Your 2019 New Year’s Resolutions Were a Fail. How is 2020 Going to be Different?
You made your New Year’s resolutions – again.
You set ambitious goals – again.
2020 is going to be the year – again, just like last year, and the year before. But then life gets in the way. You can’t find the time. It’s too hard. Too many temptations. Not enough motivation.
You’ll read yet another self-help book about how to take inspired action, even though you’ve read the same advice many times before, and your life still sounds nothing like all those over-the-top success stories in the book. Everyone on social media seems to be crushing their goals, yet you’re starting to get discouraged just thinking about what seemed so doable back in December.
You watched yet another Ted Talk. You listened to another podcast. You dutifully wrote down your goals and tried to follow all that expert advice. You tried to motivate yourself – you really did.
But you still haven’t lost that weight. Your gym membership card sits comfortably in your wallet. You haven’t managed to start saving money for that cruise, or found the time to look for that new job.
You Don’t Need More Motivation. You Need More Focus.
It’s simple. Focus.
If you learn how to focus better, how to work with the space between your two ears, you’ll have the best shot at crushing your goals – and with far less stress. More than by looking for motivation, trying desperately to be organized, or buying the latest goal planning tool.
There are a vast number of strategies to develop the kind of focus that leads to success. I use the best of these strategies to help my clients achieve their goals, and I’ll be discussing many of them in upcoming blog posts, some of which can take a bit of time and effort to master.
In the meantime, here are 5 ½ easy tools that can help you quickly focus on your goals, block out distractions, and actually achieve what you set out to do in 2020.
5 ½ Focusing Tools to Crush Your 2020 Goals
1. Schedule It
What gets scheduled gets done. It doesn’t matter that you put it on your to do list. It doesn’t matter that you told yourself it’s a priority. If you don’t schedule a specific time to actually do the task that will lead you toward your goal, it won’t happen. Because there will always be easier and more comfortable tasks on your to do list. There will always be social media notifications. There will always be something that seems more urgent at the time.
Years ago, a non-profit CEO I worked with set a goal of getting fit by going to the gym three times a week. She deliberately scheduled one hour each of three mornings per week. And she treated it like an appointment – with herself. When a board member called and asked if she could meet with him during that time, she simply told him she already had a meeting scheduled.
Had the CEO merely set a goal of working out three mornings a week, the trip to the gym would have been sidelined more often than not. Had she had a general aspiration to work out on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, she would have found herself skipping the gym as board members called for meetings and other matters clamored for her attention. Only by scheduling the time as a non-negotiable meeting could she ensure that she would actually make it to the gym as intended.
Sometimes true emergencies come up to which your scheduled goals must yield. But you can then evaluate whether it is a true emergency that cannot be put off, and you can reschedule your goal time rather than letting it lapse. In my own life, I have found consistently that when I schedule an item on my to do list, I do it. When I don’t schedule it, it remains on my to do list.
2. Acknowledge Your Fear
Sometimes you really want to accomplish a goal, but fear gets the better of you. You’re afraid you’re going to be miserable trying to lose weight or exercise. You’re afraid of the new attention it might attract. You’re afraid that if you try to write that book or give that speech or pick up that musical instrument, you’re going to fail. Whatever your goal is, chances are that if you have a goal, you have a fear that goes along with it.
Fear is normal. But it shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your goals. If you find yourself never quite finding the time to work on your goal, then take a few minutes and ask yourself what you’re afraid of. Talk yourself through the fear. Ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen if you pursued your goal, and whether you could live with that. Ask yourself what is the likelihood of your fear being realized (usually, it’s low).
Keep talking through your fear until taking a step toward your goal seems like the most reasonable course of action. Simply by gaining an awareness of your fear and grappling with it, you will be well on your way to preventing the fear from blocking your goals.
3. Divide and Conquer
Another powerful focusing tool to get around your fears – or lack of motivation – is to divide your goals into the smallest steps possible. Keeping making the first step smaller until it’s so small that it’s impossible for you to have any resistance to doing it.
