I don’t know about you, but I find myself working 12-hour days looking for the extra 12 hours that I don’t have. I’m writing emails, texts, launching calls, setting up Zoom calls. I’m like Jack in the Bean Stalk, climbing the bean pole through the clouds, finding the giant, kicking him in the shin and hoping to goodness it hurts him more than me.
Focus is the key factor I often don’t have. It’s the tool we lack when we’re working hard and getting nowhere. Focus is like a flashlight on a dark night. Without the bright beam we’re stumbling around, tripped up by what we don’t see. The focus of the flashlight shows us the path forward to safety.
In 2022 my focus is focus. I’m going to focus on everything from keeping up with my socks to where I last saw my cell phone. I’m going to focus on who is important and what I can do to move forward.
Did you ever wish there were a pill to help you focus?
Have you seen those ads on TV about a supplement that will do it for you? They always feature a middle-aged person trying to stay in the game and hold things together. They are believable people who give convincing testimony of how their lives were changed by one little pill.
If I could convince myself they worked, I’d take a bottle every day.
I’m certainly not convinced they don’t work, but even if I could add 50 points to my IQ, it would not necessarily cure my lack of focus. I have several friends in Mensa, the organization for people with genius IQ’s, who will tell you they struggle with focus.
Learning to focus and stay on track is always a work in progress, but here are some ideas that might be useful to you.
- You can’t focus if you don’t know where you want to go. Without a short list of what is important to me, I can’t possibly have a focus on where I’m going. I’ll simply spend my life doing what comes next, moved by the last person I talked to.
A whole host of things dance in front of my short attention span and get me off track, and I don’t even think of focus. We have huge multiple demands for our attention from the people who write our paychecks to the community of family, friends, and faith groups. We move from one to another, and we will never be able to satisfy their calls, but with a true sense of what’s important to us, we’ll move in a constant direction that will add up to a significant life.
- If you achieve being focused, you’ll need to stay in the present. I have to confess that I’ve spent a lifetime kicking the tires on what might have been. Remembering the past is the key tool to keep us doing what worked and not doing what was disastrous.
But here is the key principle: You cannot allow the pull of the past to obliterate the power of today. Guilt and shame is the swamp that will swallow you. Accept what you learned, make amends where you can—and move on. Use the clean slate of today to create a path to tomorrow.
- An unhappy, depressed person can’t be focused. Useful thought will be covered in a black cloud if you live there. Find your own road to happiness. With great apologies to the Buddha, suffering is a basic fact of life, but not the meaning of life. You can’t avoid suffering, but embracing it is a pathology, not a life strategy. Suffering will come looking for you, but you should never look for it. As much as you can, make suffering a temporary derailment. If you’re unhappy and depressed, focus is difficult to impossible.
In order to focus on your goal, you should create a world of comfort, happiness, and avoidance of pain and discomfort. Is that the same as selfishness and greed? No. That idea is sold on every street corner. Our goal is to restore, heal, and build and that requires the focus that comes from a clear and optimistic mind.
An unhappy, depressive person cannot focus on anything but the dark realm of the mind. Your focus is strengthened when you work for what you love—your life, your family, and what you believe is important. You will find your focus increasing as you seek to fill your needs and those of the people you care about most.
- The foundation of focus is knowing where you are in your life. Easter egg hunts were fun as a child, but racing around looking for those beautifully colored little treasures hidden in grass and behind trees is a terrible way to run your life. In order to be focused, you have to know where you are—where are you in your finances, relationships, professional skillsets, and where you are on the field of your life. Where are the goalposts? What yard line are you on? What is the endgame?
When you know where you are, you can focus on where you’re going.
You can’t stay focused all the time or you’ll be so intense that no one can be around you. It’s like driving from Austin to our other home in Santa Fe, with our two poodles, Winston and Roosevelt. We’re focusing on the road and traffic, which is literally a life and death proposition. At the same time, I’m going to want to get off the road to go into a convenience store to eat one of those greasy Allsup’s burritos. And we have to stop to take the puppies out for a little water and bio breaks.
There are all sorts of critical things we need to do that will slow down moving forward, but if we know what our direction and goals are, we’ll get there before dark. It’s a matter of staying focused.