Friday, October 28, 2016

How to Focus for Sustainable Change

I recently turned off notifications for all my social media and email. Anyone else have a problem focusing in our over-connected world where you can totally get off track because of a red 1 from Facebook or Instagram?

I now check email once a day and have to make myself do that. I check social media much more because I love sharing cool stuff that only my followers get to see and want to communicate with them via comments.  It's just that now I do it when I have arranged the time for it instead of whenever anything pops up.

We talked in a previous post about the importance of intention.  Read it here. In order to be successful in any area of life, we are trying to improve, we are going to have to follow up our intention with focus which, we're covering today, and actions which we'll go over tomorrow.

What do I mean when I talk about focus?

Let's say you and your spouse have a certain level of house and yard work that you are comfortable maintaining. Things are neat and clean for the most part because you obviously have more important things to do than maintain magazine ready perfection for the home and garden. Now imagine that your home has been selected to be in a documentary about the typical American home and within a week a TV crew will be showing up to film inside and outside your house. Suddenly the tuft of dog hair on the sofa or dust on woodwork are visible in a way they weren't a few minutes before. You both take to cleaning like maniacs. You are going to get up early and stay up late to reach your goal of a home that you can feel proud of.

Isn't it amazing how filthy our otherwise clean houses become the moment we know people are coming over? Nothing has changed except our focus. Suddenly the cleanliness of the house is the most important thing.

Focus means we make something the center of interest or activity,  clarity of vision is produced, or we pay particular attention to a thing.

The truth is we don't have the ability to focus on that many things. Multitasking is a lie, and research shows actually waste time even though it feels productive. It turns out that the key to success is single-mindedness.

Here are 7 steps for creating focus and using it to reach your goals:

1. Choose your focus. Let's be honest, you probably aren't going to lose 50 pounds, organize your entire house, perfect your diet, and read a book a week this year. Focus means that we make something  the center of our thinking. We create a vision for what we want and decide to work toward it.

2. Make a plan. Decide what it is you want to do and how you are going to do it. The plan may already exist and be something you can sign up for or follow. For instance, I didn't have to figure out how to become a master gardener. The plan was in place and I followed the course and instructions.

3. Set goals. Okay, I'll admit I am a lousy goal setter. On the slacker to over-achiever spectrum, I definitely lean toward the slacker. But I still manage to get quite a bit done like manage beehives, become a master gardener, and write a blog along with various other interests and projects. The key for those of us who aren't naturally high achievers is to set small goals every day that keep us moving forward so we don't lose momentum.

Even the smallest step forward is better than standing still.

4. Create a system for focus. Here's where the thing falls apart for a lot of us. We know what we want to do, make a plan, set some goals and then...If we aren't careful we can get off track here. Creating a system for focus might look like writing in your planner, visualizing yourself achieving your goal before you get out of bed in the morning, or going public with your goal by sharing it on social media. I use all of these. To keep going and maintain our focus we must keep ourselves motivated and reminded of our long term goal and our short-term actions needed to accomplish it.

5. Schedule it.  Block out some time on your daily calendar to work toward your goal. If a healthier lifestyle is what you are after you might want to write down: walking-- 20 minutes, researching healthy menus--20 minutes, and eliminating junk food from the pantry--20 minutes. Choose an hour of the day to schedule these 3 activities. You are doing 3 things that are baby steps but all are putting you on track to get to your goal.

Remember: Our baby steps have baby steps.

6. Ban distractions.  Put the phone in the other room, close all the open tabs on your computer, lock the door. Do whatever you have to do to keep from being interrupted. Time lost on focus when you are taken off task isn't just the amount of time of the interruption. It's also remembering where you were, what you were thinking, and getting back in the groove afterward.

7. Set a timer. There is something about playing beat the clock that is highly motivating. Feeling tired but need to clean the kitchen? Set a timer for 5 minutes and work as fast as you can to see what you can get done. Don't have any inspiration for the project you need to finish today? Set a timer for 45 minutes and work as fiercely as you can.

If we want to get where we are going we need to focus on the destination (long term goal) and the route (short term goals).

Over time as we maintain our focus, work our plan of baby steps, and reach mini-goals along the way we create habits that change our lifestyle. At that point, we don't have to use the same amount of mental energy. The focus for maintaining your new way of living runs in the background of your mind like an app on your phone.  Then we can just keep doing the things that work and choose new goals to focus on.

What are you focusing on right now?



  1. I need to ponder on creating a system of focus. I believe what you are saying is find some actions that move my sustainable life choices front and center. You gave some examples like writing, sharing your decisions with others, visualizing mentally where you want to be. To that I might add giving myself rewards for persistence. My meditation app records my minutes and gives me stars when I reach certain milestones. I like that. Outward rewards just sustain my focus. I have long since givn up on finding that in people but I still like a pat on the back.

    1. Absolutely, Busy B! Rewarding yourself is a great motivation to keep going. Sounds like you found a wonderful app for meditation. The very best motivation or reward of all is whatever works for you. And I hereby give you a pat on the back for doing such an awesome job! :)


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