Photo: dkalo

One of the most important keys to achieving any sort of personal improvement goal: you gotta focus on it.

Well thank you, Captain Obvious!  Any other wise words?

Problem is, we may understand that intellectually, but it doesn't stop many of us from declaring worthy goals and then two seconds later letting our attention drift to the next shiny object that crosses our path.

Or at least that's how it often works for me:  "I'm going start meditating every day for at least 20 minutes!  Well, ok, not right this second because the library says the new novel I requested is in and I need to get to the grocery store and isn't there a reading we wanted to go to tonight and..." And.. and...and... decades have gone by and I still haven't figured out how to sit in one place, breathe deeply, and freakin meditate for a few minutes at a time.  No matter how much I may say I want to do it, I never seem to focus on it so it never happens.

That's why the silly strength building experiment I just did over at Cranky Fitness was such a pleasant surprise.  It was a powerful reminder that picking a goal, prioritizing it, and paying it a boat load of attention yields impressive progress--even if it's a pretty stupid goal to begin with!

But easier said than done, right? So I'm thinking I might make a little list of what worked about this experiment in Focusing on a Silly Goal, just in case I should ever want to apply the same principles to something more impressive than doing pull ups.

1.  Select a goal that gets you excited and envision how pleased you'll feel achieving it.  Now why on earth am I so obsessed with doing pull ups? Who knows? Who cares? I just know the thought of clearing that damn bar again makes me inordinately cheerful.   Bonus: if you are by nature a day-dreamer, this is a great excuse to do more of it--just focus your daydreams for a period of time on your goal.

2.  Make the steps concrete and measurable.  "I'm going to become more social!"--not nearly as useful as "I'm going to attend that nudist pogo-stick tournament this week and introduce myself to three new people!"

3.  Expect other self-improvement efforts to slide a bit.  Realize that if you pick one area of your life to focus "progress" energy on, other areas may slip back into "maintenance" or even "neglect" mode.  Plan for it, and don't beat yourself up! You'll get back to them later, once your new goal is achieved and gets incorporated into your life as habit rather than a heroic endeavor.   Try to avoid having an endless "to do" list of ongoing goals that you never seem to make progress on.

4.  Pick a limited period of time to put super-energy into your goal.  Unless you've picked something that's a huge priority in your life, it's going to be too daunting to expect the same level of focus for months and months at a time.  Pick a short term aspect to your goal, really go for it, and then expect to go back and forth between Super-Awesome and Just Regular levels of focus.

5.  Get Support!  If there's someone in your life who is supportive of your self-improvement efforts, let 'em know what you're doing and allow them to pat you on the back.  Or find a like-minded group of folks with similar goals, either on-line or In Real Life, and encourage each other to stay focused even when the novelty wears off. Support can also come from structures you put in place yourself: scheduling time on your calendar, setting up reminders, putting Post-it's up with affirmations, clipping pictures that remind you of your goal, or giving yourself Big Fat Rewards for making progress. Or hey, you could invest in a personal trainer, consultant, or some other sort of helping professional to keep you on track!

Anyone got any success stories, near misses, thoughts, or tips for maintaining focus?


  1. I don't think it counts as a success story, but I took yoga for eleven years before I established a daily practice. I'd try for a few days or weeks, and give up, and I'd try focusing on different times of day, or certain postures, but nothing worked. Then one time I started daily yoga and just kept going. Here I am 17 years later, effortlessly keeping on (except when I'm stay-in-bed sick.) Focus? No. Success? Yes, but how? If I knew, maybe I could apply it to other parts of my life. (Going into the kitchen to do some counter pushups now...)

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  2. That 3rd point is very, very important to keep in mind. It's the one that i tend to forget the most, to expect it and plan for it. Great stuff, and congrats on the pull-up!

  3. Mary Anne, your yoga story almost leads me to believe there might be hope for me meditating one day!

    And thanks messymimi--yep, I don't think I've ever been able to get big improvements on one front without some slippage somewhere else. It's a balancing act!

  4. I am focusing on that beach pic! ;-)

    Actually, I have done a few things fitness related like me bodybuilding years. But even now with age, I notice certain body parts that need more work then others & I change things up as each body part calls to me! ;-) Right now, this going on 54 bod says the legs need extra work! :-)

  5. Jody, love the idea of a body part "calling" for more exercise! When I hear from my body parts, they are often complaining, not volunteering. But maybe I just need to listen harder!


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