You’ve probably heard about the power of focus. Every success coach talks about it. Focus is considered to be one of the big secrets of successful people. So, it’s no news this is something you need to master.
What I mean is that it is not as if we don’t know or have never heard of the importance of being focused on our goals. We all know we should, we all know how much our success depends on it. Most of us, however, just can’t manage to follow a straight line to get to what we want. We want too much; we want it all. We’re greedy! (or is that gluttony?!)
Many people with a lot of different talents, hobbies and interests end up underachievers because they can’t remain focused. They chase too many rabbits at the same time. They want to start a new business, write a book (not just one, three!), keep a blog (or five!), get an MBA, learn Chinese (and Spanish), spend a year in Paris, make extra money online (to pay for the MBA and the year in Paris and the startup costs and…). All that is feasible, within reach, but it cannot be chased all at the same time…
I come across people like that all the time and I, myself, have had my share of goal gluttony for a long time! We want too much, we want to conquer the world and since we know all (or most) of our goals are attainable (it’s not like we want to be rocks stars), we don’t realize the problem is not that we can’t or don’t have what it takes to reach them. The problem is that we can’t do it all… at the same time.
The secret of focus is prioritization. We can’t be focused unless we convince ourselves that goal A has a higher priority right at this moment than goal B. Convincing ourselves is the secret here! Talented people tend to be stubborn and to get overly motivated with the flavor of the month. We may dive into goal A in January like our lives depend on it, just to completely forget about it in February and start believing the new big deal is goal B. In May, we remember what we were doing about goal A, but before we can concentrate on solid action again, some different shiny object catches our attention and off we go. We end up not reaching any goal at all. But you know that too… no news here.
What you may not know is that there seems to be a link between this kind of behavior and greediness or gluttony! I talk about those two concepts almost as synonyms because they are driven by the same root cause: wanting too much and being unable to prioritize. Just like someone that puts too much food on the plate and can’t eat it all, goal gluttons think they can set 10 goals and chase them all at the same time. Often not literally at the same time, but it’s like opening too many books and then reading a little bit of each book at a time; it takes a lot longer and you may never finish some of them at all.
What’s behind this behavior is the same thing that drives gluttony: lack of self-control when dealing with one’s desires. Greediness comes in when people cannot let go (not even for few months or years) of any of their goals. They want to reach them as soon as possible, and many of these people believe they are way behind and think they should have already reached those goals in the past, which fuels a sense of urgency. They feel like they can’t afford to let go of any goal or postpone anything to focus on just a few plans.
The reality is that even though they don’t let go of the idea of reaching these goals, most of them are never worked on. You may be wondering what’s the point, if people don’t work on some (or most) of their goals, what difference does it make? Oh, it makes a huge difference! What we don’t let go of takes room inside of our heads! Some people spend a ridiculous amount of time doing internet research on the dreams they imagine one day they are going to achieve. In other cases, the problem is the personal availability. When people refuse to let go of things they believe they are going to do in the future, they have trouble committing to responsibilities in the present, if it means reducing the chances they will be able to get whatever else they also want later.
I met a woman in New York that had spent her youth in France. Circumstances in her life brought her back to the US, but she was always thinking that as soon as possible she would return to France so she could live the life of her dreams on the place of her choice. That was her big goal: return to France. There was always something however that would keep her in New York, family, health issues, finances… She would always say that “next year” she would be finally moving to France. She never did. Even though she didn’t ever make a solid move towards her “big goal”, the idea of an imminent move to another country kept her from enjoying her life where she was. She refused marry any man that didn’t share the “moving to France” goal, but she also didn’t look for a man that did. She never felt any sense of commitment or responsibility towards building a career or forming strong bonds with the people she met, because she was going to move “anytime” and leave everything behind. Her actions and lack of interest in the life she had in New York didn’t have anything to do with the idea of moving overseas, as anyone reading this would guess. Why couldn’t she build a successful career in New York, then take advantage of that when moving to France to get a great job? The problem is that she was always just about to leave, if she was ever asked when, she would say “next year”. In her mind, any type of long term commitment in the place she didn’t want to stay was worthless because she was going to move soon. Why get a good job just to work for a few months then leave? She was always getting ready, but she never did get there. This story repeated itself for more than 50 years! This lady has passed away a few years ago, in New York, without ever going back to the place of her dreams, not even for a 2 week vacation. Why didn’t she just go? I don’t know! We would have to ask her! But even if we could get that answer, she would probably give some excuse to justify why she was still in New York and just say that things were finally going well and next year she would be moving.
