When it comes to setting goals, you might have heard this wisdom: “The hardest part is getting started.”
Overcoming inertia is tricky — especially for short-term goals. When it’s cold outside and you’re warm in bed, you probably don’t want to put on your shoes and run a mile or two. But once you’re out there, you’ll be happy to accomplish your goal.
But this saying falls short when it comes to long-term goals. These are just as difficult to complete as they are to start. Staying focused is tough when so many distractions stand to throw you off your path.
Maybe a bad performance review made you feel unworthy of success, so you stopped chasing your dream job. Or, instead of saving up for a vacation, you splurged on a night out with your friends.
There’s a reason most people rapidly abandon their New Year’s resolutions: focusing on goals is hard work.
Thankfully, with the right tools, you can stay on track. It will take time and effort, but it’s a skill you can improve. Here’s everything you need to know about focusing on your goals.
The ABCs of goal-setting
If you want to focus on your goals, you have to set yourself up for success. That means using the right goal-setting methods. One often-recommended option is to use SMART goals. You can set SMART goals at work, or elsewhere in your life.
SMART stands for:
- Specific: you have a clear outcome in mind for your goal
- Measurable: you have a metric with which you can define success
- Achievable: you can realistically expect to achieve your goal with your current skills and resources
- Relevant: your goal is aligned or at least doesn’t conflict with your other life goals
- Time-bound: you have a clear deadline for achieving your goal
If you’re already using this method, you’re in a good spot. These steps help you set big goals you can actually accomplish. And when you know success is possible, it’s much easier to stay motivated to achieve them. Being mindful and thus realistic in your goal-setting increases your likelihood of success
3 factors that can make it hard to focus on your goals
There are a million and one things that can pull you off course — even with the best action plan. The first step to preventing this from happening is to identify potential detractors in your life.
Here are some common factors that influence your ability to focus and how to deal with them.
1. Your environment
When it comes to focusing on your goals, your environment plays an important role. Your ability to follow through on your ambitions is influenced by:
- Who do you spend time with
- Where you live
- What you read, watch, and listen to
Consider social media. These platforms are actually designed to capture and hold your attention. They prey on your fear of missing out, entice you with unnecessary notifications, and trap you in endless scrolling.
What to do: It’s up to you to change your environment to support your personal and work goals rather than distract you from them. For instance, you can block social media notifications.
2. Your willpower
Motivation is a feeling. And, just like laughter or sadness, it disappears as fast as it comes. Your motivation can help you out of bed, but it will disappear at the first sign of trouble.
Willpower, on the other hand, is like a muscle, and shouldn’t be confused with motivation. It allows you to power through those moments of zero motivation. But for it to be effective, you have to train it.
What to do: through meditation and small acts of self-control, you can tame your impulses one step at a time.
3. Your frame of mind
A phenomenon known as inevitability thinking can occur when you accept your destiny as a foregone conclusion. This happens whether you realize it or not, so you have to shift your mindset and make it work for you.
For example, if you have a bias toward negativity, you may anticipate failure before you’ve even begun. This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: you fail because you’re already accepted failure as the likely outcome. But the opposite can also be true. If you believe you can succeed and organize your life around that idea, you prime your mind for success.
What to do: You can change your environment, build new habits, and adjust your routines to gear your life toward success. It all starts with a positive mental attitude. Failure feels less likely if every part of you pulls in the same direction (and by that, we mean forward).
How to always focus on your goals
Now that you’re aware of your potential distractions, what can you do about them? We’ve already alluded to some remedies. But here is a more substantial list of tips to focus on goals:
1. Create or find a better environment
Consider whether your place of residence, social circle, or colleagues will help you achieve your goals — or hinder your ability. If you want to work in the film industry, you’ll likely want to move to New York City or Hollywood.
Maybe what city you live in doesn’t matter, but you’d benefit from finding an apartment with an extra room you can use as an office. Bottom line: figure out what you need to succeed.
