Holiday weekends are hell on a to-do list.
And they should be! Who wants to tick off things on a list when others are busy getting sunburned at the racetrack/festival/lake? Yet, for me, there’s always stuff. And I love that. If it’s not fathering stuff or soccer stuff, it’s stuff I must do as a writer and freelancer.
I’m so much better at this than I was just months ago. Weeks, even.
I didn’t get this lightning-bolt moment of the mindful upgrade. It came slow and steady, boring, really. A tweak here to the routine. Catching up on email. Setting rules, such as scrapping non-personalized email after it sits two days in the inbox.
That I’m getting nearly no shit done this weekend is proof that my focus has sharpened.
Wait, what? Yeah. With incremental changes, a fresh look at choices to be made, and slow, steady, win-on-a-sacrifice-fly kind of mindset, suddenly, you too can sort and prioritize with far less thought than it takes to choose pan-tossed or thin crust.
How to sharpen your focus
1-Build change with LEGOs, not 2x4s
A gigantic, watershed moment isn’t likely to mark the greatest changes in your life. It’s not all BC and AD on your life’s timeline. Instead, it’s a more mundane, less cinematic moment. It’s based on rules you make for yourself – and your ability to stick to them.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld marks every day he can stick to a new rule with a big red X on his calendar. One red X isn’t noteworthy. A week’s worth, though? That’s noticeable. When you reach Week 2 and Month 3 and a full year, you’ve changed your trajectory!
It’s an avalanche effect.
I started with the rule that I must meditate before breakfast. That’s an obstacle between me and my breakfast burritos. I did it one day. I did it the next. On my way to the current streak (115!), it became such a part of my routine I couldn’t imagine not doing it.
Replace change with shift. A change suggests a sudden upgrade in condition. A shift signifies a move in a better direction.
2-Be open to renewal
Constantly through our journey, we undergo death and birth. The parts of us that fall away aren’t always those we want to go. We foster attachment to jobs and cars and routines. We want to stick close to familiarity, even if it’s caused us long-lasting pain.
Some death and renewal come at no choice to us. Others, as a direct result of our choices. As the Rush song says if you choose not to decide/you still have made a choice. Do this mindfully! I stopped fearing the loss of a freelance gig I had trouble keeping up with.
If it’s meant to be, I’ll be able to get to it.
My daily reading comes to me at random. Yet, I take each post that finds its way onto my path as a signal to consider. Book recommendations? Add one to your list! Thirty-day pushup challenge? Get your ass on the ground. Embrace what’s set before you.
Next time you’re faced with a choice with a usual answer – where to get your morning coffee, for instance – choose against the automatic choice.
3-Try for trends
Stable and steady. I’ve put back on a few of the 25 pounds I’ve lost. It didn’t come overnight. I know a stop to the Couch to 5K and maybe a box or two of Vanilla Wafers in the car contributed. And I know the way back into my size 33s.
I can do away with buying those 12-ounce boxes of delicious cookies. I can stay away from the candy set aside for Hayden’s graduation party. Maybe I’ll skip the Little Caesar’s lunch combo for a month or two.
I don’t have to do it in one day.
Instead, the focus becomes on today. Each day that goes by in a trend builds momentum. My why here is crucial: I’m doing this not to look fly in my new button fly jeans, but to return to better health.
Assess your reasons for wanting to change. Are they internal or external? A desire to improve my health to impress my next SmartClips stylist relies on that stylist to like me. That’s unsteady. A desire to improve my health to feel better every day?
That’s something to focus on.
Now, it’s your turn. What methods have you found for improving your focus? What incremental gains have you made that have yielded life-changing results?
When i decided i wanted to quit being fat, i found that adding good stuff, rather than taking away bad stuff, worked better. After i had added enough good stuff to my diet, i didn’t have room for the bad.
That’s brilliant, Mimi. I think taking stuff away feels harder, too. But when you add good stuff, the bad stuff naturally has to give way. Thanks for sharing that!
started eating healthy, minimized my possessions to keep only things I love, sold my house and looking to buy an easy to care for condo near a park and walking distance to town. simplifying life
I have to make a list of everything I need to do, even the small, stupid stuff like “get the mail”. If I have a big long list and I start crossing things off of it, I’m more motivated to keep going to see how much I can get done. With a list I don’t let things side track me because I know what I need to be doing.
All very great points. I definitely need to start going day by day when it comes to eating healthier and drinking more water. I’ve gotten off track. And holiday weekends really ARE bad for getting things done! LOL
You can do that, Lauren. It helps to make it as simple and specific as possible. With water, I’ve even tried drinking a medium glass of water every hour on the hour until I got eight!
Eating healthier? Monday/Wednesday/Friday, a salad for lunch. (I like when you pair this with a reward too – like, cookies with lunch on Thursday.) Good luck!
My motto is One Day At A Time. Daily, I can choose to eat healthy and exercise. And if I fall short I can try again tomorrow.
Every day is a new opportunity, Kath. All the choices are ahead of us. And even if we falter, we can start then, can’t we? I’m constantly fallnig short, but hoping to start again.
Good advice! So true where you say: “We foster attachment to jobs and cars and routines. We want to stick close to familiarity, even if it’s caused us long-lasting pain.”
