It’s something we don’t think about much of the time, but give it some consideration now:
If you wake up in the morning and think about the miserable things you need to do later in the day, you’ll have a miserable day. If you wake up and focus instead on what a wonderful gift your life is, you’ll have a great day.
If we let our attention jump from one thing to another, we will have a busy, fractured and probably unproductive day. If we focus entirely on one job, we may lose ourselves in that job, and it will not only be the most productive thing we do all day, but it’ll be very enjoyable.
If we focus on being tired and wanting to veg out in front of the TV, we will get a lot of television watching done. If, however, we focus on being healthy and fit, we will become healthy and fit through exercise and good eating.
This may seem simplistic, but it’s completely true. This is the magical power of focus.
Let’s look at some of the ways you can use focus to improve different aspects of your life.
Focus on a goal
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.
Focus on now
I’ve written about this before, but focusing on the present can do a lot for you. It helps reduce stress, it helps you enjoy life to the fullest, and it can increase your effectiveness.
Focusing on now, rather than the past (“I can’t believe she said that to me!”) or the future (“what am I going to say in the darn meeting today?”) isn’t easy, and takes a lot of practice.
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.
How do you get into flow? Well, it takes a bit of practice, but the first step is to find work that you’re passionate about. Seriously — this is an extremely important step. Find hobbies that you’re passionate about. Turn off the TV — this is the opposite of flow — and get outside and do something that truly engages you.
Next, you need to clear away distractions and focus completely on the task you set before yourself. This is the part that takes a lot of practice. I’ll write more about this later.
Focus on the positive
One of the key skills I’ve learned is how to be aware of my negative thoughts, and to replace them with positive thoughts. I learned this through quitting smoking and running — there are many times when you feel like giving up, and if you don’t catch these negative thoughts in time, they’ll fester and grow until you actually do give up.
Instead, learn to focus on the positive. Think about how great you feel. Think about how other people have done this, and so can you. Think about how good it will feel when you accomplish what you’re trying to do.
Also learn to see the positive in just about any situation. This results in happiness, in my experience, as you don’t focus on the bad parts of your life, but on the good things. Be thankful for what you’ve been given.