How to Stay Focused in Life

This world can be distracting, but there is one thing that can keep you on the path to success. Whether you call it determination, motivation or willpower, it’s the same thing. It’s the focus that you need to maintain momentum toward your objectives.

You don’t have to have a one-track mind to stay focused. You simply have to know how to prioritize and devote enough attention to your desires so that you transform them into something real.

Are You Coasting Through Life?

Have you ever driven for a while and then realized that you completely zoned out? When you snap out of oblivion, you wonder how it was possible that you got from point A to point B because you don’t remember any of it.

This happens to many of us in life as well as on the road. When you’re busy or bored, you tend to just move forward without paying attention to where you’re going or reflecting on where you’ve been. You’re on autopilot, and you’re not really sure why you feel so busy or what you’re supposed to be doing.

Some signs that you’re coasting in life include:

  • It’s December and you wonder what happened to the time this year
  • You are bored or overwhelmed with your regular routine
  • You feel complacent about your job
  • Life feels extremely comfortable
  • You prefer to do the bare minimum
  • You don’t have any goals
  • If you do have goals, they’re murky
  • You don’t feel passionate about anything

So what’s the problem with coasting? If life feels comfortable, why mess with things?

There’s a difference between happiness and comfort. We often stay in our comfort zones to avoid the fear of the unknown that hits us when we try to do something different. We’re not necessarily happy; we just don’t have the energy to start something new.

When you’re coasting, you’re simply existing. The problem with that is that you’re at the whim of circumstances. You’re not creating your life; you’re relying on external situations to define you. You have no control. You don’t know what’s coming next.

Sadly, you probably don’t care about what happens too much. Living like this isn’t always spontaneous and flexible. It can produce a great deal of anxiety.

You wish that things were different, but you have no idea how to take the reins. You feel like you’re always being tugged in different directions because you follow whatever whim makes you feel best at the time. You find yourself moving in circles, learning the same lessons over and over and not accomplishing anything of substance.

If you’re coasting, you might get especially distraught around your birthday. As you turn a year older, you feel like you should have achieved more by this time. Sometimes, that feeling just means that you’re an overachiever. It often indicates that you’re coasting in life, though.

The current of life can always pull you in a different direction than you want to travel. If you have focus, you can swim out of the riptide and move toward your objectives. If you’re coasting, you try to stay afloat and wait to see where you end up.

How Does Willpower Contribute to Your Focus?

When you’re feeling complacent, checked out and bored with your life, you might think that you need a change. If only you had more time, money, love or success you would be happier, you believe. Maybe you would be more content if you lost weight and gained more energy. Perhaps you would feel like your life had more purpose if you loved your job.

But you consistently fail on your exercise goals, and you’re too exhausted to sift through the classifieds and work on your resume. Most people blame inadequate willpower for their poor choices in life.

Many say that they’d have more willpower if they had more time. But more time doesn’t necessarily make you more determined.

Plus, even if you did have an extra boost of willpower, it’s not all you need to get what you want out of life. Researchers say that willpower is part of a three-factor plan for achieving objectives. You also need a clear goal and motivation to change. If those components are in place, then willpower can help you reach your target.

Willpower is defined as “the ability to resist short-term temptations to reach long-term goals.” It is also referred to as self-discipline and self-control. Willpower is more important than intelligence in predicting academic success.

Self-discipline may also lead to:

  • High self-esteem
  • Reduced likelihood of binging on food
  • Fewer addictive tendencies
  • Better relationship skills
  • Improved physical and mental well-being
  • More financial security

If you can harness your willpower, you can improve these areas of your life. You already do this every day. Whenever you decide to oppose emotional impulses in favor of doing something good for you, you’re exerting your willpower.

You might do this when you try to cut down on your coffee consumption, reduce the number of times that you snooze in the mornings or take the stairs instead of the elevator. You can also use self-discipline to stay focused in life.

Is Willpower a Limited Resource?

If you’re constantly struggling with self-control, you may be restricting yourself from temptation too often. Willpower is a limited resource.

