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Last Updated on February 17, 2022

How to Stay Focused on Your Goals And Avoid Distractions

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How to Stay Focused on Your Goals And Avoid Distractions

In this digital era, distractions can seem impossible to avoid. Just figuring out how to stay focused on your goals and ambitions can feel as difficult as actually achieving them.

These days, constant distractions can lead to a massive loss in productivity.

Statistics show that employees, on average, waste 28% of their time dealing with and trying to recover from unnecessary interruptions.[1]

And that’s at work, where you’re paid to be productive, and where some of us are monitored too much or too closely for comfort.

So, one can only imagine how much time is lost or wasted when we are left to our own devices.

Speaking of devices, how many times have you grabbed your cell phone at the very moment you hear a notification, wasting precious time scrolling through social media when you should be using that time working on your goals?

I can bet a lot.

But we’ve all been there.

Sometimes, even with the best of intentions and efforts to stay on task, we still find ourselves being chronically distracted.

Chances are you’ll be interrupted before you can even finish reading this article.

The reality is as undeniable as it is unavoidable: we live in a world full of distractions!

But how can you take back control of your time and attention to avoid these distractions and learn how to stay focused on your goals?

What Holds You Back from Staying Focused on Your Goal?

1. Your Environment Is a Major Factor

Whether we want to admit it or not, all of us are mostly a product of our environment. Our environment impacts us far more than we realize.

It’s made of a multitude of things, from the space we live and work in, to the people we spend the most time with, to the things we read, listen to, and watch, to even our profiles on social media, and more.

All of these elements of our surroundings influence our focus, thoughts, mindset, belief systems, and the goals and standards we set for ourselves. They all serve as triggers for certain behaviors, tendencies, and moods. That’s how many of our habits are formed.

We’ll always take on aspects of the environments we continually place ourselves in.

2. Willpower and Motivation Is a Broken Approach

What a lot of people have gotten wrong about trying to achieve their goals is that they often focus only on what needs to be done and how to get it done – outcomes and willpower.

Many think that willpower and motivation in their own right determine success.

While both are great and necessary virtues to have to navigate this increasingly difficult world, willpower is largely a short-term solution, while motivation is great to get you started but is also fleeting.

This is one of the main reasons why so many people’s New Year’s resolutions go belly-up by the end of January.

Your willpower is like a muscle, which means it’s finite and will deplete with use. [2]

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Using the willpower approach to stay focused on goals centers on increasing personal efforts to overcome the environment, not on modifying or changing the environment.

The harsh reality is that your environment is more powerful than your internal resolve. No matter how much discipline you have, eventually, you’ll succumb to your environment despite your greatest efforts.

In an environment that’s incompatible with your goals, its negative influence will sabotage your success.

On the other hand, a compatible environment is one of the most important strategies you can utilize to stay focused on achieving your goals.

Creating an environment that is conducive to success will trigger your desired behaviors and, most importantly, will decrease distractions.

3. Inevitability Thinking

In fact, productivity expert Eben Pagan believes that designing the right environment will create conditions that make it impossible for you not to achieve your goals.

The multi-millionaire, entrepreneur, and investor regards this as the next evolution of goal-setting that will move us away from focusing on willpower and outcomes.

He calls this concept “Inevitability Thinking,” which is thinking and acting as if what you are doing is a foregone conclusion because you set up the conditions for it to happen.

What he means by “setting up the conditions for success” is designing an environment that’s conducive to you achieving your goals.

World-renowned leadership coach and author Dr. Marshall Goldsmith believes if a person doesn’t create and control their environment, then it will create and control them.

He suggests having a vision of achieving the goals you want to accomplish. Then, think about designing the structure of your environment, your situation, or your organization in a way that would organically bring that vision to life.

“If [you] can design your life [and] behaviors well, [you] don’t need to rely on willpower.” – BJ Fogg, Social Science Research Associate, Stanford [3]

“But I’m not a designer,” you might be thinking.

Don’t get intimidated, it can be done – by you or anyone! Designing or modifying your environment so you can better stay focused on your goals is not like designing spaceships – it’s not rocket science.

Here is how to make it happen.

How to Stay Focused on Your Goals

Here’re 7 things to start doing to focus on your goals and get rid of distractions.

1. Find the Environment That Supports Achieving Your Goals

Real progress occurs when we fully understand and align with what, whom, and where best support our goals.

So, the next time you’re in your environment, whether at or outside of work, try to pay attention to how you feel while you’re there. Note if that feeling changes when you leave that environment.

