Monday, March 24, 2014

How to Focus + My Goals

Photo by Andrea D'Aquino. Follow him on facebook and flickr.
Do you feel overwhelmed by the number of things you want to focus on? Yet, you find it hard to make real progress forward? Perhaps, it’s time to slim down your list and focus on just one or two larger goals. I too didn’t know how to focus until an unexpected conversation with my husband exposed my problem. This is that story.
For New Year’s Eve last year, Jeremy and I were looking for something to do—a traditional party with an actual countdown, mingling with strangers, getting dressed up in swanky outfits, holding champagne, kissing at midnight, etc.
I felt so relieved when we were invited to such a party. “Finally, we’re not going to be orphans this year,” I thought. However, the Universe had other plans for us; something sweeter, something better.

The plan was to put Ryan to bed, have dinner, and then go to the party. As we were having dinner, one conversation after another, we ended up on the topic “What do you want in the New Year? What are your goals? What do you want to focus on?
What started as a simple ten minute conversation over dinner grew into a two hour long, delicious sharing of our hopes and dreams for the future. It was one of the most honest conversations we’ve had. It was beautiful and worth savoring every breath.
One thing that became apparent was how scattered I was in what I wanted. My husband Jeremy had to stop me with “Oh wait, that’s too many things to focus on at once” as I listed all the things I wanted to focus on this year.
Despite my best efforts at simplifying my goals and my understanding that the more we focus on, the more diluted each goal becomes in its realization, I had too many “wants” and sometimes they conflicted with one another.
Using his supreme focus and sharpened managerial skills, Jeremy gently guided me in reorganizing my goals such that they were sorted in a hierarchical structure—with one big goal at the top to focus on, and lots of little goals that went underneath the big goal.
For my business, I had two big goals that were the most important which I will be focusing on. After examining all the loose goals, we determined that any career related goal had to fit under one of the two big goals. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t be working on them.
Too many loose goals become a distraction, taking energy away from what matters most. If you don’t have a definite goal, you won’t know what you should be focused on and will end up drifting wherever the wind takes you.
It makes sense: We only have a limited amount of time each day. If we give attention to one thing, that means we now have less attention to give to another thing. Real results are produced as a product of focused attention. Scattered attention, attention focused on too many things can never produce real results.
I often violate this rule, especially last year, when I didn’t have any definite focus. I was floating around. Whenever something came along that sounded attractive, I would dive in and try it out. In the end, they were all distracters. As a result, I didn’t produce much. My heart wasn’t in it and my attention was being split into too many parts for any one part to become potent.
In the year 2010, I dabbled in wedding photography, internet marketing, consulting business, and the good mood blogging contest—all things which were nice to-haves, but took me away from what I wanted most: to create products that can help people, and to grow this happiness blog.
In chapter 1 of Napoleon Hill’s 1925 classic “The Law of Success”, he talks about the vital importance of having a definite purpose —the thing you want to focus on. The thing you want most to become realized.
Here’s a related quote from that chapter,
“Until a man selects a definite purpose in life, he dissipates his energies and spreads his thoughts over so many subjects and in so many different directions that they lead not to power, but to indecision and weakness.
With the aid of a small reading glass, you can teach yourself a great lesson on the value of organized effort. Through the use of such a glass, you can focus the sun’s rays on a definite spot so strongly that they will burn a hole through a plank. Remove the glass (which represents the definite purpose), and the same rays of sun may shine on that same plank for a million years without burning it.
Thinking back to the times when I succeeded in producing concrete results, whether it was my first online business selling apparel, or graduating from university, or starting my blog, or even winning the good mood gig contest, I was completely focused, completely fixated, unwavering, razor sharp, focused on the end result (and on nothing else).
Ah, that’s the key I’ve been searching for, ‘focus’, and having a ‘definite purpose’,” I thought to myself.
I sat back, and watched as Jeremy excitedly helped organize my goals, and to simplify them, so that I can actually focus on just one or two things instead of fifty.
At an hour to midnight, Jeremy said, “You know, we can either go to the party and mingle with a bunch of people we don’t really know orwhile the topic is freshwe can go grab our laptops and organize our goals in a share doc, so we can keep each other accountable. And afterwards we can watch a movie and open a bottle of wine. What do you think?
It was so delicious an idea that there was only one possible answer: Of course, I would rather spend the night doing something personal and meaningful with my life partner.
Since, I had already gotten ready—all dressed up with my hair done and makeup already applied—which I pointed out to Jeremy long enough for him to say “Oooh, ahhh, pretty”, I ran upstairs like a little kid to change into warm comfy house clothes.
I then marched into my office, sat down at my desk, opened a Google doc and started typing. A few minutes later, Jeremy came in with two glasses of freshly opened red wine and his laptop. He sat at the reading chair—where I could see him in the dim shades of the reading lamp.
I had my goals organized in three major categories: professional, personal wellness and couple goals—as per Jeremy’s clever suggestion.
If you are curious, my two professional goals were: product creation and increase site traffic. From that moment on, I made a commitment to myself that everything I work on will fit into one of these categories. If not, I will not do it unless I choose to.
For my personal wellness goals, I had several loose goals. But the number one goal is to live consciously to the best of my ability by redirecting negative thoughts so that I am not stuck in a painful place caused by dwelling on the past or a nervous place caused by worrying about the future.
For couple goals, I wrote down the first thing that came to mind, “alone dates once a month”. I am so silly, I was in complete logical mode and was thinking about the actions to do, instead of the end goal those actions provided.
When Jeremy added his goals to the shared Google doc and it refreshed on my screen, I quickly scrolled to the bottom to his Couple Goals section. He wrote, “End 2011 with a closer relationship than 2010” and under that, he had “2 date nights per month” and “listen instead of argue.
I almost died when I read that- died in a land of happiness, a land of roses and rainbows. Jeremy is just so sweet. He’s always been so much more genuine about our relationship than I and so much more thoughtful. I have a lot to learn from him.
I looked over at him, there beyond my open laptop screen, under the warm lights of that reading lamp, with a kind of fondness that is indescribable. Tears welled up in my eyes. Those simple words on the screen meant and conveyed so much to me.
I jumped up from my desk , skipped like a bunny over to the reading chair in utter joy, and landed promptly in his lap. I pushed his laptop aside, snuggled up real close and said, “I love you babes. Thank you.
In the end, we didn’t do countdowns, or have champagne(we don’t even like champagne). Instead, we had the gift of a night, beyond anything I could have planned—a focused roadmap for this year, wonderful wine, delicious popcorn, priceless moments of connection, and a phenomenal documentary called “The Cove”(which I highly, highly recommend. Beautifully written, moving, uplifting and heart-warming).
Now that is a beautiful start to a new year.
What are your goals for this year? What do you want to focus on?
Consider, going through your list and pick just one or two things to focus on. Give it your whole attention and I am sure your focused attention and dedicated action will cause it to come into reality. I am reminded of a saying, “Where attention goes, energy flows.” It’s all a matter of deciding where to put our focus, and then allocating our time towards action for the fruition of that which we are focused on.
The same formula can be applied towards parenting or to improve a relationship. Focus, focus, focus is the key.
Remember, it is not possible to focus on many things. Pick just one and focus with all your attention to make it a reality, before moving on to the next thing.

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