In one study, researchers invited dieters to watch a sad film. One group was asked to stifle their emotions while they watched. After the movie, they were offered ice cream. The group that exerted willpower to avoid having an emotional response while watching the film were more likely to cheat on their diets and consume the dessert.

The researchers hypothesized that these individuals had depleted their willpower. Other experts describe this as a hot cognitive state. When you make decisions based on emotional reactions, you’re living in a hot brain state. People who are better able to stay cool when making decisions might be better able to resist temptation.

Temptation is an enemy of focus. If you’re constantly draining your self-control, you might be more influenced by enticing situations that can throw you off track. This explains why you’re more likely to binge on unhealthy treats after dinner than in the morning. If you’ve spent your entire day saying no to the goodies and choosing salad instead, your willpower may be depleted by 6 p.m.

You can also exhaust your willpower after you spend the weekend biting your tongue while staying with your in-laws or a week avoiding TV so that you can finish the book that you’re reading. When you perform many self-control tasks, your brain activity changes. People with low blood glucose levels may also have reduced willpower, signaling the importance of not skipping meals.

Other research indicates that people who feel like they should exert self-discipline to satisfy someone else’s rules are more likely to deplete their willpower than those who are inspired to establish their own goals. People pleasers tend to go through willpower faster than those who are in tune with themselves.

Focus is a Practice

The more you do something, the easier it becomes.

Improve Your Focus by Setting Intentions

So many experts talk about setting goals to focus your life and achieve success. But we would like to discuss how setting intentions can help you move forward toward your goals and practice developing your focus. It’s a baby step toward the larger exercise of establishing goals.

Intention setting allows you to concentrate on what matters to you and create a life around that. Ultimately, living a life that you love is more important than achieving someone else’s idea of success, isn’t it?

With intentions, you don’t have to hold onto an expectation or evaluation. Intentions are just purposes or attitudes that you would be pleased to align with. You might consider goals to be brain-centered objectives, whereas intentions are heart-centered aims.

Intentions are a low-pressure way to commit to something that you desire. In fact, they help you connect with your deepest wishes.

So many of us don’t really know what we want out of life. If that’s the case, how are you going to find focus?

Being out of touch with your desires is usually a sign that you’ve been coasting through life. But shifting from an aimless existence to one that’s streamlined, organized and intentional can be daunting. That’s where intentions come in.

They’re a non-judgmental way to connect with yourself. When you can voice what you want, you can direct your actions accordingly. All of a sudden, your life has more meaning because you’re doing what you desire instead of floating along or following someone else’s plan for you.

Setting intentions is fairly simple. Think about this practice as aligning with your desires and values. An intention can be phrased as a specific wish, way that you want to feel or manner of showing up in life.

You should phrase intentions in the positive. In other words, choosing the intention to connect with loved ones is better than saying that you want to spend less time alone.

You could also frame your intentions in the present tense. This requires you to do some letting go. You might not believe the statements at first. However, phrasing them as though they already exist can trick your mind into helping you stay focused.

Some examples of intentions that you could set to stay focused include:

  • I am balanced
  • I am calm
  • I embrace discomfort
  • I allow myself to feel, process and release all of my emotions
  • I open myself up to love
  • I am confident in my skills
  • I find inspiration in my job
  • I am a valuable asset to my career, friends, and family

Start improving your focus by getting into the habit of setting an intention every morning. Writing it down helps you adopt the pattern because it requires you to take an extra step that shifts you out of your typical routine. Writing it down also gives you something to reflect on at the end of the day. Try involving an accountability partner and texting one another your intentions every morning.

When you set intentions, you get a chance to start fresh every day. You’re also able to reconnect with your desires, values, and inspiration regularly. Staying in touch with yourself is an ideal way to stay focused.

How to Strengthen Your Willpower

Intentions are important for improving your self-discipline. But if you want to stay focused in life, you can also strengthen your willpower to avoid the temptations that can steer you off course.

Some people say you can strengthen willpower like a muscle. It just takes some practice.

