The Power of Focus

Side view of a woman in a brown shirt and blue jeans holding two red and gold planners against her hip.

Goal-setting is practically synonymous with discipline. 

It’s hammered into us that if we want to achieve success, we need to maintain strict focus and monk-like discipline.

If we want to be healthy, we're told to eliminate sugar and carbs. If we want to save money, we’re told to stop ordering takeout. If we want to be productive, we’re told to stop being on our devices.

We’re told to eliminate things, depriving ourselves of the very items or activities that usually entertain us or provide comfort, all in an effort to improve our lives. 

But is there a way to improve our lives without making ourselves miserable in the process? 

Maybe instead of merely cutting things out that are bad or unhealthy for us, we can also focus more on the things we love and truly care about. 

For instance, let’s say you want to work out more but you hate the gym. Instead of forcing yourself to go to the gym, which will only make you miserable and abandon your goal, take some time to consider what activities you enjoy doing. Do you love swimming? Salsa classes? Taking long, leisurely walks? If you structure some of your days around making these things possible, you will *want* to regularly make these exercises a part of your life.

There is power in focusing on the things you genuinely love or are excited about.

It’s similar to author Ramit Sethi’s philosophy of choosing one or two “money dials” and turning them way up. So if you’re trying to save money but love eating out at restaurants, don’t deny yourself this pleasure. Keep turning up this money dial, but then adjust your money dial when necessary or reduce spending on other things that aren’t as exciting to you.

In his blog, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, Sethi writes:

“It’s OK to recognize that you have areas you naturally love and want to spend on. What others think of your spending doesn’t matter because everyone has different Money Dials. It’s simply a matter of different priorities! In other words, what you value will be different from what others value.”

So whether you’re trying to save money or eat healthier, the trick is to be mindful of the things you truly enjoy and want to spend your time or money on. Denying joy or pleasure is hard to sustain. But it’s easier to incorporate new habits when they’re aligned with our genuine interests and values and lifestyle. Below, we’ve provided tips and tricks on how you can focus on the things you are excited about so that you can reap more benefits and achieve your goals. 

How to bring focus to your goals

If you want to achieve a goal, you want to first make sure that you have a specific target in mind. When you have a clear, defined outcome that you want to reach, you’ll have an easier time getting there.

But so often, we come up with vague goals like “I want to be healthier” or “I want a bigger professional network.” Generic goals are hard to pursue because there’s no concrete plan. And they’re also harder to visualize. What does being healthier mean? And what does that entail? But a specific, process-oriented goal gives your brain something to visualize and aim for, which makes it easier to follow. 

If you want to create a goal that is likely to succeed, you want to make sure that it falls under the SMART framework, so that your goal is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Relevant 
  • Time-bound

Specificity is a key component in your goal-setting strategy. Choose a goal that is crystal clear and defined so that you have something to drive towards. And to make the process even more enjoyable, try to focus on something that aligns with your genuine interests and preferences.

Here are some examples:

  • Vague: I want to work out more.
  • Specific: I want to work out 3x a week.
  • Make it enjoyable: If you want to ensure that you stick to your routine, pick an exercise that you would enjoy doing. Maybe it’s roller skating or taekwondo or walking. Pick an activity that will bring you joy, and lean into it. 
  • Vague: I want to be healthier.
  • Specific: I want to eat vegetables with dinner 5x a week.
  • Make it enjoyable: Maybe you’re that rare person who loves vegetables... But if eating leafy greens does not bring you joy, try to make it more pleasant by making a list of vegetable side dishes that sound appetizing or incorporate your favorite flavors. Explore your favorite food blogs and see if they have tasty vegetable recipes. 
  • Vague: I want to save more money.
  • Specific: I want to save $50 a week.
  • Make it enjoyable: Make a list of expenses that you wouldn't mind eliminating, along with a list of things that genuinely bring you joy to buy. If getting a massage is really important to you, but buying organic groceries is not, don't cut the massage from your budget just because it feels like a luxury; cut the grocery bill instead, where it will impact your happiness less.
  • Vague: I want to meal prep. 
  • Specific: I want to prepare my breakfasts in advance.
  • Make it enjoyable: Do you love overnight oats? Breakfast burritos? Healthy acai bowls? Choose a couple of tasty dishes that you would enjoy and add that to your meal prep routine. 

Remember to start small as you incorporate these new habits and acclimate yourself to this routine. So, for instance, if you’re new to meal prepping, don’t vow to prep every single meal for the entire month and splurge on groceries. Focus on a specific meal that you can prepare and then try doing that until it becomes integrated into your routine. 

Use your planner to log your progress and check in with yourself every week or month. Check to see if your goals are on course or faltering, and plan for ways to adjust. If you noticed that you set a goal to work out 3x a week, but are only working out twice a week, that’s okay.

Reflect on this and see if you can identify why you’re not hitting the target. Maybe you’ve been getting busy at work and by the time you come home, you’re too tired to exercise.

Now that you have this information, you can modify your strategy. Maybe this means planning for morning workouts or weekend workouts so that you have more time and energy.

If you’re having trouble coming up with areas or interests to focus on, take 20 or 30 minutes to write in your journal, and explore options that would be enjoyable for you. Once you find an area to focus on, you just might find the goal setting journey that much more satisfying.
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