Stay the course. It’s critical for motivated, activated people who can’t sit still and therefore find themselves doing just for the sake of doing. When you have the drive, that energy just wants to go, regardless of where, why, or how. Your job is to keep your drive focused.
I like to keep myself accountable by making a checklist every Sunday night. On it, I list everything that I want to accomplish before the next weekend. Doing it Sunday night gives me a chance to think about my priorities on my own time, before I’m caught up in the insanity of the work week. Then, every day, I make more detailed checklists of the smaller steps that will bring me closer to my goals. I only deal with the daily lists during the week; I don’t review the full week list until the end of the week when I ask myself two questions: Did I complete the list? And how well did these steps advance me to my goals? I have personally consumed a disgraceful amount of paper with these lists, but I’m attempting to come to the 21st Century with Evernote. It’s very confusing but I am getting the hang of it.
Obviously, with or without Evernote, list-making isn’t any earth-shattering, revolutionary new concept. But it is an organizational tool that many take for granted. Lists help you to maintain your focus in some really important ways:
- A list gives you direction. Direction, not motivation. People who have the drive already have all the motivation they need. A list makes sure that all that fire is going the right place. If you’re looking for motivation, you’re in the wrong place—maybe check out Jillian Michaels’s website instead.
- A list keeps your effort efficient. Maintaining efficiency can be a problem for people who thrive on the feeling of putting in work. Wasted effort is wasted effort—there’s no way to salvage it. But wasted effort is avoidable if you constantly evaluate your actions and make sure that you are steering the ship in the right direction.
- A list keeps your effort consistent. A good outcome is only a good outcome if it’s repeatable. Write down your steps so that you can reflect on what you did or didn’t do. Use data at every possible point. The more you record, the better decisions you can make later based off of comparisons. For example, my water heater broke years ago, so my after-workout showers were ice cold. All of a sudden, my coach and I started noticing strength and recovery increases. After some experimentation, I learned to alternate the heat in my after-workout showers. It turns out that the Bulgarians have used this form of hydrotherapy for years! I only discovered it because I was complaining in my training journal about the cold showers and my coach noticed it. Data data data!! But it’s all useless if you do not review and investigate.
- A list encourages you to take inventory. At the end of the week, if I see any discrepancy between my actions and my goals, I take a few moments to reevaluate my efforts. What worked? What did not? Earlier in the year, I started adding in small workouts on my lunch break. Doing some extra arm wrestling training seemed like a good idea, but come Saturday, when I was practicing with my team, I was not as strong as I had been and my endurance was much lower. I should clarify here that endurance is a different animal in arm wrestling: it’s a balance of conserving arm strength and tolerating straight-up pain. Arm wrestling hurts in ways and places you will never know until you try it. So, I ditched the lunchtime workouts. But, on the other hand, when I experimented with waking up at night so that I could get in an additional small meal per day, the results were phenomenal.
- A list keeps you honest with yourself. Being honest with yourself is vital to your focus. Sometimes, changing directions is necessary if you want to reach your goals. In training for my most recent powerlifting meet, I realized about three weeks out that I was not going to peak well. Not only did the meet not go very well performance-wise, I walked away from it with a back/shoulder injury. Ouch. At the time, not competing at the meet felt like failure to me. But, after suffering setbacks in my last five weeks of training because of the new injury, I can see that it would have been better to change tack. Keep in mind that adjustments are not failures. Nothing says that you’re married to your list—be willing to change course when you need to. Don’t be afraid to call audibles at the line for the sake of your own well-being. Listen to your body and watch for signs. Increase if you catch yourself slacking, decrease if you feel yourself breaking, but just try to be as honest as possible.
Maintaining focus requires that you keep your drive alive. But simple survival won’t set you apart from anyone else. You need to grow, not just in size but in scope—knowledge, usefulness, impact, worth as a human being. You need to evolve. Don’t let your focus on your personal goals blind you to the big picture; instead, make time to give back to the world that made you who you are. Is there a particular question that you hear over and over? Take time to answer it, as many times as it takes. Craft a polished answer. Don’t let it just be “an” answer to the question—make it the best fucking answer that was ever given to that question. Get a camera and record your answer so you can post it to YouTube. If your answer is good enough, then put some effort into the production and sell your version of the answer. Do all this and look back—BOOM! Your focus is what made you a rockstar, just by funneling your focus into an answer to a question that people were already asking you. You’ve achieved success on both planes: your personal goals and your value to the big picture.
Always make sure that you temper your drive for success with plenty of time dedicated to those who have supported you. If you have achieved anything in life, someone somewhere helped you. Your fan base always starts with the people closest to you, so go out of your way to acknowledge those people regularly. If you are lucky enough to have anyone who gives two shits about you and what you do, make the time to thank them—they made the time to help you, and they could have chosen differently. Your family and friends may not care much about what you were able to accomplish on your own, but they’ll remember the time you spent together.
Many people credit a Higher Power as the source of their focus. If that’s you, more power to you! But do it for your own sake and can the theatrics. It’s my belief that showboating is the polar opposite of a genuinely respectful belief system. Any god powerful enough to make change in your life doesn’t need his (or her!) ego stroked with some flamboyant touchdown dance. Save your energy for when someone is curious enough to ask you about your beliefs directly; at that point, you and your faith will have a more significant positive influence because the discussion will be motivated by true interest. Keep it sincere or keep it to yourself. Authenticity is lost very easily in these situations.
The whole point of maintaining your focus is to keep you trudging on the road to your happiest destiny. Put one foot in front of the other every day, making sure it’s the biggest, strongest, most efficient step possible, in the most accurate direction towards your goals. Do it consistently. Some days will be very easy, and some days will seem impossible. No matter what, though, don’t skip a day—the days that are the hardest build the most momentum and reap the sweetest rewards.
Leave any comment, question, or suggestion here on the blog or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to continue this discussion or pursue my online coaching. I would love to hear from you.
“No steam or gas ever drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined.”—Henry Emerson Fosdick