Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Using Goals to Stay Focused

“How do I stay focused on my goals?” This is a question that often comes up a few weeks after a workshop in time management, manifesting, or law of attraction. For these methods to work, you have to maintain a connection to a goal long enough for it to come about, but in the confusion and distraction of everyday life, people have trouble even remembering their goals.

If you’ve experienced this challenge, there is a reason for it. The strategy you’ve heard, focusing on goals, has it backward. The real benefit comes not from focusing on the goal, but from using goals to stay focused. It’s not so much a question of achieving the specific goals you choose — it’s about taking action and getting somewhere, accomplishing something of value, and usually you will end up doing that when you work toward a goal even if you do not reach the exact goal you had in mind.

Part of the difficulty is that people pick the wrong goals, and too many of them. The goal-setting process of traditional time management training encourages you to set dozens or hundreds of goals. You might select three five-year goals in each of a dozen major areas of your life, then use these long-term goals to develop other goals that have short time frames. You can’t even remember that many goals, and you can lose energy and focus whenever it seems that your various goals are in conflict with each other. Other goals are hard to remember just because they are arbitrary and don’t really mean anything to you. Joe Vitale offers a training package built around the exercise of manifesting a new car. To stay energetic about a arbitrarily selected goal such as this long enough to get through the exercise, you almost have to set aside all your other goals. But arbitrary goals can come from anywhere. In a goal-setting process, if you really don’t know what your goals are, you’ll probably just pick something, and then you have something written down that looks like a goal but that you don’t necessarily care about. It is easier to use goals to maintain your focus if you focus on no more than three to five goals on any given day, and pick goals that have obvious importance.

Another reason it can be hard to focus on goals is that people try the hardest to focus on their most distant goals: “I want to go to the moon,” rather than, “I want a new garage.” In the energy of a workshop setting, the bigger goals can seem more inspiring, but in the bustle of everyday life, it is easier to focus your energy on the more believable everyday kind of goals. If a very distant goal really is important to you, find some angle on it to make it more present today so that you can focus on it more easily.

Finally, it isn’t necessary to have distinctive goals to gain the benefits of focus. Wayne Dyer has said that his goal is to be “better today than I was yesterday.” I often suggest the goal of putting yourself in a stronger position between now and the end of the day. With practice, goals as simple as these can inspire you because you can see them working day after day.

When people have trouble remembering any of their goals or making progress toward them, it’s not a problem of goal-setting. The goals might have come out of a flawed goal-setting process, but even so, some of them have to be well-chosen, just by random chance. If there is a pattern of lack of progress, it is because of a life full of obstacles that form resistance to progress. When people look at this, they often want to focus strictly on mental resistance, but usually habits and situation are more important. When people aren’t sure of their goals and don’t feel like they are making progress, I encourage them to focus on the obstacles that get in the way instead — in other words, take on the goal of removing obstacles. I suggest starting with the most literal obstacles they can find, which for most people means starting with clutter. The book Fear of Nothing lays out an effective process to deal with clutter and go on from there to address the other obstacles in life.

When you remove obstacles, you are removing distractions that can weaken your focus. At the same time, you restore some of the flow to your life, and then it’s easier to select goals you can believe in. These goals, and any action you take around them, add to your focus. With better focus, you take more and better action and get bigger results — and that’s really ultimately what having goals is for.