2. Make your goals visible
Write your goals down and stick them to your bathroom mirror or computer screen. Create a vision board and hang it on the wall. Whatever it takes, make sure you can see your goals regularly. If they fall out of sight, they’ll quickly fall out of mind.
3. Leverage your task list
You won’t become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company overnight. Use the SMART method to create smaller goals and tasks that build on each other, inching you toward your larger ambition. Set daily goals, monthly goals, and yearly ones to make continuous progress toward clear objectives.
4. Pursue goals that excite you
Having fun is a great intrinsic motivator. If you don’t enjoy the work of pursuing your goals, you’ll have a harder time focusing. Remember why you’re doing this in the first place. There are many types of motivation, but being self-motivated is always a sustainable option.
5. Reward yourself
Create a system of extrinsic motivators to help you succeed. Eating a chocolate bar after running a record lap time can give you the dopamine kick necessary to keep training for that PR.
6. Study your craft
If you want to be a good writer, read well-written books. If you want to start a company, learn about other companies in your space and network with CEOs. Successful people are experts in their chosen craft.
7. Find your people
You are the company you keep. Surround yourself with people who elevate you and support your goals, not toxic friends.
This is a worthy goal by itself. But doing more exercise can also help you succeed in other areas of your life. It will help improve your mental health, boost your energy, and increase your concentration.
Mindfulness can help you discipline your subconscious mind and clear your thoughts. This is a useful way to flex your willpower while also being compassionate to yourself. And as we mentioned before, mindfulness will help you set better goals.
10. Remove time wasters that leave you feeling sluggish
Avoid watching too much TV or browsing social media. These types of activities often sap energy and limit productivity. You can also limit or remove other vices, like alcohol consumption. Sometimes, you never know what’s holding you back until you let them go.
11. Practice love
Practice all kinds of love — not just romantic love. Find people with whom you can be yourself, whether that’s friends or family. Share your joy and time with them. Hugging — or physical touch in general — is crucial for our body’s ability to manage stress, reduce inflammation, and find calm.
12. Make time for fun
Purposefully taking a break can rejuvenate you to keep working on your goals. The keyword here is “purposefully.” You’re not letting something distract you. Instead, you’re doing it because it’s good for you. If you struggle to find time to rest, add it to your calendar. Avoiding burnout demands preventative and proactive rest.
13. Try some productivity tips
Most of these are larger-scale recommendations, so here are some in-the-moment tips to help you focus on your tasks each day:
- Complete important tasks first, then move on to smaller tasks
- Learn how to focus on one goal at a time by avoiding multitasking
- Remove distractions
- Practice mindfulness on a regular basis
- Take short breaks
- Skip the procrastination
- Create tomorrow’s task list at the end of the day
- Have an accountability partner
- Maintain a healthy diet to fuel your brain
Try a new time management strategy, like the Pomodoro Technique
Understanding your motivators
There will be days when you won’t be able to focus. You’ll feel sluggish and tired — and all the willpower in the world won’t pull you out of this slump. As we mentioned earlier, motivation can be fleeting. You can conjure up this feeling temporarily if you must.
But sometimes, you need to lean into that slump. An inability to power through is a sign you need to rest. And, as you do, you can revisit your core motivators to prepare yourself for later.
Here are some example motivators you can leverage for an extra boost:
- Incentives: You can try rewarding yourself for reaching certain milestones. Celebrating your wins can give you a spark to keep going.
- Achievement: bask in your achievements and remember that there’s more to come. Meditating on this can give you a second wind.
- Fear: Making decisions solely out of fear is ill-advised. But, in small doses, certain types of stress can give you a jolt of motivation.
Limit your distractions
You’ve created your SMART goals. You believe in yourself. You’ve set yourself up for success. All that’s left is to laser focus on the work itself.
Here are some final tips on how you can limit your distractions as you conduct your daily tasks:
- Turn off your phone
- Use headphones to cancel outside noise
- Avoid multitasking
- Clean your workspace
- Find the right work environment
- Reward yourself each step of the way
You can do these small things every day to get what you want. And, if you learn how to focus on your goals, you’ll learn to maximize your potential to be your best self.