All of the progress we crave starts with one step. Goals aren’t just a part of the endgame. They are the endgame. But your actions are what get you there. A reality so close to our faces is often ignored for the sake of seeming productive.
You see, the word progress is misused nowadays. It currently means to tack on more than we can handle in pursuit of what we think will make us happy. But do we know for sure? Of course not. The reason is tied closely with how distracted we are.
There is no way to walk in confidence if your mind is worrying about another commitment down yonder, behind you, or off to the side. (I’m only referring to tasks we voluntarily assign ourselves to — not family obligations or necessary responsibilities associated with keeping ourselves and relationships healthy.)
The issue here is not effort. Most of us have that. Instead, breakdowns come from splitting our energy into hundreds of pieces, then leaving it there to die.
“What we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore — plays in defining the quality of our life.” — Cal Newport
We are built to excel. But that doesn’t mean doing so in multiple ways, at the same time. You build excellence with intention, and intention is unidirectional.
In other words, you create sustainable growth in playing the guitar if you prioritize practicing the guitar. By giving yourself the opportunity to focus on one goal at a time, you gain traction and confidence.
We overconsume our minds with goals so much that we replace action with daydreaming.
Don’t get me wrong — it’s good to daydream. You give your mind a chance to roam free of toxic hustle culture syndrome and relish the idea of accomplishing the goals you set.
But at the end of the day, the only way you get from point A to point B is by doing the work. The question I’ve been asking myself lately, though, is…What work?
I’ve gained immense clarity in my life by doing the following:
Step 1 — Make a list of what is worth your focus. This could be the ultimate goal or micro-goals that lead to achieving it (or both). The point is to clarify where your attention belongs.
Step 2 — Make a list of what is not worth your focus. One of the best ways to figure out what matters is by getting clear on what doesn’t. In this way, you create a filter through which to live.
Step 3 — Set a time to come back to refine the lists. As you grow, your desires grow with you. How willing you are to step back and analyze the person you’re becoming plays a huge role in that.
I’m sure you’ve seen writers, entrepreneurs, and business minds who preach multitasking as if their lives depend on it. They spread the idea that if you really want to go places, you have to do it all.
I believe that idea is a dud. Why? Because you can only become an expert at one thing at a time.
I’ve tried to learn code and music simultaneously. I overworked my brain. My body begged for a break. And the only thing I actually accomplished was burnout.
That’s not moving forward; it’s moving backward.
Honest creators will confess that you need to become an expert at the most meaningful vein in your life.
That’s not to say that research should replace your creativity. Freedom of the mind is crucial to longevity in anything you pursue in life. If you put blockades in front of that, you won’t last long.
I liken the creative journey to a hike. It seems fun at first — and, in fact, it is. But then the struggle starts. The pain of repetition causes everything in your body to want to give up and call it a day. And yet, there’s nothing more rewarding than reaching the destination you worked so hard for.
Don’t miss the point. That hike required focus, consistency, and determination on one thing — wherever you set out to be. You can’t complete the trek and scuba dive.
You also don’t have time to worry about the experiences of others. At the same time, someone else’s experience may teach what you lacked the courage to learn. We are traversing the courses of our existence together and in our own way.
We are faced with decisions that affect the course of our journey each day. The questions and answers are ours to contribute to a culture absorbed in distraction.
For me, it’s been a lesson worth learning time and time again. I get caught up in how much I can do today instead of what stands as the most important thing.
A bunch of complete, minute tasks doesn’t give us the kind of traction we seek. That’s only found in intentional commitment to a specific space.
It’s time you decided to commit to one thing. Because one thing with your complete attention becomes life-changing. And that habit will translate into other areas of your existence.
Kevin Horton is a 24-year-old photographer, student, modest bookworm, and wanna-be web developer with a new-found love for writing. He writes helpful words about creativity, productivity, and the enjoyably simple life.
Image courtesy of Alexandr Podvalny.