I call this the “big goal syndrome”. This dream has the power of changing everything in your life, like a life move overseas, but also has the power of killing all of your other goals, because until you get that big goal you can’t commit to nothing else… A lot of people with this “syndrome” lose track of time, they find all kinds of excuses to justify the reason why things haven’t worked out yet and they don’t think about how long it’s been since they first envisioned the goal. They believe it’s all perfectly fine because there were obstacles, other things happened and yada, yada, yada… Since there’s a reason (or many) they can’t be blamed for not reaching their big dream yet. They also tend to overlook obstacles and to believe that in the near future things are going to start happening the way they want. Of course, when the future becomes present, then past, there’s always more reasons to explain why things are not happening.
The story of the woman that dreamed about moving to France is very strong because it shows us that we don’t need to be necessarily engaged in action towards our goals. Everything we want takes room inside of our heads and while our brains are busy trying to find a way to “clear the way” so we can achieve what we desire, we end up making bad choices. Goals compete with other inside of our brains and mess with our sense of priority. When we don’t have just one, but many simultaneous goals, we tend to get confused and confused brains don’t like to take action.
So if you either have a big dream or a lot of small goals, you may have a problem. These are two opposite situations, but the root is the same: you refuse to let go. Maybe you need to let go of your big dream and realize it’s never going to happen, otherwise, you need to focus on it and take real action. If you have a lot of competing goals, you need to let go of some of them, or put a few of them on the back burner for a while. In any case, you need to ponder with honesty what is the reason things haven’t happened the way you envisioned yet. Avoid the trap of blaming external circumstances, 9 out 10 cases, the problem is pure lack of action and the reason for this is failure to plan properly (setting goals is not planning!)
Looking at very productive people we envy their potential and wonder what’s wrong with us, why in the world we can’t manage to get what we want with the time that we have? These people sure have some productivity tricks under their sleeves, but the fact is: they do prioritize and even though they really do a lot of stuff, they are focused usually on just ONE big goal at the time! I’ve never seen a successful author working on two books at the same time or an entrepreneur starting two startups before getting the first one up to speed. There’s a lot of things that can be planned to be chased at the same time, but anything that requires intense time dedication has to gain the “one goal” priority to actually stand a chance of seeing the light of day.
When goal A is taken care of, you move on to goal B and so forth. However, it’s also important to question if all the goals you have in mind are really targets you should aim for. Focus is not just about prioritizing the right things at the right time, but keeping a certain coherence among all of your goals. Your dreams must be interconnected somehow, they all should contribute for the achievement of your end goal, or what you really want for your life.
Doing things just because you enjoy them is not always a good idea. If you’re not financially stable yet or still have financial goals to reach, try doing what you love for money, instead of doing something you hate professionally and then spending too much time with your hobbies. Always be wary of your desires, you may want and enjoy doing a lot of stuff, that doesn’t mean you absolutely have to do them.
Try to connect the things you want and like to do in a web, if some things cannot be coherently mixed with the rest of your life, consider permanently abandoning them, whether it’s a goal or a hobby. I love chemistry. I’ve spent a lot of time daydreaming about getting a chemical engineering degree and then moving on to a starting a cosmetics business where I’ll would come up with new formulas of cosmetics. I also love physics and in my wildest dreams I even thought I could do research at the Large Hadron Collider (CERN) – yeah, I’m nerd like that! When I was younger I really thought I could make it in the movie business, as producer or a filmmaker… Oh, and I seriously flirted with med school for a while! If I would tell you all about the crazy things I dreamed about doing with my life, I’d have to write a book! A lot of different things, all disconnected, all requiring a 180 degree life change from where I was.
Things only started to work out for me when I stopped daydreaming and started actually moving towards a single set of interconnected goals and not straying from that path – especially not wondering if I’d be happier if I were doing this or that instead.
Once I finally committed to the end goal I had imagined for my future, that was it. I had a lot of trouble accepting that idea, realizing that I would have to commit to something and don’t change my mind, even if I could. I’ll talk more about it in a different article, for now, I want you think about how you deal with wanting too much out of life:
– Are you a goal glutton?
– Are you being greedy not willing to let go of certain goals, wanting it all and wanting it now?
– Do you daydream about completely different life paths and have difficulty deciding exactly which one to pick or if you should really do something different?
The answers to these questions can diagnose your problems with goals and priorities. Being aware of our problems is the first step to find a solution because we start to pay more attention to how we deal with our dreams, expectations and the reality that surrounds them.