Life is wonderful.
There are a lot of beautiful things to want and to be. And if you are like your 7 billion fellow humans, you probably have a lot of dreams, desires and goals.
But, life is also complex and confusing.
Not always a cakewalk. It is easy to lose focus. To do the easy and the immediate, instead of the tough and the meaningful. After years of trying, (sometimes) we even give up on the dreams we loved the most.
How to stay focused? How to have a game plan that you believe in?
Here are 5 strategies to keep you going, when the going gets tough. (Each strategy can be used individually, but I would suggest that you adopt it as a process – starting from 1 to 5)
- Know (Know Your Long-Term Goals)
- Choose (Prioritize Your Current Goals)
- Believe (Believe in Yourself)
- Work (Take Massive Action)
- Follow Through (Prepare for Failure)
1. Know Your Long-Term Goals
I am 29 today, and even with 29 years spent chasing dreams, I still have many goals. It is almost paralysing to list them all. Such is the magnitude of the task!
What we need is a system to better understand our goals- not all goals are created equal. If, our strategy is to be effective, it must first help us understand the things we want.
Grab a pen and paper, quickly jot down all your long-term goals and see what kinds they are.
Although I have not seen your goals, there are a few things I already know about them – they are complex (or you would have already achieved them), they are important to you and they are gonna be totally worth it.
Balancing Fun & Productivity
During my time at B-school, boy was I busy!
I set myself a task of starting conversations with 300 strangers during my student exchange program in Europe (I was very shy growing up and wanted to up my social skills). I was also visiting a psychiatrist, to work on my OCD.
The academic schedule was gruelling, but I still didn’t miss a single gym session because I wanted to be in the best shape of my life. I continued chasing my long list of goals as I got my first job and joined the workforce.
Although, the thrill of improving my life was exhilarating, this is not a strategy that I could sustain for decades. Five years in, my motivation started to wane and I started to coast through life.
Don’t make the mistake I made. Aim for balance – a balance between fun and productivity.
The basic strategy you want to shoot for, is to balance Happy (Fun) Goals and To-Do/ Scary (Productive) Goals.
Life is precious. From what I can tell, you seem to get only one. So follow your hobbies, your bliss and spend time with family. Do what makes you happy from time to time.
Now that we have a good understanding of your goals, it is time for the fun stuff – picking one!
All of Economics is based on a simple principle – the available resources are limited but man’s wants are infinite.
The principle applies to you as well – you have limited resources (time and energy). If you follow all goals, then you achieve none. There are only 24 hours in a day… You get the picture.
You need to pick the goals that you are going to focus on today.
Deferred Life Plan
When I was 22 I had, what I believe was, a pivotal realization. All my life I had followed the goals that were expected of me.
Getting good grades, enrolling in a decent college, attempting to get a job at a great company. These goals brought me no joy, because they were not my goals.
So, whether I succeeded or failed, the result was always the same – a sense of emptiness. What’s worse, I could see these goals stretching infinitely into the future.
I would need to do well at my job to get a good start, and then save to buy a car and plan to get a house… To get married… Bring up the children…
There is nothing wrong with wanting these things. Doing well in your career and starting a family are wonderful things. But you should do them if that is what you really want. Not because you feel that is expected of you.
Funnily enough, sacrificing what you want for what is expected of you, has a name – a Deferred Life Plan.
In her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware (a palliative nurse) tells us that the number 1 regret was, ‘I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself.’
Put yourself first. No one else is going to.
The Dark Side of Prioritization
The common understanding of prioritization is doing what is important and staying away from what is not. Easy-peasy.
But what we need, is an extreme form of prioritization – we must sacrifice (temporarily) the goals we love, for the goals we love the most.
Be very clear about two things. One, the goals you are currently chasing. Two, the goals that you are sacrificing (temporarily).
There is a video on YouTube that captures this emotion perfectly. It is a motivational video by Eric Thomas called How Bad Do You Want It?
Do what is required to achieve your goals. Do everything that is required to achieve your goals. Don’t do anything that doesn’t contribute to your current goals.
Now, that we know our long-term goals and have also decided which goals we are going to focus on first, it is time for the next step- believing.
3. Believe in Yourself
There is a group of people, who excel at learning new things. They learn from those around them, they are resourceful and their minds are uniquely designed to adapt to the demands of the environment.
These people are called humans. Congratulations, you are one of them.
I don’t think there is anything magical about believing in yourself. But the results of believing in yourself can be magical.
The truth is, you simply will not try hard enough and long enough, if you believe the task is essentially impossible. To be sure, everything is not possible! (I cannot turn myself into a pink turnip.)
But most of the things we desire, we have seen others possess. Which means other humans have managed to do it. If you put in the effort, the time and all the hard work, there is a good chance you can too.
Good things are difficult and they take time. But are ultimately, possible.
Talent vs Skill
Talent is an inborn ability, a God given gift. Skill, on the other hand, is a learnt ability that is developed through time and effort.
It is tempting to think of greatness as a result of talent. We like to think of our heros as being effortlessly great at what they do. Some of the blame for this view lies with the media. We focus attention on peak performance, not on the struggle to make it possible.
However, there is remarkably consistent research telling us that word-class performance is the result of enormous amounts of hard work.
The point is, have faith that you can be good at the things that scare you. You can become good at the things that you are not good at.
Seeing is believing.
But, when you are down and out; when life is the exact opposite of what you want; it is difficult to imagine a better future.
When I don’t feel confident about my goal, my favourite technique is Creative Visualization. It is a fancy word for imagining (and clearly seeing) your desired future and believing that it already exists.
