A Focused Life Series 2021: 5 Reasons Focus Matters for Your Life and Leadership

Almost 30 years ago a US-based movie was released starring Billy Crystal and Daniel Stern entitled City Slickers. Maybe you’ve heard of it. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it. It’s wickedly funny, somewhat irreverent but has small doses of wisdom sprinkled throughout. 

The premise of the movie is based on two “city slickers” from New York City who purchase and attend a two-week cattle drive from New Mexico to Colorado all in the hopes of finding purpose in their respective lives. 

One of the greatest scenes in the movie happens between the characters of Mitch (the city slicker) and Curly (the surly ranch hand played by the late Jack Palance). The scene includes an exchange that goes like this: 

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?

Curly: This. [He holds up one finger]

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean sh*t.

Mitch: But what is the “one thing?”

Curly: [smiles] That’s what you have to find out.

This may be some of the greatest wisdom laid down in a Hollywood movie. 

One thing. 

The power of life is found in ONE THING. Not several things. Not three things. Just ONE. 

Obviously, there are many issues, relationships and tasks that demand our time on a daily basis. Yet, focus is about knowing what is most important to our lives and bringing the balance of our attention to that thing, whatever that thing may be. 

Yet, with so many distractions available to us – many of which are wonderful distractions – it is hard to maintain our attention in one direction. Yet, as men and women who desire to effect change, we must live focused lives, placing as much attention as possible in one direction. 

Here are five reasons why a focused life will bring you the results you most desire in your life and leadership. 

A FOCUSED LIFE BRINGS CLARITY OF DIRECTION 

The old saying goes, “If you aim for nothing, you will hit every time.” 

Too often in life we mistake busyness for effectiveness. We are busy, busy, busy and therefore consider ourselves successful. Yet, when we look back on a period of time, we realize that while we accomplished many good things, we failed to accomplish the great things; the things that will help us to accomplish our goals and reach our full and highest potential in life. 

If I can be honest, I had a year like that in 2020. While I had an incredible year in so many ways, when I looked at the larger goals for myself, I missed the mark in a few ways. The reason? I took my eye off the larger picture and got caught up in some really great things. However, those great things took me off the main things. Luckily, with the help of some amazing friends and doing some personal inner work, I was able to get back on track and end the year well. I saw firsthand how easy it is to lose focus and drift. 

We will talk more about the “How To’s” of focus in the coming weeks, but it is important that you understand where you are going in your life, with your team and with your organization. One of the primary reasons for organizational drift and competing interests within an organization is due to a lack of communicated focus. Without an aim – or one direction – teams and organizations will lose effectiveness quickly. 

In his groundbreaking book, “The New Economics,” W. Edwards Deming discusses the “aim” of the system, which is another way of saying, the focus or the vision of the system. He states, “A system is a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system.” Demings continues, “A system must be managed. It will not manage itself. Left to themselves in the Western world, components of a system become selfish, competitive, independent profit centres, and thus destroy the system.” 

Why? Lack of leadership. What is the job of leadership? To establish, communicate and reinforce organizational or team focus. 

Yet, the same goes for you. You are your own system with your own aim (direction). Left unmanaged – or undisciplined – the competing interests in your life will become selfish, competitive, independent and thus destroy your own system. At best you will lose focus for a season; at worst, you will look back on a life with little leadership, impact or effectiveness. 

Discover the direction of your life and then remain focused on this direction for a long period of time. 

(Please note: I am primarily discussing your professional life here. I like the David C. Baker philosophy on focus: Get deeply focused in your professional life and use your personal life to experience all of the distractions life has to offer. This is what vacations are for!)

A FOCUSED LIFE BRINGS CLARITY OF ACTION 

When you know where you are going, the path forward becomes clearer. 

I live in San Diego. If I have two weeks off of work and want to travel, I can do one of two things: (1) I can get in the car and just start driving or (2) I can decide on a destination and map out a plan to reach the destination.

