If you’re anything like the next person, staying focused on your goals is hard. When things seem so far out, it’s easy to put them off just a bit longer and lose sight of the bigger picture. We get tied up, wound up, wrapped up, and enthralled in one distraction after another.
But, if we want to achieve our goals, we have to find ways to stay focused. It’s easy to veer off course. It’s easy to indulge in the pleasures of everyday life. It’s far harder to stay focused, grind, and reach for our dreams, irregardless of the things that might get in our way.
However, people do it all the time. There’s a select group of individuals who’ve learned the secret recipe for staying focused on their goals. To them, goal achievement is merely a matter of time and energy. They’ve figured out the system, uncovering it through trial and error.
So, how exactly does it work?
Staying Focused on Your Goals
The system isn’t complex. It isn’t convoluted or intricate. It doesn’t require a certain amount of money in the bank, network of friends in the right places, education, skills, or access to anything in particular. What it does require is far more fundamental than that.
Staying focused on your goals requires a burning desire to achieve them, combined with a specific approach and method for planning. It also involves the creation of the right habits to help serve you rather than to hold you back.
Habits are a big part of the equation. Since 40% of all human behavior is habit-driven, if you have bad habits that are holding you back, it’s next to impossible to make progress in life. That’s where those ugly distractions rear their heads.
So, in particular, there are 7 steps for staying focused on your goals, and ultimately in achieving them. If you can address all 7 of these steps, then you’ll be on your way to succeeding in whatever endeavor you’ve set your heart on.
Step 1 – What Do You Want?
Think you know what you want? No, I mean specifically know what you want? Well, you’d be surprised just how many people don’t know exactly what they want. They haven’t set goals the right way by detailing them out on paper.
In one study conducted on a Harvard MBA class prior to graduation, it was determined that 84% of the class had not set specific goals at all, 13% of the class had set goals but had not written them out, and just 3% of the class had set goals and had created specific plans for their achievement.
Ten years later, it was determined that the 13% of the class that had set goals but had no plan, were making twice as much money as the 84% of the class who had set no goals at all.
But, it was also determined that the 3% of the class that had set both goals and had plans for their attainment were making 10 times as much as the other 97%!
Setting specific goals makes them far more real. It helps to bring subconscious thought into the conscious world. When we’re specific about things, they become more tangible and attainable. We can actually envision accomplishing them.
When we leave goals in the abstract world as just thought, that’s where they stay. They don’t materialize. They’re merely hopes and wishes. If you want to stay focused on your goals, you can’t leave them in the abstract. You have to write them out.
Grab a sheet of paper and write down your goals. Use the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. method of goal setting. Get very specific on just what you want out of life. Detail out the life that you’re looking to lead. Don’t leave any stone unturned. Don’t be afraid to set your aim so high it’s completely off base from where you are now.
Most people don’t write out their goals because they don’t think that they’re achievable. When that happens, it becomes a self-fulling prophecy. They can never actually be realized. How could we expect to stay focused on our goals if we don’t specify them in the greatest detail on paper?
Step 2 – Why Do You Want It?
The second step to staying focused on your goals is to define why you want the things that you do. Without profound reasons, it’s impossible to achieve our goals. Think about it for a moment. In the past, when you wanted something badly enough, didn’t you do anything in your power to get it?
When you don’t have a profound reason for wanting to achieve something, it’s easier to get distracted. It’s easier to succumb to our bad habits and engage in time-wasting activities when the things that we want don’t burn so deeply in the heart that they hurt.
Come up with profound reasons for your goals if you really want to stay focused on them. Profound reasons go beyond the superficial. We will do far less for the superficial than we will for the profound, especially when we come across roadblocks and suffer through life’s countless failures.
If you’re wondering what a profound reason looks like, here’s the lowdown. Things like, family, country, love, and contribution are profound reasons. Things like money, cars, houses, vacations, and jewelry are flimsy and superficial reasons. While we might want those things, they can’t be the driving source of our goals.
If you want to stay focused, then come up with a reason (or several reasons) that will help you get through the tough times, because there will surely be some tough times ahead, especially if you harbor some lofty goals.
Flip over your sheet of paper and for each goal, write out the reasons. You absolutely must do this if you’re serious about achieving your goals and want to stay focused on them. What are your reasons? Have you thought about it? Dig deep and set this out in front of you.
Step 3 – Create a Plan
Once you know what you want and why you want it, you need to create a plan. That plan must include when you’ll achieve your goals by. Without a plan, you’re far less likely to follow through.
Remember the Harvard MBA study? The 3% of the class that had goals and a plan were earning 10 times as much as the rest of the class. Make sure to create a general plan and be as detailed as you possibly can.
While you might not know every single step that you’ll take to achieve your goals, you must have an outline for how you’re going to get there. Things might change along the way, and they normally do. But as long as you know the direction of travel and a general sense of the steps along the way, you’re far more likely to succeed.
When an airplane takes off from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) with an intended destination of landing at Miami International Airport (MIA), that plane has a goal and a plan. The goal is to land at MIA. The plan is to travel in a general direction, at a certain altitude, with an average speed.
