euphoria and pride. But this “glory” is quick to fade. I’d go back home, sit in my room, and wonder… What now? In the whole-hearted pursuit of a goal based on external reward, like praise or good-looking numbers, I’d oftentimes forgo many other important aspects of life, like relationships and health. When the goal was accomplished, I’d receive the validation I so desperately sought, only to float back to reality and realize that the rest of my life had been neglected in the pursuit of the single goal.

To break this unhealthy cycle of setting a goal, going all-out to accomplish it, only to fall into a depressive state once the goal is achieved,  I must ask myself, what kind of thought patterns proliferate this trend?

My problem lies not only in my tendency to work to the extreme in the pursuit of my goals, leaving every other aspect of life in the dust, but also in the types of goals I set for myself.

Goals like “win the competition” or “get an A” are short-term goals that can easily become pursuits for external validation. Remember, short-term goals are stepping stones on the path to achieving a long term goal. Once you’ve achieved a short-term goal, you have won the battle, but have yet to win the war (my apologies for the militaristic diction).

So what is a long term goal? As the name implies, a long term goal differs from a short-term goal in that it takes a long time– months, years, or even a lifetime– to achieve. Some may never truly reach their long term goals, instead using their pursuit as a means to ensure lifelong personal growth. Examples of long term goals include, “reaching my greatest potential in [activity X]”, “pursuing my dream career”, or even something as abstract as “being a good person”. Ultimately, long-term goals stem from the premise of continual growth, with short-term goals serving as markers of such growth. It is dangerous to pursue a long-term goal out of the desire for external validation, like wanting to be a doctor or the next Olympic gold medalist for the money, prestige, or fame. Long-term goals should be intrinsically motivated.

The thing I need to realize, however, is that growth should not stop after I’ve accomplished a short-term goal. Would you attempt to reach the summit of Everest, only to stop after successfully clearing a rough patch halfway up the mountain?

In the past, I’d  tunnel-vision myself in the pursuit of a short-term goal, like winning a competition, whilst losing sight of the long-term goal of growth. I’d study so hard for a high-stakes exam, like the SATs, and pass with flying colors, only to fall into a state of depression after it was over.

Why did I get depressed? Because I lost sight of the bigger picture. I lost sight of WHY I was fighting so hard to achieve these short-term goals, like doing well on exams and such. I was looking for external validation, when in reality, I really needed to be focusing on growing and taking a little step further to achieve my long-term goal. Thus, the types of short-term goals I was setting for myself were ineffective as well. Because short-term goals and long-term goals are inherently linked, one should not set short-term goals based on desire for external reward. This is losing sight of the long-term goal of growth. Sure, if you win a dance competition, you’d be right to feel pride, as such an accomplishment is a marker of your growth as a dancer. It is a clear indicator that you’re one step closer to achieving your long-term goal of being the greatest dancer you can possibly be. However, even if you end up not winning the competition, as long as you’ve shown personal improvement in your dancing, you should feel just as much pride, as you’ve achieved just as much personal growth. This is the kind of healthier mindset I’m trying to adopt in my journey towards betterment.

Now, let’s say that after much time and energy and dedication, I finally achieved a long-term goal, like becoming a doctor. What then? Do I stop fighting? Do I resign myself to complacency and stagnation, like many former Olympic athletes do? No. Once a long-term goal has been achieved, find another one, and start a new journey of growth.

It’s been nearly 12 hours since I finished my last final. While I was super relieved upon stepping out of Moore 100 lecture hall, I was also worried that my history of post-achievement-depression (I totally just made that term up, lol) would rear its ugly head. I’m happy to say that I have not fallen into a state of stagnation, unsure of what next step to take. Completing my first college finals is a huge battle won, this is by no means an end. I must remember, why am I doing all of this? For external validation? No. To expand my mind and grow as a scholar? To learn information and skills that’ll be useful for my future career? Yes and yes. The growth does not stop here. There is no need to get depressed, because there will always be something more to strive for. And with the peace of mind that I studied as hard as I could for my finals and, in turn, solidified concepts and grew intellectually, I walk away from achieving the short-term goal of doing well on finals with a serene smile on my face.

Now, it’s back to work. By work, I mean growth. Achieving a short-term goal, like doing well on your finals, is indeed a battle won. But this is not the end. I have a month of winter break to look forward to, and I don’t intend on spending it in my room, ruminating. A key part of growing is learning to set new short-term goals for yourself every day, and not just achieving the ones expected of you, like exams. Being proactive about challenging yourself is integral to ensure long-term growth.

Each day is a battle to nurture yourself and take a little step closer to the long-term goals we set for ourselves. The words “carpé diem” have never been truer. In life, there is never enough room for growth, and to me, such is the essence of being an effective human being. By ingraining this growth mindset into my very being, I will remain forever stimulated and invigorated for what each new day will bring.

If you are still reading this, thank you for putting up with my rambling. Expect a lot more articles coming soon highlighting my college experience thus far, how I’ve grown this past quarter, tips for incoming college freshmen, as well as advice for current high school seniors getting acceptance letters from colleges.

Have a great night, everyone!

 

 

-Belicia