Now, I must say this: A focused life is not for everyone. There are some people out there who truly enjoy living an un-focused life and simply taking whatever life throws at them. Potentially, these people are better in the chaos. I think of friends of mine who work in law enforcement or in healthcare emergency room contexts – they love the unexpected! They thrive in it! There exists little “focus” in the work of these jobs; the primary purpose is to simply spend an entire shift reacting to the needs and attentions of others. Nothing wrong with this. 

There are people who love the idea of taking two weeks of vacation, getting in their car and seeing where the journey will take them. They live for the unexpected. Yet, it is harder to plan for this kind of living. 

When you know where you are going, you can better prepare for how to get there; you have a clearer idea of the actions you must take in the present to reach your desired destination.

Back to the analogy.

If I decide that I want to travel from San Diego to New York City, my options and subsequent actions become clearer. I can drive. I can fly. I can take a train (Yes, I could actually travel by train.) If I decide to drive, I can decide what destination markers I will use, what cities I will stop in each night on the drive to New York City. I can decide if I want to take 3 days or 7 days to make the drive. I can decide how much money I need for gas, food and lodging. I can decide what sites I hope to see along the journey. 

You get the idea. 

If I know where I am going, I can make the best actions for how to get there. 

A focused life helps you to clarify the actions you will take on a yearly, monthly, weekly and daily basis. 

A FOCUSED LIFE BRINGS CLARITY ON WHAT MATTERS MOST TO YOU

What means the most to you? 

A focused person can list off his or her highest priorities in life. This understanding can help you know what to say “Yes” or “No” to. 

Recently, I was listening to a podcast by gospel music legend, Bill Gaither. In this conversation he talked about the priorities he and his wife set early on in their musical career. One of the rules they set was to be home with their family on Monday through Thursdays due to their extensive weekend travels. At some point in their career, they received a call from the White House to perform at event for the President of the United States. The event fell on a Monday evening. They turned it down. 

To be honest, this floors me; passing up a career-enhancing decision like that. However, Bill Gaither and his wife, Glora, knew their focus. Four days of the week their primary focus was on their family and nothing would cause them to lose that focus. (And, may I say, their career is still going strong some 60 years later… surpassing the careers of many others who stars burned brighter for a time. There is something about holding to commitments and focus that ensures a long and successful career.) 

This is the power of a focused life. You gain clarity on what matters most to you. 

I am not here to judge what matters most to you, I just want to encourage you to get clear on what matters to you and then place all of your focus on that thing, whatever that thing may be. And by saying “yes” to that “one thing” it will be easier for you to say “no” the things that will keep you from that “one thing.” 

In an upcoming blog and podcast will look at some ideas of what to focus your life but, ultimately, the choice is up to you. 

A FOCUSED LIFE BRINGS CLARITY OF THOUGHT

Again, there are so many distractions vying for our attention. Work issues, relationships, social media, television, streaming services, books, music, sports, news outlets, personal development platforms, philosophies, theologies, podcasts, videos, fitness centers, restaurants, in-person shopping centers, online shopping centers, indoor activities, outdoor activities, vacation destinations… you get the idea. In today’s world, there is so much information vying for your personal attention. Even without the distractions, we experience what we refer to as “the monkey mind.” Our mind is constantly jumping from one thing to the next. 

Focus (and mediation) can help to bring clarity of thought. 

I heard a very successful man once say, “Knowing what I want to know helps me focus on what I need to know and therefore what I do not need to know.” The gentleman went on to state because of the power of focus in his life, he had determined what books to read, what podcasts to listen to, what shows to watch and, therefore, what books not to read, what podcasts not to listen to and what shows not to watch. In filtering the information he allows in his mind, he is able to keep his mind focused in a singular direction. 

You are getting the idea: The more you know what you want, the more you can filter out the distractions and those things that will only increase the power of distraction in your monkey mind. 

Clarity of thought is important to the leader. To know the desired outcome and desired actions is important for effectiveness in life and business. 

Earlier, I referenced meditation. We will examine this idea further in the coming weeks, but I would be remiss if I failed to recommend it to you. There are fewer greater tools than the power of meditation to slow down the brain and help to bring greater clarity to your thoughts and mindset. I know of some very successful people who refuse to make any decisions without pausing to meditate for 3-5 minutes. 

