If you're struggling to maintain motivation, you may be focusing too far into the future. Like the marathon runner at mile two who's only thinking about 26.2, your vision may seem distant.

But as Ryan Holiday has explained, elite athletes don't focus on the big picture; but rather, on the next step. Of course, the Super Bowl is where NFL players want to be. But if that's their primary concern, they'll never get there. They won't have the focus and intensity needed this week to get the win.

Thus, rather than focusing on the outcome, you're better off focusing on the process. When you perfect the process, as former 49ers coach Bill Walsh says, "The score takes care of itself." 

Why Long-Term Goals Are Bogus

"Unless you are a fortune-teller, long-term business planning is a fantasy"--Jason Fried

Research indicates that people are notoriously bad at projecting the future. If you're like most people, you often underestimate the amount of resources (e.g., time, money, etc.) something will take to accomplish.

You also miscalculate how you will feel when attaining or experiencing something--whether good or bad--not anticipating your feelings will change over time in unexpected ways. Interestingly, this tendency leads you to what psychologists call, miswanting--where you overestimate how much you'll enjoy something in the future, yet often left disappointed.

Not only are long-term plans inaccurate, they're demotivating. Rarely do they instill the purpose needed to get out of bed. Instead, you drag ourselves out of bed.

Focus On Just One Thing: The Most Immediate Milestone

Elon Musk, what many people would consider a "visionary," only spends 30 minutes a week thinking about his vision for SpaceX to colonize Mars. Aside from those 30 minutes, Musk spends the rest of his time focusing on the most immediate and critical milestone.

When you're trying to accomplish something big, it's easy to get pulled in several different directions. There are hundreds of things that could be done. 

Yet, Gary Keller, author of The One Thing, always asks himself, "What is the 'one' thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?" In other words, some things are more effective than other things. Often, one thing done incredibly well takes care of everything else.

What is your one metric that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?

What one thing would get you out-of-bed-excited to pursue?

The Psychological Effects Of Narrowing Your Focus

Most of the sensory inputs (e.g., smells, visuals, sounds) we experience go directly to our subconscious. Yet, you could be in a large crowd and hear someone say your name among a mix of loud noise.

How?

Your conscious mind selectively attends to those things which are personally meaningful. When you clearly decide what you want, you set your conscious mind on a treasure hunt and you will see what you're looking for everywhere. As Ralph Waldo Emerson has said, "Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen."

Take Aways:

  • Take 30 minutes per week to hone and clarify you long-term vision. Your vision directs your short-term sprint goals.
  • Decide the next critical milestone (your "one" thing). Make that your singular focus to leverage your selective attention. When selecting your one thing, you may run an 80/20 analysis; as 20% or less of the things you do produce 80% or more of your results. Almost everything is a distraction. Consequently, make sure your one short-term goal will yield the highest possible value, thus making everything else either easier or unnecessary.
  • Give your goal a short time-line (no more than a few weeks or months). Think of this as an "experiment." According to Parkinson's Law, people fill the time allotted to them. So if you have a lot of time, you'll waste it. If you have a short amount of time, you'll get to it. The shorter the timeline, the more creative and bold you'll get.
Published on: Mar 30, 2016
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.