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Are you absent-minded or simply "end-gaining?"

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

We do it all the time. Sending an email without an attachment. Leaving the house without your keys. Skimming the news headlines. Exercising without stretching...

It's not just absent-mindedness. In all of these examples, we're trying to get to the END of a process as efficiently as we can.

Pictured: Me, turning on the stove before I've read the whole recipe.

What is "End-Gaining"?

End-Gaining is a term coined by F.M. Alexander. At the time he was writing, in the early 1900s, you wouldn't say "to reach a goal." You'd say, "to gain one's end." End-Gaining is when you are so focused on "gaining" your "end" (reaching your goal) that you skip over the details of how you're going to get there.

This could mean leaving out necessary steps, like reading the recipe and prepping ingredients before you start to cook.

Or not paying attention to the quality of the activity, like when we try to do more sit-ups or push-ups than we can. Instead of stopping when our form is compromised, we double down on our goal and push through even it means straining our neck in the process. What good does that do?

In our minds, we're being efficient. But in reality, we're missing out. We're so focused on the future and being done that we're distracted from what's right in front of us.

Why should I care?

End-gaining seems efficient in the moment, but often creates more work later on.

Case in point: A colleague sends me an email with important information. I skim the email and reply without addressing their question. Or I respond promptly, asking where to find information they've already sent. Now, instead of moving on with our days, they have to reply and I have to check again. It's annoying for everyone!

And a qualitative case: I'm gonna talk about music, but this applies to any practice. When I graduated from conservatory and didn't have as much time to practice, sometimes I would pick up my flute and dive right in to the music I needed to learn for a gig. I know we've all done this at some point.

But a few things happened...

  • My muscles started getting sore (in a bad way) because I wasn't properly warmed up

  • Mentally, I felt distracted and impatient.

  • Because I wasn't spending enough time on my fundamentals, my overall technique suffered. This made it more difficult for me to actually...learn the music and play it well

I realized that I wasn't actually being efficient at all. In order to learn the music quickly and easily, and without developing pain that I'd later spend time addressing, I needed to stop being so focused on the end result and instead take time to figure out what I needed now.

What's the solution?

  1. TRUST. As my teachers like to say (paraphrased), "If you know what you want, and you have a plan to get there, all you need is to follow the steps and it's inevitable that you'll reach your goal." Take each step. I promise the end result will be better, you'll feel more confident in your work, AND you have time. Now if you have a goal, but you're not sure how to get there...

  2. REFLECT. What is it that you want? What quality do you want it to have? e.g. I want to learn a new piece of music. Specifically, I want to be consistent in my performance and feel relaxed even when it gets challenging technically. Even if I'm not 100% sure, what steps do I think I need to make that happen? Hint: A good place to start is with where you are NOW. If you were confident that you could take your time, or if you were giving advice to someone else, what would you do? Start there.

  3. BREATHE. In my opinion, one of the biggest contributors to "end-gaining" is that many of us simply have too much to do. We are in a near-constant state of, "I just have to finish this one thing." If you find yourself thinking this, or thinking about all the other stuff you still have to do, take a deep breath. What are you doing now? Which step are you on, and what still needs doing? HOW is it going? How are YOU doing? Hint: Is there anything on your to-do list that doesn't need to be there? Really, truly, ask yourself this.

A note on neuro-divergence

I am NOT an expert, but I do know that much conventional wisdom on accountability and mindfulness doesn't work for neurodiverse populations - especially ADHD.

Two resources I highly recommend, and which are helpful for neurotypical people as well, are:

"Struggle Care" with K.C. Davis

The books of ADHD expert Dr. Edward M. Hallowell

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