On a personal note, I have experienced meditation having the power to actually slow down time. 

The power of meditation is so strong, I read recently of a successful woman saying, “If I had only one hour to get a project done, I would take 20 minutes to meditate.” There is something powerful about meditation to focus your mind and body towards the task at hand. 

More on this later.

 A FOCUSED MIND BRINGS CLARITY THROUGH TRANSITION AND CHANGE

Change is hard. Very few people like change. Fewer people seek out change. 

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day about the journey of personal development. As you know the journey of personal development has one intention: to bring about greater change and evolution in one’s life. But this change and evolution is hard. So hard. To the point, my friend and I both stated, “Damn, it would so much easier to live mediocre lives with mediocre jobs and mediocre dreams. This journey of personal development is really hard and so tiring.” 

Change is hard. 

Change is even harder when it is forced on you. 

The job that unexpectedly comes to an end. The partner that unexpectedly leaves for good. The client that unexpectedly bails at the last minute. The company that unexpectedly lays off half of their workforce. 

Change is hard. Transition is difficult. 

Yet, when you know the direction of your life, business, organization or team, when faced with unexpected change or transition, you are able to pick yourself up off the ground quicker, feel the pain and disappointment faster, dust yourself off with haste and get back on the horse and keep on riding. Why? Because you know the destination in which you are heading. You understand that life brings about its shares of setbacks and disappointments. These are mandatory along the journey. The greater the life you are seeking the greater the successes and disappointments you will experience. 

A focused life continues to move forward in the direction towards his or her desired future in spite of setbacks, change or forced transition. 

If I can wish for anything for you (and for me) in 2021 it would focus and courage. But primarily focus. Courage without focus leads to an undisciplined life. Courage combined with focus is the ultimate power couple. 

Get solid on what you want out of 2021 and then focus your every waking moment on moving in that  one direction. 

Join me next week as we continue our 2021: A Focused Life Series as we discuss 5 Areas You Should Primarily Be Focused on Today. 

Almost 30 years ago a US-based movie was released starring Billy Crystal and Daniel Stern entitled City Slickers. Maybe you’ve heard of it. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it. It’s wickedly funny, somewhat irreverent but has small doses of wisdom sprinkled throughout. 

The premise of the movie is based on two “city slickers” from New York City who purchase and attend a two-week cattle drive from New Mexico to Colorado all in the hopes of finding purpose in their respective lives. 

One of the greatest scenes in the movie happens between the characters of Mitch (the city slicker) and Curly (the surly ranch hand played by the late Jack Palance). The scene includes an exchange that goes like this: 

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?

Curly: This. [He holds up one finger]

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean sh*t.

Mitch: But what is the “one thing?”

Curly: [smiles] That’s what you have to find out.

This may be some of the greatest wisdom laid down in a Hollywood movie. 

One thing. 

The power of life is found in ONE THING. Not several things. Not three things. Just ONE. 

Obviously, there are many issues, relationships and tasks that demand our time on a daily basis. Yet, focus is about knowing what is most important to our lives and bringing the balance of our attention to that thing, whatever that thing may be. 

Yet, with so many distractions available to us – many of which are wonderful distractions – it is hard to maintain our attention in one direction. Yet, as men and women who desire to effect change, we must live focused lives, placing as much attention as possible in one direction. 

Here are five reasons why a focused life will bring you the results you most desire in your life and leadership. 

A FOCUSED LIFE BRINGS CLARITY OF DIRECTION 

The old saying goes, “If you aim for nothing, you will hit every time.” 

Too often in life we mistake busyness for effectiveness. We are busy, busy, busy and therefore consider ourselves successful. Yet, when we look back on a period of time, we realize that while we accomplished many good things, we failed to accomplish the great things; the things that will help us to accomplish our goals and reach our full and highest potential in life. 

