Key to Success – Focus on the Next Step!
Have you ever started to pursue a dream or large goal only to find yourself losing steam after a few weeks or months? Perhaps you start out with lots of energy but you eventually get to a point where the task seems so overwhelming or out of reach that it’s just easier to not try?
This is not an uncommon problem. Most of us have some goals that we still kick around in our heads with thoughts of, “someday I’ll get back to that,” even though it may have been a year or more since we last did any work on it!
The danger here is not in making the logical and informed decision to stop trying. There is nothing wrong with truly reexamining the situation and deciding that your goals and priorities have changed. The danger here is that while not progressing we delude ourselves into thinking that we are still “working on it.” Stephen Pressfield has a wonderful quote about this in his excellent book, “The War of Art”:
“We don’t tell ourselves, ‘I’m never going to write my symphony.’ Instead we say, “I’m going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”
Most of us can relate to this quote. We all have something, or many things, that we keep telling ourselves we will get back to tomorrow, next week, next year, or just “eventually.” Whether it’s writing a symphony, sticking to a diet, looking for a new job, practicing an instrument, finishing that novel, or getting back in to an old hobby, our motivation often wanes enough to a point where we just stop trying.
Obviously, losing momentum is going to absolutely keep you from achieving the things you would like in life. It’s not enough to start; you must follow through to the end. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do when you find yourself losing momentum and procrastinating:
1 – Break the Task Down Into Many Manageable Steps
When you first start a task, excitement is very high and you probably hit the ground running. Armed with optimism and visions of success, it’s easy to get going. Once the initial excitement wears off, you may start really looking at the entire task and find yourself getting discouraged when you realize how much must still be done.
When you find yourself losing steam with thoughts of, “I’ll never get this all done,” it’s time to break the task down into single steps. As Confucius said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The large scale way of doing this is to look at your goal, start at the end, and work backwards and fill in all the steps you must take to achieve it.
For example, if you want to write a book, you find yourself overwhelmed at the thought of filling 200-300 pages. Working backwards though, you realize that a book is a series of chapters, and a chapter is a series of sections, each of which may only be about 2 pages. Now, rather than trying to write 300 pages, you only need to write 2. If writing 2 pages seems daunting, then break it down further. 2 pages are made up of 4 half pages, each of which may have 1-4 paragraphs. Instead of focusing on writing 2 pages, focus on writing 1 or 2 paragraphs.
There is no objective “right” answer for what a manageable step is. The right step size is the one that you can take without feeling overwhelmed.
2 – Ask, “What Can I Do Right Now?”
Once you have your steps defined, it is time to get to work. Again, it is very easy to focus on how much more you have to do, and this will lead to you losing momentum. When those thoughts arise, immediately refocus and ask yourself, “what can I do right now?” If you have broken your goal into small steps, this becomes easy because you just look at the next item on your list.
Remember, all you have is this moment right now. It doesn’t matter how far you have to go; all that matters is what action you take in this moment.
3 – Remind Yourself Why You Are Doing This
Sometimes we get so caught up in “what” we need to do, we forget “why” we are doing these things in the first place. Once this happens, you will definitely lose momentum because the “whys” are what give us motivation in the first place.
Every goal we hope to achieve will have its share of unpleasant steps that we would love to avoid. It is when we are confronted with these steps that we tend to lose our focus and stop our progress. To a degree you can outsource and limit the need to do these things, but at some point you are going to have to do something you don’t enjoy. It is in these moments where it is incredibly vital to focus on the “why” of the big picture.
If you are dieting and think in terms of depriving yourself of food you enjoy, you will quickly give up. If you can focus on the whys (being healthy, living a long full life, feeling great, looking great) you will stay motivated. You might not like to clean your house, but you may love living in a clean organized house. Maybe you hate sales, but if you sell enough you will make your business self-sufficient and successful. Focus on why you are doing what you are doing, and your progress will continue.
4 – Take Some Consistent Action, No Matter How Small
Momentum is vital, and it works both ways. If you consistently take action you will build momentum and it will be easier to keep going. On the other hand, every day you put things off makes it that much harder to get going again. Newton’s Law holds true: “A body in motion tends to stay in motion; a body at rest tends to stay at rest.”
In an ideal world, we would all take massive action towards our goals everyday. Unfortunately, motivation comes and goes and life often has other plans. One way to maintain momentum is to make sure you take some consistent action everyday, no matter how small.
You may resist this at first because the actions are so small that you may feel they are useless. Remember though that you are taking the small action not to move massively towards your goals but rather to build momentum and overcome resistance.
When you embark on a fitness plan and find yourself unmotivated to go to the gym, then at the very lest do one set of pushups at home or take a short walk. If you hate selling and cold calling and find yourself putting it off, making even just one phone call can keep your momentum going. Writing a book or paper but just can’t get yourself going? Sit down and write for 5 minutes, just to condition your mind to the process.
On occasion you will get lucky and once you get started you will stay at it and your 5 minutes will turn into an hour, but that’s not the point. The point is to keep moving, even if only in small increments.
5 – Focus and Prioritize
You will get much farther much faster if you prioritize the critical things that need to get done and focus as exclusively as possible on those things. With any endeavor there are many, many things you can focus on. No matter how many there are, probably only a handful of them are truly critical. By focusing on those critical tasks you will get a maximum return on your effort. Unfortunately, it’s when we focus on the huge number of tasks, most of which have a low return on investment, that we get overwhelmed and give up.
When you find yourself losing steam, take a few minutes and prioritize all the things you could do and then focus on the most critical one. When you combine this technique with #4 (Take consistent action) you not only keep momentum going, but you actually can make a lot of progress with minimal effort.
6 – Burn Your Bridges
On a large scale, consider the person who doesn’t like their job and wants to start their own business, but they never make much progress. Now imagine what would happen if that person gets fired. They may have a family to feed, mortgage to pay, bills due, etc. With no other income, that person will suddenly be very motivated to work very hard every day.
On a small scale, when I do any kind of re-organization/filing in my office (which I hate) the first thing I tend to do is pull every thing out of boxes and spread them out on my floor. This forces me to sort through the papers as I can’t just leave them strewn around.
There are many ways you can use this idea without doing anything as drastic as losing your job. Committing to give someone a ride to an event forces you to go, signing up and paying for a class motivates you to attend, and tossing all of your junk food forces you to eat healthier.
What separates people who truly achieve and succeed from those who just talk about it is their ability to persist and keep moving forward. Hopefully, armed with some of the techniques above, you too will be able to keep going even when motivation starts to fail.
About the author
Avish Parashar is a dynamic professional speaker who shows organizations and individuals how to get what they want using the Art and Science of improv comedy. He weaves together humorous stories, witty observations, and interactive exercises from improvisational comedy to get people laughing, learning, and motivated!