It is so easy to get into a routine or rut and not see a way out. I know alot of people who are really set in their ways and I hope that I can get more flexible as I get older instead of more rigid.
Sometimes, the long-lasting pain is the thing we cling to, isn’t it? I’m trying to recognize that more. It can be as easy as pausing when making what once were non-negotiable decisions. What would happen if?
Spend more time with friends who already have the habits you are trying to create. It feels like less work when you are hanging out with a friend.
Eat lunch with a friend who eats healthy. Take a walk with a friend who walks regularly. Go shopping with a friend who is good at finding bargains.
Or make a new friend who has habits you would like to learn.
I love all these, Gina. The cool thing is, you’ll be the one seeking that other person for some things you want in life; other times, you’ll be the one who is being sought out!
“Focus” was my word for the year. I lost it less than a week in. The only thing I really buckled down on was finishing a puzzle. I wrote about it but lost what I wrote on the way to the laptop. Focus…maybe next year! lol Thanks for the suggestions though – I read. every. word!
The greatest attribute about focus, Jenn, is that is unendingly renewable. The moment I lose it, i can resolve to find it again.
You did buck down on something. That’s not nothing. And I’d love for you to take another stab at the puzzle post! I want to do more of these posts, really get the conversation going for all of us who try and fall and try again.
Kudos to you for developing and continuing your meditative practice! That’s something I’ve never been able to do.
I bet you could, though. I know you could. It just takes one small promise to yourself to try it, every morning. Five minutes.
For a long time, my life was crazy, chaotic even. But if you looked at me, you would have never known – well, perhaps the protruding bones on my shoulders and countable ribs would have maybe tipped someone off. I covered up the sadness and chaos inside – and outside – of me well. Sadly, it was achieved by focusing on one singular thing: 1,200 calories a day. I did it for just under a year, every single day. That year was the most focused I’d ever been. I was proud and terribly sad all at once. I didn’t know what to do with that feeling.
When life settled a bit more, I relaxed my thinking, and those calories, too. And when I did that, it kinda felt like everything unraveled. I found pieces of my heart right next to places I left others. I ate more, I slept more, I lazed around more. My focus faded.
Then I started blogging, and new numbers came into play. Every day, 4:45 found me awake, working away before work, a deep drive inside me trying to build something new. That, too, lasted a year. It was fun and exhilarating but also exhausting.
And that, too, has stopped. It’s been two years since I’ve had any kind of numbers define my days, and as hard as this is for my type A personality to admit, I’ve decided that a lack of focus is actually what I need to be focusing on right now.
Funny how that works, right? A season on, a season or two off. I’m sure one day more numbers will come into play, but I’m leaning into the haphazard decision making life has found me with.
Because, to be perfectly honest, waking up at 7 and eating a bowl of ice cream after dinner has found me quite a bit happier.
It’s like you say here, Eli. A shift sometimes will do you good.
So will reading this blog. 🙂
I love how your comments read like little posts, Corey. Damned good posts.
It’s incredible how we can glance back at where we were. How maybe in that moment it felt like the right thing. Or more likely, we knew it wasn’t, and pressed on.
And it’s not until you can compare what you do now to what you did then or what you did in between can it have any sort of perspective. How focus can be a godsend in one instance and a dagger in another.
And overall, hopefully we realize that through happy ice cream bowls and countable ribs, there are things we must encounter and endure to find ourselves just where we need to be.
Corey, I’m struggling to write on this blog anymore. Not because I don’t love to write – but because I’m selling myself short. I need to open a doc and pour. Talk, tell, listen, share. I’m trying to make lists, and I’m burning out trying to make sure I get other posts in this space.
I need less focus, too, perhaps. And just more doing.
It is funny, the season on, season off observation. Yes, it’s like that. If we venture too far unfocused, we get lost. If we push on with too much focus, we miss out on the pauses, and get burned out.
A shift is good. And so is reading your comments.
I have made a gradual change over the last 10 or 11 years. It started with going to a friend’s house once a month who lead an informal group discussion on how to be more authentic. She gave us notes and homework and we all diligently started this journey together. From point A to Z, I would say I am at about M. No where near Z nor do I think I will ever get there. But my focus has been to try and be more of the person who resides inside and bring her out to play more often.
I am not what I would call a driven person. I have met those people and they scare the hell out of me. If I was stupid enough to compare myself to their achievements, I would be in a corner sucking my thumb. Instead I try to set realistic goals and stick to them. I make myself accountable to others by telling them my goals and when I don’t reach them in a specific time frame, those same friends are encouraging and supportive. But at the same time, they will look at me and say “I don’t know how you do all that, or why you went back to school, but good for you because I couldn’t do it, nor would I want to!”
I still have major trust issues and will keep pain inside… deep. I do not allow very many to know what it is. I am as transparent as a pain glass window when I am hurting and people know something is amiss, I just don’t share what it is. Or I am very superficial about what I am going through if I choose to share.
I have a tendency to downplay my problems. I don’t have to look far to see others going through much harsher issues than mine and suddenly I feel like I don’t have any problems. So how do I reconcile my pain as real.. even if it isn’t MY husband on hospice or my child dying of leukemia? It is my dilemma..