If I can be honest, I had a year like that in 2020. While I had an incredible year in so many ways, when I looked at the larger goals for myself, I missed the mark in a few ways. The reason? I took my eye off the larger picture and got caught up in some really great things. However, those great things took me off the main things. Luckily, with the help of some amazing friends and doing some personal inner work, I was able to get back on track and end the year well. I saw firsthand how easy it is to lose focus and drift. 

We will talk more about the “How To’s” of focus in the coming weeks, but it is important that you understand where you are going in your life, with your team and with your organization. One of the primary reasons for organizational drift and competing interests within an organization is due to a lack of communicated focus. Without an aim – or one direction – teams and organizations will lose effectiveness quickly. 

In his groundbreaking book, “The New Economics,” W. Edwards Deming discusses the “aim” of the system, which is another way of saying, the focus or the vision of the system. He states, “A system is a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system.” Demings continues, “A system must be managed. It will not manage itself. Left to themselves in the Western world, components of a system become selfish, competitive, independent profit centres, and thus destroy the system.” 

Why? Lack of leadership. What is the job of leadership? To establish, communicate and reinforce organizational or team focus. 

Yet, the same goes for you. You are your own system with your own aim (direction). Left unmanaged – or undisciplined – the competing interests in your life will become selfish, competitive, independent and thus destroy your own system. At best you will lose focus for a season; at worst, you will look back on a life with little leadership, impact or effectiveness. 

Discover the direction of your life and then remain focused on this direction for a long period of time. 

(Please note: I am primarily discussing your professional life here. I like the David C. Baker philosophy on focus: Get deeply focused in your professional life and use your personal life to experience all of the distractions life has to offer. This is what vacations are for!)

A FOCUSED LIFE BRINGS CLARITY OF ACTION 

When you know where you are going, the path forward becomes clearer. 

I live in San Diego. If I have two weeks off of work and want to travel, I can do one of two things: (1) I can get in the car and just start driving or (2) I can decide on a destination and map out a plan to reach the destination.

Now, I must say this: A focused life is not for everyone. There are some people out there who truly enjoy living an un-focused life and simply taking whatever life throws at them. Potentially, these people are better in the chaos. I think of friends of mine who work in law enforcement or in healthcare emergency room contexts – they love the unexpected! They thrive in it! There exists little “focus” in the work of these jobs; the primary purpose is to simply spend an entire shift reacting to the needs and attentions of others. Nothing wrong with this. 

There are people who love the idea of taking two weeks of vacation, getting in their car and seeing where the journey will take them. They live for the unexpected. Yet, it is harder to plan for this kind of living. 

When you know where you are going, you can better prepare for how to get there; you have a clearer idea of the actions you must take in the present to reach your desired destination.

Back to the analogy.

If I decide that I want to travel from San Diego to New York City, my options and subsequent actions become clearer. I can drive. I can fly. I can take a train (Yes, I could actually travel by train.) If I decide to drive, I can decide what destination markers I will use, what cities I will stop in each night on the drive to New York City. I can decide if I want to take 3 days or 7 days to make the drive. I can decide how much money I need for gas, food and lodging. I can decide what sites I hope to see along the journey. 

You get the idea. 

If I know where I am going, I can make the best actions for how to get there. 

A focused life helps you to clarify the actions you will take on a yearly, monthly, weekly and daily basis. 

A FOCUSED LIFE BRINGS CLARITY ON WHAT MATTERS MOST TO YOU

What means the most to you? 

A focused person can list off his or her highest priorities in life. This understanding can help you know what to say “Yes” or “No” to. 

Recently, I was listening to a podcast by gospel music legend, Bill Gaither. In this conversation he talked about the priorities he and his wife set early on in their musical career. One of the rules they set was to be home with their family on Monday through Thursdays due to their extensive weekend travels. At some point in their career, they received a call from the White House to perform at event for the President of the United States. The event fell on a Monday evening. They turned it down. 

To be honest, this floors me; passing up a career-enhancing decision like that. However, Bill Gaither and his wife, Glora, knew their focus. Four days of the week their primary focus was on their family and nothing would cause them to lose that focus. (And, may I say, their career is still going strong some 60 years later… surpassing the careers of many others who stars burned brighter for a time. There is something about holding to commitments and focus that ensures a long and successful career.) 