Don’t assume that working on your self-discipline will be easy. Like any practice, it can ebb and flow. You might experience challenges. Eventually, if you consistently practice improving your willpower, you’ll get better at it.

Willpowered offers 10 easy activities that will help you improve your self-control. These include:

  • Meditating – After meditating for 10 minutes, your stress levels diminish and your energy and focus ramp up. By practicing this, you teach your mind to oppose the impulse to wander.
  • Monitor something in your life – Bringing awareness to something in your life, like your posture, mood or food intake, can build willpower strength by exercising it repeatedly, this study Another study demonstrated that monitoring your finances has the same positive effect on willpower.
  • Use your non-dominant hand – Whether you’re writing, brushing your teeth or doing a cartwheel, use the hand that you don’t usually use. It takes willpower to avoid switching back to your dominant side.
  • Be conscious of the way that you talk – It takes willpower to bring awareness to automatic habit. Try changing your speech in a positive way, such as avoiding using curse words or “um.”
  • Set your own deadlines – The night before your final exam, you begrudgingly avoid all temptation to hang out with friends or watch TV so that you can study. Make yourself do this more often by giving yourself deadlines and sticking to them.
  • Work out to exhaustion – Holding a difficult exercise, like a plank or squat, can work your willpower. Urge yourself to keep going even when you’re tired.

The trick to strengthening your willpower by doing these activities is to avoid overdoing it. If you work on these tasks too frequently, you’ll deplete your willpower when you truly need it. Practice these exercises consistently but for short periods of time. Most of them can be done for 10 minutes daily to produce results.

Be More Mindful

Many of the exercises referenced above have to do with mindfulness. There is a connection between awareness, willpower, and focus. Becoming more attentive can help you focus on minute tasks as well as long-term goals.

The problem is that most of us run on autopilot. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it saves your brain from being overwhelmed with information.

To understand autopilot mode, it helps you be familiar with explicit and implicit memory. Explicit memory is the information that you consciously work to remember, like information for a test. Implicit memory is remembered effortlessly, like the route to work.

You don’t purposely try to remember the data that you store in your implicit memory. But it still takes time to make its way into your mental database. If you think about the first time that you drove in a new town, you had to follow directions. It may have taken a week or a month before you knew your way around by heart.

Another example is what happens when you type. It probably took a great deal of practice to familiarize yourself with the placement of the letters on your keyboard. But now, you can type without looking at your hands. Still, if someone were to ask you which letters are on the middle row of the keyboard, you’d have to stop and think about it.

Implicit memory is handy. It prevents you from having to work hard every time you think about doing something that you do every day. But if you do everything automatically, you end up falling into the “coasting” trap that we discussed earlier in this article. Coasting can prevent you from focusing and finding direction in life.

Consider the example of zoning out while driving a car. If you lose all awareness, you may crash. But when you’re mindful, you notice when you’re drifting, and you can correct the situation.

Mindfulness has the same effect in every category of your life. We talked about being mindful of your desires by setting intentions.

You can also be mindful of your thoughts. Many of us are consumed with negative thoughts.

“That doesn’t describe me,” you may think.

Challenge yourself to pay attention to your internal dialogue tomorrow. Every time you talk to yourself, jot it down in the notes app on your phone or a piece of paper that you carry with you. Don’t judge the phrases—write them down whether you think that they’re positive or negative.

Some of your self-talk might look like this:

  • I’m so impressed that I just did that.
  • I’m such a terrible mother.
  • I’m really good at getting to work on time.
  • I suck at everything.
  • I can never save enough money.
  • Other people have all the luck.

You might be surprised at how much you talk to yourself. With this exercise, we’re not asking you to change anything about yourself. In many cases, the mere act of awareness brings a subtle change to your thoughts, attitude, and demeanor.

As you become aware in your thoughts, you can assess whether you’re usually thinking of the past, present or future. If your mind is in the present, that’s great.

If you’re always picking apart old situations to think about what you could have done better, you might want to get out of that habit. A little reflection is helpful, but harping on happenings that you can’t change isn’t beneficial for staying focused on what’s important now.

