Blog Short #28: Focus on one thing to get multiple results.

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Today’s blog post was inspired by James Clear who is the author of Atomic Habits. I love his book and also subscribe to his weekly “1-2-3 Newsletter.” Each week he sends out 1 question to ponder, 2 quotes from other people, and 3 quotes of his own. This week, one of his quotes was:

“Make the most of one opportunity and more opportunities will come your way. Moving boldly in one direction causes more paths to unfold before you. To get more, focus on less.”

He refers to this as the “paradox of focus.”

What inspires me about this quote is that it captures the wisdom of:

  • Starting small to go big
  • Taking some action before knowing the entire future
  • Recognizing that solving one problem may solve others at the same time
  • Focusing in can lead to multiple unforeseen benefits

I’m going to go through three examples that use this idea, yet apply it in different ways. Here we go.

#1 Working toward a big goal.

To work toward a big goal, the best approach is to break it down into smaller sub-goals (habits) that move you toward the final outcome.

Let’s say that you want to improve your health, and you decide that the way to do that is to:

  1. Start a regular exercise routine
  2. Improve your diet
  3. Undergo a complete physical with your doctor to check your cholesterol, organ functioning, blood pressure, etc.
  4. And lose 20 pounds

Those are all reasonable actions to get you moving toward your bigger goal of improving your health. The question is “Where do you start?”

The best idea is to select the one habit that you’re most likely to stick with, and that will easily lead into accomplishing your other habits/goals. This initial habit has been coined by Charles Duhigg as the “keystone habit” in his book The Power of Habit.

The keystone habit is the one that:

  • Appeals to you most
  • Is the easiest to get going
  • Is the one you have the time and energy to make happen
  • And the one that will bleed into the others without much effort

If I were to choose from this list, I’d likely start with exercise because it checks off all these criteria for me:

  1. It’s easy – I’d walk outside 15 minutes a day 5 days a week.
  2. It appeals – I like to be outside. I have walking paths in my neighborhood. I live in a warm climate. And I could listen to music while I do it.
  3. I have the time – I can fit this in my schedule without changing anything. It gives me the day off during the week that’s super busy, and the day off I use for downtime.
  4. It easily bleeds into the other goals – When I exercise regularly, I automatically start eating better. I also begin losing weight. If I’m losing weight and eating better, I wouldn’t mind so much getting a physical.

Just focusing on the keystone habit gets you going, and leads you automatically into the other habits or goals without too much effort.

In other words, if you accomplish the first one, you’ll likely finish them all. If you start them all at once, you’re more likely to drop off and abandon the whole project.

Just a little side note: I’ve used this strategy before and what happened is that after walking 15 minutes per day for a month, I found myself upping the time on some days because I enjoyed it so much. Eventually I walked an hour at a time on weekend days. This is often what happens when you start small.

#2 Focus on one skill and open up unknown opportunities.

In this example, you get really focused on learning about something you love or want to do, and it leads to opportunities you had never entertained or dreamt of.

This is a true story:

My son Josh was very interested in physical fitness (back in 2004), so he got a job at a gym. This led to getting certified as a personal trainer. From there he decided to open his own personal training studio. It was successful, and he sold it to one of his trainers so he could open a small gym. In the course of doing advertising for the gym, he taught himself graphic and web design because he wanted to create his own advertisements. He sold the gym and opened a web design company, and that led eventually to becoming the marketing director for a well-known real estate company, which is where he is today.

In this scenario, one interest and a strong focus on it led to a new opportunity, which opened up another one and another one and another one. When you don’t know exactly what you want to do, do the thing that’s in front of you as well as you can and see where it leads.

#3 Tackle one problem and others get solved.

This one is also best illustrated by a story.

Angie’s Story

Angie and her husband were having difficulty talking through problems. Every time they started, one or both would get angry or frustrated and they couldn’t continue. These conversations usually ended with tempers flared and a stand-off, and then sweeping the problem under the rug until it came up again.

Angie decided she would try to improve her communication skills to see if it would help. She read some books on the subject and took an online course to get started.

Angie began practicing her new improved listening skills on her husband. The more she did it, the more receptive he became to her. He began allowing her to express her thoughts and feelings without interrupting her, partly because he felt heard when he spoke, and partly because Angie was talking to him in a way that didn’t feel attacking as it had before. They both became less defensive, and soon were successful in talking through minor problems. They vowed to keep working at it until they could talk through anything.

As a result of Angie’s focus on improving her communication skills, not only were she and her husband able to talk through problems (which was the original goal),  their marriage improved and they felt closer to each other.

The unexpected silver lining was that she also resolved some internal issues that had caused her problems for many years. She overcame her fear of being criticized and rejected if she asserted herself. She was able to ask for what she needed whereas before she didn’t feel she had the right. And she learned how to talk about things that bothered her without being critical or attacking or defensive.

The Take-Away

If you start out working on one thing and throw everything you have into it, other things will get resolved in the process. That’s because they’re all connected. You don’t have to take on everything at once, and in fact, that usually fails. Start anywhere, and the rest will follow. Focus on that one thing and let the process go where it goes.

That’s all for now. Have a wonderful week!

All my best,

Barbara

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