The best part is that it doesn’t cost you anything, except 10 minutes of your time a day.
Below, is the 10 Minute Visualization Technique that I use anytime I am pursuing an important goal.
STEP 1. When you are alone and free from distractions, sit comfortably on your bed or on a chair. Close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths to calm your mind.
STEP 2. (For the next 10 minutes)
Imagine your desired outcome and feel the related happy emotions.
Then, zoom out, and see yourself as experiencing your desired outcome.
Imagine all the small victories leading up to your ultimate goal.
DO – Include as much rich detail as possible. Smell, touch and hear your success.
DON’T – Engage your rational mind. This is not the time to think about how to succeed.
STEP 3. Simply, do it everyday. Make it a habit. You get better at visualizing with time.
You can learn more about Visualization, from the King of Personal Development, Tony Robbins himself, here.
So now, we know our long-term goals; we have prioritized our most important goals; and we believe that they are possible. It is time for the most important step of all – doing the work.
4. Take Massive Action
For every person, there is the good news and there is the bad news.
The good news, is that your goals are possible. The bad news, is that they are not easy. Put bluntly, you need to work your butt off.
Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.Abraham Lincoln
No one is coming to save you. You need to save yourself. And, no one said this was going to be easy (it’s not). You will need to get your hands dirty.
The exact work that you need to do, will depend on your goal, your strengths, and the situation you are in. However, here are four Work Techniques, that will give you the discipline to hustle everyday for the rest of your life.
Work Technique 1: Plan – Execute – Update – Execute
The first technique, is simple and obvious. Also the most effective.
You need a plan to guide your actions. To ensure that you are doing everything to reach your goal, and nothing that doesn’t contribute to your goal.
Then you execute. Whether you are tired, or sick, or busy, or sleepy – it doesn’t matter. Do what you planned to do. If you are unable to do what you planned, nothing will work.
After some time, say a week, review your results and update your plan. Planning is not a one-time activity. Your plan will need to be refined continuously, till you achieve your goal.
And then, execute again. All your activity is one long cycle of planning and executing.
Work Technique 2: Presence
The mind is the greatest tool we have got.
Unfortunately, the mind can also be a terrible curse. An out of control mind can be a mental hell. The key out of this prison, is an elegant concept from Eastern Philosophy – Presence.
Take your focus off all the things that pissed you off in the past.
Take your focus off all the things in the future that you are afraid of.
Put your focus on the present moment. A simple trick to bring your mind to the present moment, is to watch your breath. Become present to your breathing.
Here is what freedom from your mind looks like:
- Freedom from excessive thinking. (Focus on the task at hand)
- Freedom from the fear of failure. (Focus on enjoying the process)
- Freedom from comparing yourself to others. (Focus on giving your personal best)
- Freedom from the opinions of others. (Focus on engaging with life’s problems)
To be sure, the spiritual masters can teach Presence way better than me. If the concept resonates with you, I would highly suggest you check out The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle.
Work Technique 3: Clarity of Intent
Clarity of Intent is alignment between your thoughts, words and actions.
Most people will say that their Intent (desire) is to be successful. But their Intent to succeed, conflicts with thoughts like the Intent to not be embarrassed… Intent to look cool to their friends… Intent to avoid the pain of failure… Intent to get social validation…
If your Intent is divided, millions of thoughts will take their place in your head over your raw Intent to succeed.
You also want to focus on the upside (benefits) of your goal and not on the downside (risks). You do want to analyse the risks (especially in the case of a business venture), but mostly you want to focus on the upside.
The best way to get Clarity of Intent, is to gain momentum. As you take action and work on your goal day after day, your Intent gets clearer.
You can learn more about Intent from the book, Focus, by Heidi Halvorson.
Work Technique 4: Process Orientation
Here is a paradox.
The best way to achieve your goal, is to focus more on the process (and not on the goal itself). Process Orientation is about doing the right things and doing them to the best of your ability, to get whatever you want.
Say you are preparing for an exam, Process Orientation says that if you studied the amount you wanted to, then you get to feel good about yourself (regardless of the actual test results).
Let’s get real – we do not control the world. There are other people and circumstances that are out of our control. We control only one thing – our thoughts, words and actions.
Focusing on our behaviour (the Process), puts your focus where it matters. On the only thing that you have control over. It gives us a sense of control and takes us out of hopelessness.
Being focused on the Process, also lets you enjoy the journey. Fixation with the outcome can make you miserable till you finally get what you want. Not a very happy way to live.
Finally, Process Orientation is a habit that sets you up for long-term success. You do not want to lose weight for a party. You want to develop a healthy lifestyle that keeps you fit over the years.
This concludes the four Work Techniques. Next up, is the final and crucial step to achieving your goals – Following through.
5. Prepare for Failure (a.k.a. Not Give Up)
It’s strange, but failure is a part of success.
On the way to your goal, you are going to have wins and loses. That is to be expected, and you shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes. Or you would never push yourself.
What is important, is that everytime you fail you get back up, refine your Process and try again.
Movies give us an unrealistic idea of success. The road to success is not elegant. It is messy and confusing. It is trial and error. It is things not going according to plan. Mostly, it is about not giving up.
Failure is simply the price for success. Pay it and move on.
Over To You…
Wow. We got through a lot here.
I really hope that you get whatever it is you seek. If you haven’t already, start your journey today.
There was a time when I felt that I would never be happy, and these strategies helped me tremendously. Thank you for letting me share them with you 🙏
Let me know which you liked the most. Are there some strategies you would like to share with me?