Examine your surroundings. Look at all the infrastructure and ask yourself these simple questions:

  • Am I in an environment that’s conducive to me achieving my goals?
  • Is it detrimental to me maintaining my focus on my goals?
  • Is it on par with people who have already achieved what I want to achieve?

Also, examine your lifestyle and habits. Are you placing yourself in environments and situations that spark personal growth?

If the answers to these questions are anything but a definite and resounding yes, then you should seriously consider modifying or completely changing your surroundings.

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The more you understand yourself, the more aware you’ll be of the environment that’s most likely to help you stay focused on your goals.

2. Let Your Goals, Not Distractions, Distract You

If you constantly lose focus on your goals, you pretty much render them useless. Distractions and interruptions are the biggest culprits of losing your focus.

One of the most practical ways to maintain focus is to allow your goals to constantly distract you.

You’ll inevitably lose focus from time to time. But you can limit the number of times it happens and the duration by facilitating your goals to distract you back to your focus.

Now, how do you do that?

It’s simple: make visual cues.

There’s a saying that if you don’t see it, you’ll probably forget it. Science agrees; the eyes hold the majority of sensory receptors in the human body. Therefore, the eye is a major component of focus.

The following cues are simply things that will trigger you to focus or refocus your attention back onto your goals.

What type to use will largely depend on what works for you, but below are a few common ones:

  • Tape your task list or habit tracker to your desk or onto your refrigerator at home.
  • Hang motivational posters at frequently visited sections of your house or workspace.
  • Post-Its – write your goals in a one or two-word phrase on them and stick where you’re sure to see them.
  • Set cues to constantly remind you to stick with your productive habits.
  • Digital devices – alter the screensavers of your computer, smartphones, tablets, or any other digital device you use regularly to display something about your goal.

Read more about how to stay focused on your goals: How to Create an Action Plan and Achieve Your Personal Goals

3. Break Your Goals Down

When it comes to setting goals, the process of dreaming up the amazing things we’d like to accomplish is exhilarating. We think big, set our minds to it, then commit to taking action!

The problem is that any real stretch goal—meaning one that’s going to require you to grow and evolve in order to accomplish it—takes time. And achieving these types of goals can be tough and require us to get out of our comfort zones quite often.

You mix all those ingredients, and you’ve got a perfect cocktail for obliterating that gung-ho, shoot-for-the-moon motivation that you had in the beginning.

Next thing you know, the goal starts to feel overwhelming. And that’s the moment where most people quit.

The reality is, we’re nearsighted creatures when it comes to our goals. So, if the finish line to your goal is so far out in the future that you can’t see it, it’s likely that you may struggle with staying focused and avoiding distractions.

“What’s the solution?”, you may be wondering.

Break the goal down.

I don’t know about you, but when I played racing games growing up—aside from focusing on annihilating my competition—the only other thing I was worried about was getting to the next checkpoint.

I didn’t worry about the finish line. That was four or more laps away, which might as well be an eternity in a child’s mind.

Nope, no finish line focus for me! I was simply focused on getting to the next checkpoint because that meant I was still on track. And better yet, it meant I was still in the race.

So, if you’re struggling with staying focused on your goals, break the goals down.

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You can do this in 1 of 2 ways:

Via Tasks

You can break the overall goal down to its tasks, then focus on achieving 1 task at a time.

A great example of this is publishing a book. Some of the steps are storyboarding/planning, outlining, writing, designing, editing, and promoting. If you just set out to write a book, without putting thought into the individual tasks, you can see how that would become overwhelming.

But if you break the process down, it becomes much more doable, which will allow you to stay focused on your goal and avoid distractions.

Via Time

The second way to break goals down is based on the time it takes to achieve certain tasks. SMART goal setting 101 tells us that goals should be time-bound. So, once you break your goals down into tasks, schedule them.

See our section on smart goals on our achieving goals guide.

Just like in the racing game where you only had so much time to get to the next checkpoint before it was game over, you need to schedule your tasks so that you keep yourself accountable. Doing so will naturally keep you accountable and help you to avoid distractions.

4. Modify Your Inner Circle

Multiple studies have proven that our mindset, behaviors, and motivations are largely influenced by our peer group. Therefore, the people in our lives have an enormous impact on our ability to reach our goals.

“You are the average of the five people you associate with most…” – Tim Ferriss [4]

Since people have such a significant influence on the direction of your entire life, if you’re really serious about achieving your goals, you may have to adjust your inner circle. This is where designing or modifying your environment for success becomes tricky.

Unlike upgrading your iPhone, changing the makeup of your inner circle can be a lot more complex.

One of the most difficult things to do in life is to sever ties with friends, especially against their will, even if it’s for the betterment of the self.

