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Last Updated on June 11, 2020

How to Stay Focused on Your Goals in a Distracting World

How to Stay Focused on Your Goals in a Distracting World

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.

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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]

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.

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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: Designing Your Environment

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.

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.

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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. 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.

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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.

4. 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.

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

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on September 23, 2020

5 Reasons for Your Facebook Addiction (and How to Break It)

5 Reasons for Your Facebook Addiction (and How to Break It)

Facebook is embedded into lives around the world. We use it to connect with friends, share important milestones, and check in with the news. However, what may seem like harmless scrolling can become harmful if it takes up inordinate amounts of time and turns into a Facebook addiction.

The first step to breaking any bad habit is to understand the symptoms and psychological triggers that made you pick up the habit in the first place. Below you’ll find the common causes, and the good news is that, once you’ve identified them, you can implement specific strategies to get over your Facebook addiction.

Symptoms of a Facebook Addiction

Do you find that the first thing you do when you wake up is grab your phone and scroll through Facebook? Is it the last thing you see before falling asleep? You may have a Facebook addiction. Here are some more of the signs and symptoms[1]:

  • You end up spending hours on Facebook, even when you don’t mean to.
  • You use Facebook to escape problems or change your mood.
  • You go to sleep later because you’re glued to your screen.
  • Your relationships are suffering because you spend more time on your phone than you do talking with the people you care about.
  • You automatically pull out your phone when you have free time.

You can check out this TED Talk by Tristan Harris to understand how Facebook and other social media gain and hold our attention:

Psychological Reasons for a Facebook Addiction

A compulsive Facebook addiction doesn’t come out of nowhere. There are often root causes that push you into Facebook, which can ultimately manifest as an addiction once you become dependent on it. Here are some of the common causes.

Procrastination

Facebook can cause procrastination, but many times, your tendency to procrastinate can lead you to scrolling through your Facebook feed.

Facebook capitalizes on your tendency to procrastinate[2] by incorporating a news feed with an infinite scroll. No matter how far down you go, there will always be more memes and status updates to keep you distracted from whatever you should be doing.

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Thus, it might be helpful to change your perception of Facebook. Instead of looking at it like a place to be social or kill time, frame Facebook as the enemy of your productivity and purpose. Doesn’t sound as tempting now, right?

Loneliness or Indecision

Facebook resembles a boring reality TV show that is on full display during every hour of the day. Do you really need to tell everybody what you ate for lunch? I doubt it.

You don’t share such trivial details to add value to people’s lives. You’re likely doing it because you’re lonely and in need of attention or approval[3].

Seeking opinions from your friends could be a sign of indecision or low self-confidence. If you get a bad suggestion, then you can conveniently blame somebody else, thus protecting your ego.

Social Comparisons

Social comparison is a natural part of being human[4]. We need to know where we stand in order to judge our rank among our peers. And Facebook has made this all too easy.

When we get into Facebook, our brains are bombarded by hundreds of people to compare ourselves to. We see our cousin’s amazing vacation to Europe, our friend’s adorable baby, our brother’s new puppy, etc. Everything looks better than what we have because, of course, people are only going to post the best parts.

This extreme form of social comparison with a Facebook addiction can, unfortunately, lead to depression. One study pointed out that “people feel depressed after spending a great deal of time on Facebook because they feel badly when comparing themselves to others”[5].

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People-Pleasing

Facebook takes advantage of your desire for instant gratification[6]. Your brain receives a dopamine hit every time you see that red notification light up. Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that causes you to seek pleasure from things.

Pleasure sounds nice in theory, but dopamine is responsible for self-destructive behavior if overproduced. Thus, becoming a slave to your notifications can destroy your self-control in a hurry.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the human desire to be liked and accepted is at play, too. Every time you get a “Like,” your brain decides that means somebody likes you. Keep this up and you’ll turn into an addict desperate for another “hit.”

Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

Facebook wrecks your focus by preying on your fear of missing out. You check your Facebook feed during a date because you don’t want to miss any interesting updates. You check your messages while you drive because a friend might have something exciting to share.

One study found that “a high level of fear of missing out and high narcissism are predictors of Facebook intrusion, while a low level of fear of missing out and high narcissism are related to satisfaction with life”[7].

Therefore, while you may feel temporarily glad that you didn’t miss something, research shows that FOMO will actually reduce your overall life satisfaction.

How to Break a Facebook Addiction

Now that you know some of the causes of a Facebook addiction, you may be ready to break it. If so, follow these 5 steps to get over your addiction and improve your mental health.

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1. Admit the Addiction

You can’t fix a problem if you deny it exists. Don’t beat yourself up, but do try and be honest enough to admit you’re a Facebook addict. If it makes you feel any better, I’m a recovering addict myself. There is no reason to be ashamed.

Telling a trusted friend might help you stay accountable, especially if they share your goal.

2. Be Mindful of Triggers

In order to discover the triggers that lead you to use Facebook, ask yourself the following questions. It may be helpful to write them down at a journal.

  • What did I do? (scrolling, sharing, notification checking, etc.)
  • When did I do it? (down-time at work, as soon as you woke up, right before bed, on a date, etc.)
  • What happened right before? (a stressful event, boredom, etc.)
  • How did this make me feel? (stressed, anxious, sad, angry, etc.)

Once you’re aware of what pushes you to use Facebook, you can work on tackling those specific things to get over your Facebook addiction.

3. Learn to Recognize the Urge

Every time you feel the urge to update your status or check your feed, recognize that impulse for what it is (a habitual behavior—NOT a conscious decision). This is especially powerful when you complete step 2 because you’ll be able to make a mental note of the specific psychological trigger at play.

Have a plan for when you feel the desire to use Facebook. For example, if you know you use it when you’re bored, plan to practice a hobby instead. If you use it when you’re stressed, create a relaxation routine instead of jumping on Facebook.

4. Practice Self-Compassion

Facebook is an epic time-suck, but that doesn’t mean you should criticize yourself every time you log-on to your feed. Beating yourself up will make you feel bad about yourself, which will ironically cause you to be even more tempted.

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Self-loathing can only lead to failure. You might end up deciding it’s hopeless because you are “too lazy.”  If you want to break your addiction for good, then you need to be self-compassionate.

5. Replace the Addiction With a Positive Alternative

It’s a lot easier to eliminate a bad habit when you decide on a good habit that you would like to replace it with. I applied this idea by choosing to pick up a book every time I was tempted to check my feed.

The result blew my mind. I read over a hundred pages in the first day! Trust me when I say those “few minutes of down-time” can add up to an obscene amount of waste.

Having a specific metric to track is important. If you want to stay encouraged, you need to have compelling evidence that your time would be better spent elsewhere.

For example, download an app to help you determine exactly how much time is spent on Facebook so you know how much of your life you’re losing to it. Then, when you find a healthy alternative, you can feel good about all the time you’re giving to it!

Final Thoughts

Facebook addictions aren’t uncommon in today’s technologically dependent world. In the pursuit of human connection, we’ve mistakenly taken our interactions online, thinking it would be an easier alternative. Unfortunately, this is no replacement for genuine, face-to-face interaction in real life.

If you think you have a problem, there are things you can do to tackle it. Get started today and improve your overall well-being.

More on How to Use Social Media Less

Featured photo credit: Tim Bennett via unsplash.com

Reference

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