I’ve run 9 marathons (and counting) despite having a hard time motivating myself to get out the door to run. In fact, motivating myself usually doesn’t work. But dividing my run into the smallest steps possible almost always does.
Typically, my routine goes something like this: It’s time to run. I don’t want to. A voice in my head starts offering seemingly persuasive reasons why I don’t need to, and why I should run tomorrow instead. If I keep listening to that voice, the run won’t be happening.
So instead, I literally tell myself that I will walk over to the drawer that contains my running clothes. Simply walk over – nothing more. Then – open the drawer. Then – take out the running clothes. Then put them on – one at a time. Then – walk out the door. I still haven’t committed to running, only to opening the door and walking through it. Then – running, but only to the light post about 100 yards away. Then to the next light post. And so on. In most cases, my not wanting to run transforms into finishing a 10K.
You can do this with anything. Trying to cut down on deserts? Can you simply loosen the grip on your fork? Can you then move one step away from the chocolate cake? If you’re trying to write, can you sit in the chair by your computer? Then can you turn the computer on? Can you open the Word document?
You get the idea. Try it with anything. It works.
4. Log Your Progress
Just as what gets scheduled gets done, what is monitored gets done more quickly. The simple act of writing down what you are doing and its impact will draw your attention to the actions that bring you closer to your goals.
An executive who was trying to lose weight began writing down his starting and ending weight each day and what he ate during the day. No fancy diets. Just a pen and paper. He quickly started eating less of the foods that prevented him from losing weight (because who wants to look at a list that says you had 3 bags of potato chips, 5 candy bars and 2 fast food meals). And he quickly became aware of which foods had what impact on his weight.
I’ve worked with writers who keep logs of when they write and how many words each day. A client once even reduced his chronic depression by keeping a log of his exercise. He knew he felt happier whenever he exercised. So he noted in writing each time he exercised, his mood before exercise and his mood immediately after exercise. Because the correlation between exercise and improving his mood was now literally staring him in the face, he found himself naturally exercising more and becoming consciously aware of how much happier he felt when he did.
How we focus when we are working toward our goals is at least as important as the act of focusing on them in the first place. If you schedule a block of time to write your book or complete your report, but your mind is preoccupied with the latest office politics, you won’t get much quality work done. If you decide to take mini-steps toward your goals but continue to think about your lack of motivation, you’re more likely to fail. If you decide to acknowledge your fears, but wind up advocating for them, you won’t exactly be paving the way to success.
While meditation and mindfulness practices can be effective over time in reducing mental chatter and strengthening your ability to focus clearly on the task at hand, not everyone is willing to commit to it, or can easily find the time among life’s many other competing demands. Fortunately, short of adding a meditation practice to your goals list, you can effectively clear your mind in just a minute or two, leaving you free to work effectively on your goals.
If you’re trying to get something done and find your mind racing in a million directions, simply close your eyes, and breath slowly and calmly through your nose 5 times (nose breathing is physically more calming than mouth breathing). Inhale and exhale slowly five times. That’s it. You don’t have to be “into” meditation. You don’t have to jump on the latest mindfulness fad. You only have to know how to breathe.
Five slow breaths should clear your mind and give you the mental space to focus on your task. And if you’re particularly agitated and 5 breaths doesn’t do it, then add 5 more. You’ll be setting the tone for all the work you’re about to do.
5 ½. Be Like Nike
Just do it. These 5 tools are simple to implement, and can quickly and powerfully focus you on moving toward your goals. Yet just as your car works only when you actually turn the key and begin driving, these tools only work if you actually do them.
My parting advice: Don’t try all 5 tools. Pick one and try it for a week. See what happens. Who knows? You just might begin crushing your goals.
Let me know what’s working – in the comments below or on my Facebook page. And feel free to write to me with any questions or challenges as well.