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I have a 35-minute commute each way to my job at the intermediate school and so, to pass the time, I often listen to audiobooks, some of which have been 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 two-thirds 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 among 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 try and be the ideal mother, 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, shower love and attention on my husband, and daily work on developing 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 spent a whole summer focusing on photography so that I could finally feel comfortable starting a small business, or when I lost 10 pounds in about a month soon after getting married.
And you know what? Those are some of my proudest accomplishments. 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 to focus on right now
For me, a goal that’s been on my mind a lot lately is losing the rest of the baby weight. I’ve hit a definite plateau the last month and a half (some of which is, I’m sure, a bit out of my hands because the medication I’m on usually makes people gain weight PLUS I had to stop breastfeeding about three weeks ago). However, I’m trying super hard not to focus on the things making it harder and on making excuses, but I’m trying instead to channel my focus on what I DO have control over, even if it just means getting into super-healthy habits now so that when I do finally get off the medication, I’m able to (hopefully) drop the rest of the weight pretty quick.
2. Break down all the things needed to accomplish the goal into a manageable to-do list with a timetable
I need to:
– Talk to the doctor at my appointment tomorrow and see what he’ll okay me to do. (At the last appointment, I was hardly cleared to do anything, but maybe now that I’m seeing a little more progress with my AI disease, I’m hoping he’ll clear me to step up my efforts a bit.)
– If cleared, start training for the upcoming 5K (in mid-October) that my school is encouraging everyone to participate in by running 2-3 times a week. Right now, I can run a mile and a half without stopping, so I would want to add on about a tenth of a mile more each time I went out if I can.
– Continue to attend hip-hop aerobics once a week. Consider going to the rec center on another night as well (maybe to do some yoga again?).
– Be consistent with tracking calories, and (if cleared) slightly restrict my calorie intake to about 1700 calories/day. If not cleared (and even if I am cleared), focus my efforts more on the types of foods I’m taking in and less on the calories themselves. Try to consciously fit in more produce, and continue with the stint I’ve got going of not eating red meat (which I’ve been mostly off of for about 3 months) and of seriously restricting my added sugars.
– If cleared, take up weight lifting for short bouts of time (about 10-15 minutes a few times a week with my usual 10-pounds weights).
– If the doctor doesn’t clear me to do any of this, I plan to continue running once or twice a week for a mile or two (which the doc has permitted), do very light weight lifting (with one-pound weights), and keep tracking my calories (but not restrict them).
3. Be willing to ease up on other goals in order to concentrate on the main goal
-Don’t freak out about the messy house
-Plan exercise times around when Raven is sleeping so she’s not neglected
-Don’t beat myself up if I’m not seeing much (or any) progress for now (since the doctor told me that I should be counting my blessings that I haven’t been gaining weight like crazy, like most people do on corticosteroids.) Just keep cultivating healthy habits until one day I’m able to see the results.
-Don’t freak out about having to do something super simple for dinner (like scrambled eggs) on the days when I need to fit a run in and won’t have time otherwise.
Now, this is not to say that we should completely let everything else 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.
What big goal do you want to work on next?