However, that plane might encounter some issues along the way. There might be some turbulence at 31,000 feet, causing the plane to ascend to a higher altitude of say, 37,000 feet. There might be air-traffic congestion over Dallas, causing the plane to veer slightly off course.
A number of things might happen to the plane along the way. When it does, the plane simply adjusts its plan. It doesn’t change its goals. Similarly, you need a general plan of how you’re going to achieve your goals if you want to stay focused on them.
This is your massive action plan. You need to create that general plan, but then also create a daily action plan that will get you from one milestone to the next. The more detail you can add to your massive action plan, the more likely you’ll be to follow through, and less likely you’ll be to get distracted.
Step 4 – Measure & Track
If you want to stay truly focused on your goals, you have to measure and track regularly. Similar to the airplane, which uses computers to measure and track at every moment, you have to measure and track your progress.
It’s harder to get distracted when we can see our progress. When we can see just how far we’ve come, where we are, and how far we have left to go, losing focus is harder. We have our eye on the prize. We know what’s left to be done. It’s not obscured by the subconscious mind.
Find a good system that works for you and work it. Some people prefer the trusty old pen and pad. Others prefer tracking with a device such as a smartphone or a tablet. Or, you could opt for the desktop, and even chart your results using popular spreadsheet software. Whatever you choose, choose one and stick with it.
The important thing here is consistency. You have to stay consistent in measuring and tracking your results. This should be done at least once per day if not more, depending on the goal. You’ll stay far more focused on losing weight, for example, if you measure and track your weight once per day along with precisely what you put in your mouth (food and drink).
It’s easy to lose focus when we don’t track things. It’s far easier to succumb to temptations when we’re not detailed in our approach to things. If we’re trying to save money, it’s easier to ignore bills and expenses rather than track every red cent that’s spent.
Step 5 – Effectively Manage Your Time
This step should come as no surprise to most of us who are poor time managers. It’s impossible to achieve our goals when we don’t effectively manage our time. When distractions get in the way, it’s easy to completely abandon much of the progress that we’ve made.
Come up with a good system for managing your time and stick with it. You could use the quadrant system for time management, which is by far the most popular one. The quadrant system breaks all of our activities up into four separate quadrants based on order of importance and urgency.
With the quadrant system, things are either 1) urgent and important, 2) important but not urgent, 3) urgent but not important, or 4) not important and not urgent. We can categorize everything that we do in these four separate categories.
The goal? In order to effectively manage your time, you have to avoid quadrant 4. Those are the time-wasters. Although we all engage in them at some point or another, some people spend far too much time in this quadrant, effectively diminishing any changes for goal-related success.
The focus should be on quadrant 2, which are the long-term goal related activities that are important but not urgent. Spend a week tracking everything that you do throughout the day. Then, write down the quadrant associated with the activity.
At the end of that week, determine what percentage of your time you spent in each quadrant. This should give you an estimate of how much time you’re spending in each area of your life. Then, if you want to focus on your goals, readjust your approach to spend more time on quadrant 2 activities.
Step 6 – Develop Keystone Habits
Keystone habits are integral to goal-oriented success. They’re no more difficult to form than any other habit, but provide far more benefits. They support the formation of other good habits along with the elimination of bad habits.
The key here is to focus on developing keystone habits in the right areas, so that you can easily stay focused on your goals. Since 40% of our behavior is habit-driven, if you can develop a good set of habits to help support your goals rather than hinder your progress, you’ll be far more likely to succeed in the long term.
The trick here is to come up with the right keystone habits to help you stay focused on your particular goals. For example, if you have money related goals, you have to focus on financial keystone habits such as expense tracking.
The keystone habit of expense tracking, involves tracking every single last red cent that you spend, no matter how big or small. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.”
When we track all of our expenses, we stay more focused on the money that’s going out the door. Then, we can use that to readjust our spending behavior. The keystone habit of expense tracking also allows other good habits to form, while eliminating bad financial habits.
For example, for the person who smokes cigarettes or spends excessive money on booze or partying, expense tracking can help to illuminate that behavior. And, for the committed person, it can help to eliminate some of that excess.
This keystone habit can also bring on good habits such as budgeting, opening bills right away, paying for monthly fees on time, saving, and so on. All you have to do is find the right keystone habits in the area of your life you’re looking to make the biggest improvements in if you want to stay focused on your goals.
Step 7 – Stay Persistent
Of course, the last step to staying focused on your goals is to stay persistent. As Winston Churchill once said, “Never, never, never give up.” You never actually know how close you are to achieving your goals if you were to give up.
You have to stay committed. You have to dig your feet in and grind away. There’s no simple method to achieving lofty goals. That’s why there’s a 1% and a 99% percent. It’s that rare few who can find the willpower to keep pushing even through adversity and failure.
If you’ve created strong enough and profound reasons for achieving your goals, that should help you to see things through. When you don’t, it’s easier to give up and become complacent. When you feel discouraged, look to your reasons.
You should come up with some motivational strategies to keep you going, even in the face of failure and setback. Next, find people that inspire you and read about their stories. Some of the most famous people in the world have failed the most times.
Achieving long-term goals, especially lofty ones, isn’t easy. No one ever said it would be. You have to stay focused and keep your eye on the prize. Do whatever you can to limit your distractions and keep pushing forward. Slow and steady wins the race.