This is the power of a focused life. You gain clarity on what matters most to you. 

I am not here to judge what matters most to you, I just want to encourage you to get clear on what matters to you and then place all of your focus on that thing, whatever that thing may be. And by saying “yes” to that “one thing” it will be easier for you to say “no” the things that will keep you from that “one thing.” 

In an upcoming blog and podcast will look at some ideas of what to focus your life but, ultimately, the choice is up to you. 

A FOCUSED LIFE BRINGS CLARITY OF THOUGHT

Again, there are so many distractions vying for our attention. Work issues, relationships, social media, television, streaming services, books, music, sports, news outlets, personal development platforms, philosophies, theologies, podcasts, videos, fitness centers, restaurants, in-person shopping centers, online shopping centers, indoor activities, outdoor activities, vacation destinations… you get the idea. In today’s world, there is so much information vying for your personal attention. Even without the distractions, we experience what we refer to as “the monkey mind.” Our mind is constantly jumping from one thing to the next. 

Focus (and mediation) can help to bring clarity of thought. 

I heard a very successful man once say, “Knowing what I want to know helps me focus on what I need to know and therefore what I do not need to know.” The gentleman went on to state because of the power of focus in his life, he had determined what books to read, what podcasts to listen to, what shows to watch and, therefore, what books not to read, what podcasts not to listen to and what shows not to watch. In filtering the information he allows in his mind, he is able to keep his mind focused in a singular direction. 

You are getting the idea: The more you know what you want, the more you can filter out the distractions and those things that will only increase the power of distraction in your monkey mind. 

Clarity of thought is important to the leader. To know the desired outcome and desired actions is important for effectiveness in life and business. 

Earlier, I referenced meditation. We will examine this idea further in the coming weeks, but I would be remiss if I failed to recommend it to you. There are fewer greater tools than the power of meditation to slow down the brain and help to bring greater clarity to your thoughts and mindset. I know of some very successful people who refuse to make any decisions without pausing to meditate for 3-5 minutes. 

On a personal note, I have experienced meditation having the power to actually slow down time. 

The power of meditation is so strong, I read recently of a successful woman saying, “If I had only one hour to get a project done, I would take 20 minutes to meditate.” There is something powerful about meditation to focus your mind and body towards the task at hand. 

More on this later.

 A FOCUSED MIND BRINGS CLARITY THROUGH TRANSITION AND CHANGE

Change is hard. Very few people like change. Fewer people seek out change. 

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day about the journey of personal development. As you know the journey of personal development has one intention: to bring about greater change and evolution in one’s life. But this change and evolution is hard. So hard. To the point, my friend and I both stated, “Damn, it would so much easier to live mediocre lives with mediocre jobs and mediocre dreams. This journey of personal development is really hard and so tiring.” 

Change is hard. 

Change is even harder when it is forced on you. 

The job that unexpectedly comes to an end. The partner that unexpectedly leaves for good. The client that unexpectedly bails at the last minute. The company that unexpectedly lays off half of their workforce. 

Change is hard. Transition is difficult. 

Yet, when you know the direction of your life, business, organization or team, when faced with unexpected change or transition, you are able to pick yourself up off the ground quicker, feel the pain and disappointment faster, dust yourself off with haste and get back on the horse and keep on riding. Why? Because you know the destination in which you are heading. You understand that life brings about its shares of setbacks and disappointments. These are mandatory along the journey. The greater the life you are seeking the greater the successes and disappointments you will experience. 

A focused life continues to move forward in the direction towards his or her desired future in spite of setbacks, change or forced transition. 

If I can wish for anything for you (and for me) in 2021 it would focus and courage. But primarily focus. Courage without focus leads to an undisciplined life. Courage combined with focus is the ultimate power couple. 

Get solid on what you want out of 2021 and then focus your every waking moment on moving in that  one direction. 

Join me next week as we continue our 2021: A Focused Life Series as we discuss 5 Areas You Should Primarily Be Focused on Today. 

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