It will likely foster resentment because it will require you to betray the very virtue that served as the keystone of the friendship in the first place: loyalty.

But we must remember that above all else, when we set important personal goals, we must be loyal to ourselves if we are to achieve them. Loyalty to friends, family, or even to your spouse that is detrimental to your success in life will only slow your growth.

By consciously deciding whom you want in your inner circle, you are taking control of the ultimate direction of your life.

5. Change Your Environment Completely

This method is the most extreme, but it can also be the most effective.

While modifying your environment for it to become less distracting is ideal, sometimes it’s just not enough. Certain elements in your environment, such as your social circle, are harder than others to modify. In fact, some elements that are nearly impossible to adjust.

There are times when these elements are so out of your control that the only thing you can do to stay focused on your goals is to make more radical and thorough changes. This can mean changing your environment completely.

Here are some examples of changes you could try to make (only if necessary):

  1. Change your physical possessions (ex.: get rid of your TV)
  2. Create a new virtual set-up (online)
  3. Change your physical workspace (work, home, co-working, cafes, etc.)
  4. Join a new social group
  5. Change locations (home, co-working space, café, etc.)
  6. Change jobs or switch branches
  7. Drop distracting friends or family from your inner circle.
  8. Change your spouse
  9. Move to a different country

Of course, these are some extreme steps to take. So, only resort to these if you have tried everything else to stay focused on your goals but are still unsuccessful.

6. Make Your Goals Fun

Let’s be honest for a second, shall we? Life can be tough. It’s got enough low and stressful moments without us having to add any more to the pile.

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But for a lot of people, trying to accomplish big goals would be categorized as a stressful or low time—especially if you have a hard time staying focused and are constantly coming up short of your goals.

Because of that, a very easy way to ensure that you can remain focused and avoid distractions is to make your goals—or the pursuit of them—fun and exciting.

After all, why are you pursuing a goal if it isn’t fun or exciting?

But going back to what I said earlier—about the finish line being so far away and us not taking into consideration the amount of time and discomfort that’s going to take to achieve the goal—something that started as fun and exciting can become not so fun or exciting pretty quickly.

So, before you set out to achieve any goal, make sure that it’s something that excites you. The rest of the action steps mentioned won’t matter if it doesn’t. Then, once you’ve ensured that the goal does excite you, figure out ways that you can make pursuing the goal fun.

Maybe that’s going after a goal with a friend or accountability partner. Perhaps, it is working in a certain fun and inspiring environment. Or it could even be the last strategy I’m going to mention for staying focused and avoiding distractions: rewarding yourself.

7. Reward Yourself

Chances are if you’re reading this article, you’re either a high achiever by nature or hoping to become one. And while high achievers may be great at achieving goals, they tend to be terrible at celebrating them.

High achievers often have an “on to the next one” mentality. That can be a good and a bad thing.

The good part of being that way is you remain hungry and driven to reach that next level and achieve more.

The problem is that when you don’t take time to celebrate your wins and the goals you achieve, it becomes very easy to fall into that vicious cycle of enough never being enough. Perhaps, this is why we see countless examples of unfulfilled multi-millionaires or highly accomplished individuals.

Also, on a deeper level, you actually begin to train your brain not to celebrate. From an anatomical perspective, when we do something great or exciting in life, our bodies release Dopamine, which is the chemical responsible for feeling pleasure.

Over time, if the process is repeated—when Dopamine is released—and you don’t allow yourself to experience the pleasure, your body will shut off this response.

In short, you can train your body to not be able to experience the euphoria and pleasure of accomplishment if you repeatedly fail to take time to celebrate.

Celebration is a very simple strategy for maintaining focus and avoiding distractions.

You can decide what the celebrations or rewards look like for you. But regardless of how big or small, you should build them into the goal pursuit process.

Conclusion

If you’re struggling to figure out how to stay focused on your goals, it’s a lot harder to make a significant, lasting change without altering some elements of your environment.

By taking control of the set-up of your environment, you can influence your levels of motivation, enthusiasm, drive, and desire towards the goals you have set.

Optimizing your environment creates powerful conscious and subconscious motivators that make staying focused on your goals easier. And for many of us, easier is always better.

More Tips on Achieving Goals

Featured photo credit: Razvan Chisu via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Information Overload Research Group: The Cost of Not Paying Attention – How Interruptions Impact Knowledge Worker Productivity
[2] American Psychological Association Study: Willpower, choice, and self-control
[3] BJ Fogg on Twitter: @bjfogg
[4] GoodReads: Timothy Ferriss: Quotable Quotes

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Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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