A Weird and Effective Strategy for Achieving Your Goals
Many years ago, I was sport climbing with a friend and struggling with a route. Then, he gave me some advice I will never forget:
Don’t think about the end — that’s a distraction. Instead, focus your attention on each movement as you do it.
He was right. This tiny change to my attention made all the difference. I finished the route and have used this approach ever since.
What does this mean for us? When we think too much about results or outcomes, we get caught up in them and distracted from what we need to do right now to get there.
Paradoxically, to achieve our goals, we need to forget about them. Because after they’ve been set and we have a plan, they can easily become a hindrance.
Focus on what you can control
Thinking too much about our goals often distracts us from achieving them, like when you’re thinking about a promotion rather than doing the work that will help you get it.
Our problem is this: we have limited attention and mental resources, so if our minds aren’t focused on what we’re doing, we’re not doing our best work. If we’re not doing our best work, we’re delaying achieving our goals, aren’t we?
The ancient Stoic philosophers understood this well. They constructed an entire way of life to help people deal with errors of thinking just like this one. Their first piece of advice? Understand the difference between what you can and cannot control.
According to the Greek Stoic, Epictetus,
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.” — Discourses
Why is it so critical that we identify what we can control? Because our mental sanity depends on it. The world is chaotic and constantly changing; if our well-being is determined by these external events, we’re riddled with fear and anxiety. But, if our focus and attention are brought to internal events — those things we have some control over — we feel…