Written April 14, 2023. Cost: 5 minutes of your time.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all the thoughts inside your head and have a to-do list a mile long, but can’t seem to start? Do you have some important health or wellness goal that keeps getting put on the back burner?
It can be hard to focus with so many competing priorities and often we are not great at determining how to prioritize our list of goals. Or we tell ourselves the goal is important, but we just don’t have time right now and we will get to it later.
Oh, later. We all know that sometimes later never comes.
The idea or goal floats around in the back of our heads begging for attention, but we just push it down and say we have good intentions of getting to it in the future. However, it takes more than good intentions to get things done. Without some sort of plan of action, nothing moves forward. A week turns into a month, turns into a year and you get the picture.
But, how do we create a plan of action if we don’t have focus? Focus is giving attention to one thing in a way that produces results.
I set an unwritten goal (part of the problem) for myself, that when I left my job to go full-time on the business, I would start working out to get in better shape because now I would have more time to do so. The reality is that I ended up having less free time because I work more now than I did when I was a full-time employee. So, a month after leaving my job, I still haven’t started working out. I made myself a rational reason (excuse) why this is- I don’t have time. Now I have decided maybe I should be willing to take the advice I give clients, which is to focus on one thing at a time. In my example, my goal is getting in better shape and my behavior is exercising.
But, how do you make yourself focus?
First, you have to pick ONE thing. Most people don’t have great long-term success in trying to do multiple new behaviors at one time. One way you can make yourself focus on this one thing is setting a deadline and a sacrifice that has the dual purpose of helping you reach your goal, but at a price you deem higher. Generally, since many of our goals don’t have obvious, short-term or tangible consequences for inaction, we can easily put them off.
You can create a useful consequence for inaction (if you have some self-discipline). So, I’ve created a consequence for myself as such:
“If I don’t complete my goal of exercising an average of 25 minutes per day for 30 days (by May 15), with some exercise occurring at least 5 times a week, THEN I must join a gym starting in June.”
In this example, joining the gym is the consequence because it requires sacrificing money, but it also can help me reach my exercising goal. Why might I be more successful with a gym than working out for free at home? Because there is no financial cost for working out at home (free), I don’t feel as motivated to see an outcome. Basically, I’ve decided that if I don’t workout for free at home, then I’ve really lost nothing of value. In this case, I have valued money more than my health and wellness.
Many people don’t fully understand or appreciate the value of paying for services provided by outpatient healthcare professionals, that supposedly (in the view of some people) only offer us things we could do for free or get for free on our own. When people pay for something, they expect value in return. They have sacrificed something they value (money) and want to make sure their sacrifice is worth it, so they are more motivated to get results (return on their investment). This motivation can help people to be more successful, but credible healthcare professionals also help people FOCUS and hold them accountable. Knowing that your personal trainer or dietitian is going to check in on your progress next session can be very effective in helping you reach goals.
The reality is that knowing something and DOING something are not the same. You may have the information required to make good choices (smoking is bad, so I should quit), but actually acting on the information is another obstacle.
A supportive friend or family member can also be a great way to help you focus and provide accountability. However, not everyone has this in their life and engaged, credible health professionals are still your best choice for effective AND safe health advice. This is why it can be so valuable to pay for help when you NEED it. If you have not accomplished a reasonable goal on your own (or with free support) in a reasonable time period, you probably would benefit from working with a professional.
To summarize, here are the steps to help you focus:
- Step 1: Decide on one effective behavior (the thing you directly control) to help reach your goal (the outcome you DON’T directly control).
- Step 2: Set a reasonable deadline for how long you must complete this behavior, with the mindset of the behavior becoming a habit.
- Step 3: Decide on the useful consequence for NOT completing the behavior as specified by the deadline.
- Step 4: If you completed the behavior as intended by the deadline, just keep doing the behavior (should become habit over time). If you did not complete the behavior as intended by the deadline, activate the consequence.
If you successfully complete your goal by the deadline, then you have effectively focused. Congrats! If you did not complete your goal by the deadline, then that’s ok. Activate the useful consequence that will now help you achieve your goal. This consequence is an external influence that can help hold you accountable and FOCUS effectively. This is extremely valuable and should not be underestimated just because technically people are capable of doing these behaviors on their own. Being capable of the action and ACTUALLY taking the action are not the same.
This approach is beneficial because it truly is win-win. Whether you successfully focus and hold yourself accountable or you need extra help doing these two things, does not really matter. All that matters is that you do the behaviors that get you closer to reaching your goals. No man or woman is an island and we all have amazing potential that is largely untapped. If you are struggling to make behavior changes and reach goals on your own, working with valuable resources like health coaches, personal trainers, therapists and dietitians to help you reach your full potential is a smart choice.
Now, go FOCUS.