The same goes for the future. If you’re stuck hoping and wishing that your life will get better, it probably won’t.

Set Some Goals

A better way to plan for the future is to set goals. Goals aren’t just wishful thinking or lofty dreams. If you’re following the best practices for setting them, you’re making them:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

One way to set goals is to tap into your desires. You can certainly fantasize as you’re doing the initial brainstorming. But you can check how appropriate your goals are by asking yourself questions like:

  • Is my goal crystal-clear?
  • Can I measure a unit, such as time or quantity, to know when I’ve met my goal?
  • Is my goal realistic, or is it over the top?
  • Is the goal relevant to my life, desires, values, and circumstances?
  • What’s the deadline for achieving this goal?

Going through this process allows you to work through some of the other suggestions that we’ve offered in this article. For example, the act of setting goals puts you in the driver’s seat with your hands on the wheel and your mind on the road. Making sure that your goals are relevant allows you to tap into your deepest wishes. Setting a deadline helps you practice your willpower.

In the next section, we’ll talk about those deadlines in a little more detail.

Shorten Your Time Frame

Are you like a goldfish, expanding your energy to fit your deadline? Are you surprised when you complete a complex task within a limited time frame because it usually takes you forever to finish the most mundane activities?

There’s a scientific reason for this. It’s called Parkinson’s Law, and it says that “work expands so as to fill the time available for completion.”

If you want to work less, minimize the time that you have to work. You won’t necessarily get less done, just like you don’t always get more done when you give yourself more time. You’ll work smarter so that you have lots of free time to enjoy, which ultimately makes you more motivated. Perhaps more importantly, you’ll spend less time “coasting” and more time creating and following intentions for your life.

To give you an example of this, let’s say that you’re a freelance writer. On Monday morning, you get a 5,000-word assignment. It’s due on Friday. You take your time with it, telling yourself that you’re doing comprehensive research and taking the time to craft the perfect words for the assignment.

On Wednesday, another client reaches out to you with a rush order. It’s 3,000 words, and it’s due by the end of the day. You put aside your other work and complete the newest task.

You’re amazed that you could roll out so many words so quickly, especially when it has been taking you all week to complete your other project. If you had finished the first assignment within two days, you’d be able to take a vacation for the rest of the week!

You just got hit by Parkinson’s Law. When you have a longer deadline, you tend to fill up your time with work that seems productive but isn’t, such as checking emails, read interesting articles online and message your spouse about the best dinner options for the week.

Are you concerned that the quality of your work will suffer if you spend less time on it? That’s usually just an excuse. Most people could reduce their work time by up to 40 percent and still perform to the best of their ability.

When you cushion your time like that, you may end up coasting through life. You accomplish all of your necessary obligations, but you may not be fulfilled.

If this sounds like you, make sure that you reduce your goals into workable segments. You may feel as though you have some focus because you’ve created your five-year plan. But what’s going to help you stick to it?

Breaking down your objectives into action steps that you can take daily and weekly will help you keep your eye on the prize.

Keep Your Energy High

Some of the exercises that we’ve described in this article, such as setting intentions and meditating, will help you maintain a high vibe. But even though you’re doing exercises to work on your willpower, focusing on the present and setting goals, you don’t have to work on self-development all the time.

Make sure that you take time to enjoy yourself. Leisure time benefits you in several ways:

  • It gives your conscious mind a break and lets your creative brain do some work.
  • It allows you to assimilate information that you’ve recently learned.
  • It lets you relax.
  • It allows you to rejuvenate your energy.
  • It helps you feel balanced and fulfilled in multiple areas of your life.
  • It improves your morale.

Even if taking time off feels distracting, it’s a great way to improve your focus in the grand scheme of things if you’ve lined up your life in a way that promotes direction. When you consistently set goals, know what you want, create daily intentions and recognize the limitations of your willpower, you can enjoy your free time without being anxious about the diversion.

In fact, when you create your life in this way, all of your experiences nourish your journey and help you harness your focus.

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