“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” – Qui-Gon to Anakin, Star Wars Episode I
In my experience, focus is the most important determination of whether you’ll achieve a goal or stick to creating a new habit. Not self-discipline, not rewards, not sheer willpower, not even motivation (also an important ingredient, however). If you can maintain your focus on a goal or habit, you will more often than not achieve that goal or create that habit.
If you can’t maintain your focus, you won’t achieve the goal, unless it’s such an easy goal that it would have happened anyway. It’s that simple.
Why does focus matter so much? Let’s say you decide you want to declutter your house — that’s your goal for this month. So the first day, you’re completely focused on this goal, and you get boxes and trash bags and fill them up with junk. The second day, you’re still focused, and you fill up a bunch more boxes and you’ve cleared most of two rooms with progress on another. This goes on for a few more days, with your focus being on this goal, and lots of progress made.
However, let’s say that a week into your decluttering, you decide you want to become a runner. You are now focused on running, and not only do you go out to jog for a few days, you buy running clothes and a Nike-equipped iPod and read running blogs and magazines. However, you’ve lost your focus on decluttering, and soon you aren’t doing much of it, because your focus is on running. In fact, you’ve added more clutter because you’ve bought all the running equipment and magazines and books.
Meanwhile, I have maintained my focus on decluttering the entire month, and by the end of the month, I have a nice, simplified house. I did it through focus.
This is why I am constantly advocating focusing on only one goal at a time. Having multiple goals spreads out your focus, and makes it less likely that you’ll complete any of the goals. It’s possible, but with a diffused focus, it’s much more difficult.
Even with only one goal, maintaining focus can be difficult. You need to find ways to keep your focus on that goal. Some good examples that work for me:
- Read about your goal as much as possible, on websites and blogs and in books and magazines.
- Post up reminders on your wall, refrigerator, and computer desktop.
- Send yourself reminders using an online calendar or reminder service.
- Tell as many people as possible about it, and post your progress on your blog.
- Have a time each day to work on the goal, with a reminder in your schedule each day.
Maintain your focus on your goal, and you’ve won half the battle in achieving it.
Have you ever completely lost yourself in a task, so that the world around you disappears? You lose track of time and are completely caught up in what you’re doing. That’s the popular concept of Flow, and it’s an important ingredient to finding happiness.
Having work and leisure that gets you in this state of flow will almost undoubtedly lead to happiness. People find greatest enjoyment not when they’re passively mindless, but when they’re absorbed in a mindful challenge.