Autodidactic Ambitions, Motivation

No More Trying To Be Superwoman: The Power of Focus

I have a 40-minute commute each way to my job at the middle school and so, to pass the time, I’ve been listening to audiobooks about how to become rich (since, as a schoolteacher, I’ve got such a great chance of that).  While there have been many similarities among the books (invest young, buy real estate, stay out of debt, make lots more money–duh), one thing that has struck me is that every single one has talked explicitly about the importance of focus in the quest of becoming rich.

One book I’m in the middle of right now–Automatic Wealth for Grads, by Michael Masterson–talked about how there are basically two types of ambitious people in the world: there are the ambitious people who choose one thing to work on at a time and concentrate on it with laser-like focus until they achieve it, and then there are the ambitious people who divide their attention among the many different goals they have.

I decided to ask my 7th graders which group they thought would perform better. About 2/3 thought that the people who concentrated on many different goals at the same time would accomplish much more in the end than the people who just concentrated on one.

They were wrong.

(Don’t worry–I broke it to ’em gently.)

Numerous studies have shown that our brains are actually not wired to multitask–in fact, according to most research, the concept of “multitasking” is misleading because it actually doesn’t exist; our brains are genetically incapable of focusing on more than one thing at a time. Therefore, when we spread out our focus amongst many things, we actually tend to get LESS done.

Why do I bring this up?

I’ll tell you why:

It’s because it’s like I have this gene that keeps telling me that I need to be Superwoman all the time. This Superwoman Gene keeps whispering in my ear that I need to not only keep a perfectly clean apartment, excel at my teaching job, read a book every week, cook a hot (nutritious) meal every night, exercise for an hour every day, and daily work on developiug my talents, but also that I need to look ridiculously good while doing it all. Basically, for most of my life, I’ve been a perpetual multi-tasker.

As a result, I’ve also been perpetually stressed out.

Then I started thinking about those times in my life when I have actually just focused on one main thing, like when I was training for the marathon, or when I served a mission for my church, or when I lost 10 pounds last summer.

And you know what? Those are some of my proudest accomplishments (at least my most recent ones). And I’m convinced the reason why I did so well at them is because I just let myself focus on one main goal at a time instead of trying to accomplish all of my goals at once. The coolest part? Often, when I’ve focused on just one thing, I’ve gotten it done so much more quickly. I mean, I lost ten pounds in a month! That’s amazing! And it’s because I let myself have that laser-like focus until the very end.

SO, the way I’m going to translate this focus-on-one-thing concept into immediate action is this:

1: Decide on ONE main goal that I’m going to focus on right now

For me, this one’s easy–I need to focus on applying and getting into grad school.

2. Break down all the things I have to do to accomplish the goal into a manageable to-do list with a timetable

I need to:

-Sign up for the GRE – September
-Study for the GRE (30 minutes each night, alternating Language and Math)  – Sep & Oct
-Take the GRE – mid-October
-Fill out the grad school application  – November, as soon as GRE scores are in
-Turn in the application   – November
-Figure out how I’m going to finance the whole endeavor  – Start now

3. Learn to ease up on my other goals in the process of going for my main goal

-Don’t freak out about the messy house
-Don’t freak out about me not exercising every day
-Don’t freak out if we sometimes order pizza for dinner

Now, this is not to say that we should completely let ourselves go while we’re going for our one main goal. Rather, I think that it’s a matter of keeping up the best you can with the good habits you already have and waiting to acquire/work on new ones until you’ve accomplished what you’ve set out to do.

One thing I keep telling myself?

The only reason I haven’t accomplished everything I’ve dreamed of is simply because I haven’t YET devoted the focus towards doing so.

But I will.

And I will now.

Hope this made sense–thanks for reading until the end    🙂

What big goal do you want to work on next?

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