Focus on Your Goals

Nov 28th, 2010 | By | Category: abundance, aptitude, Career advice, career choices, challenges, confidence, focus, mentor, self confidence, skills, strategy, success

There is a lot of conventional wisdom and advice that says to be successful you must set goals and work hard to achieve them. Although setting goals and hard work may be essential to success, there seems to be something missing. Others add that you should have a plan to achieve your goal, a map that guides your hard work toward your objective. This is also good advice, but still leaves me in a quandary. How do you plan to be successful? Perhaps the missing element is focusing on your goal.

There are several meanings listed in the dictionary for focus, and they all have one common element. Combining disparate actions to a central point. For example, a magnifying glass is designed to capture an area of light and make it converge on a smaller area. This has an optical effect of making the object larger and revealing more details. In my experience, focusing ones mind on a specific goal has a similar effect; it makes the object more prominent in our consciousness and allows us to absorb the details. Most of us have experience in focusing. It is the primary way we learn. Depending on the complexity of what we are trying to learn the amount of focus required may vary. Also what we are trying to learn may require different types of focus. If we are trying to lean something physical like dancing, our focus may be in the form of repeating the movements over and over. Also memorization usually involves repeating what we want to memorize over and over again. When I was in grade school we learned the multiplication tables by repeating them over and over again out loud as a class. It was a singsong rhythm that has remained with me ever since. Even now if you asked me to recite the multiplication tables, a chorus of children’s voices would mentally accompany me. Almost anything we learn through practice, metal or physical, is a variation of the same type of focus. Learning by rote or practice works well when we have something that we want to memorize, like a phone number or a golf swing.

When trying to solve a problem, something where there is no model to copy, our minds shift from memorization mode to a creative thinking mode. Some of the process is the same, but instead of repeating the answer over and over, we repeat the question over and over. By focusing on the question over and over our mind applies acquired knowledge and develops new ideas in an attempt to find a workable solution. The more we think about the problem the more creative our minds become. However for some unknown reason using our brain is very similar to using our muscles. We become tired after a while and require a rest. This is where most of us falter. We often tire thinking of our goals, and don’t resume when we are rested.

Our minds like our muscles grow stronger the more we exercise them. Like our muscles once we are done exercising, they begin to grow stronger to meet the challenge. Likewise our minds continue to work even after we have consciously quit thinking about something. Have you ever tried to remember something, only to have it pop into your head at later time? Even though you consciously quit thinking about it, your mind continues to think of the answer. This is a real bonus of focus. Our minds continue to pursue the object of our focus even when we have switched our attention to something else, or even when we are asleep. There are some astonishing stories of achievements that were the result of dreams or sleeping on a problem. You can check out some of the accomplishments of dreams at

Now how do we use focus to achieve our goals?

1) Define your goal. It may be better to have a combination of goals. For example, it may be good to have a goal to become a CEO accompanied by supporting goals such as finding a job you like, being promoted, being selected for high profile projects, etc.

2) Remind yourself of your goals often. There are various techniques to this. There are some who suggest cutting out pictures of your goals, such as a new car, a house you want, etc. and putting where you see it often. Others suggest writing out your goals on “Post it” notes and putting them where you see them often like on the mirror or around you computer screen. Still others suggest repeating affirmations, which are verbal descriptions of your goal. There is an endless list and variations to remind yourself of your goals.

3) Don’t limit your overarching goals. Set them broad enough so they expand with your success. For example, instead of setting a goal of being a millionaire set a goal of being in the top 10% of the worlds wealthiest people. There is a big difference. When I graduated from college a millionaire was like a billionaire today. While a million dollars is still a lot of money, it does not make you independently wealthy like 30 years ago. So be careful of setting your overarching goals in today’s terms as you may find that once you set an over aching goal into motion it is hard to adjust it.

4) In setting intermediate goals it is sometimes helpful to set realistic time tables and benchmarks to measure your progress. Here it may be helpful to be as specific as possible without painting yourself in a corner. For example, a friend of mine set a goal of becoming the manager of his department. While this seems like a realistic goal, it may have worked out better for him if he would have had a goal of becoming a manager. As it turned out when the department head position opened up my friend was not eligible for the job. They selected a young woman who still holds the same position 20 years later. My friend retired without ever achieving his goal.

5) Do not measure your progress toward your goals too often. It is something like watching the stock market, while the prevailing historical trend is upward there are often huge setbacks. If you were in the market when Clinton was president, you know that the Dow Industrial average is 4000 points lower than before the dot com meltdown. In the meantime some traders have made billions in the market, while those who took their money out of the market and quit trying will never catch up. The same is true with goals you have to stay in the game and keep trying to succeed regardless of the occasional setback.

6) It is stating the obvious to say your mind knows what you are thinking. This goes for your attitude as well. If you plant seeds of doubt in your mind they will grow. This is true of your goals too. If you give yourself negative feedback and ideas your mind factors this in information. If you think you will never achieve your goals, you are giving your mind another acceptable way to look at the challenge, failure. We all have down days and negative thoughts, but the more we can keep a positive outlook in our pursuit of success, the more likely we are to achieve our goals.

7) Take time to think about your goals and what you really want. When I was an entry-level engineer, a grade GS-15 was the highest pay grade in the agency. There were very few who achieved that rank. I set a goal to get to be a GS-15, and I achieved my goal. In the meantime President Carter added four more grades above GS-15. Although I adjusted my goal to obtain the higher grades, it was not with the same conviction. There was a lot of negativity connected to my thinking of my chances to achieve the higher grade. Looking back, I sabotaged most of my chances of ever obtaining that goal. A wiser goal would be to obtain the highest grade in the agency. I will never know if it would have made a difference, but personally I think it would have.

8) Keep your goals to yourself. Although you do not have to keep your goals a secret, and it may even be good to discuss them with trusted associates, broadcasting your goals usually stirs up opposition. The friend who had the goal of becoming the head of his department, would talk about it constantly and criticize the current department head. Word always gets around so instead of helping him obtain his goal, it actually hurt his chances for promotion and put a target on his back for competitors to aim at. He never transferred out of the department, even though the department head was doing everything possible to demote him. I cannot help but think that his narrow goal of becoming head of that department kept him there when he should have transferred like the rest of us. Another thing, by broadcasting his goals, he attracted more enemies than friends.

9) Do not be afraid to deviate from your intermediate goals. There are very few straight-line paths to success, unless you have someone paving the way. If you are like most of us who have to find our own way, you have to take some risks and detours. Often opportunity knocks on a door that you really feel you do not want to open. When you consider opportunities you have to separate your intermediate goals from your long-term goals. In retro spec every opportunity that I passed up would have helped me achieve my long-term goals to a much fuller extent. Since these opportunities often came out of nowhere, I cannot help but think that my focus on my goals brought them about. I also believe that my refusal to take advantage of the opportunities was a message to my mind that I was not serious about achieving my goals.

10) Think of your goals often and let your mind form ideas and visions of what it will be like when you achieve your goal. Some call it a mental movie where you are the writer, director, and star, and you visualize yourself achieving your goal. Pay attention to methods and strategies you use, and incorporate them into your current situation.

By steering your thinking towards a desirable outcome your mind will work with you, instead of against you to achieve your goals. Consider your mind a silent partner who works behind the scenes, the more knowledge and information you furnish to work with the better the results.

Good luck

The PracticaL Mentor.

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