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New World Library Unshelved

New World Library Unshelved

Positive news and inspiring views from the New World Library community

Thursday, January 29, 2015
We’re about one month into the new year, and it’s probably safe to say that many of us have already fallen off the wagon of New Year’s resolutions. So this is a good time to talk about how to reset our focus. But first, it’s helpful to understand the environment we are working in as we try to accomplish any new goal.

We live in a culture that has become very fast paced, results driven, and impatient. Because we are always trying to do too many things at once, we crave closure. Anytime we take on a new endeavor we want to see it completed as quickly as possible. We want to feel that this particular task has been accomplished and is complete. This habit of thinking infiltrates everything we do and heavily influences our perception of how we are progressing with any goal we set for ourselves.

Whenever we set a new goal, we almost always subconsciously create a perceived amount of time it should take to reach. The problem with this is that we generally have no real hard data to validate the time frame we have given ourselves. We then begin to judge our progress based on how far we feel we get within that timeline.

To illustrate this, I will give an absurd example. Let’s say I want to lose 50 pounds and decide it should take me four weeks. Regardless of how well I am progressing in making life changes to create weight loss, I cannot reach that goal in that amount of time. But because I have set that deadline for myself, I will constantly feel impatient and as if I am failing at this new resolution, when in fact I may be progressing quite well.

A client once told me that he had decided to change careers and become a visual artist. He was frustrated with his progress because he had worked for six months and felt he was not as good at his art as he should be. I asked him how good he thought he should be at this point. My question took him off guard and he said, “I really don’t know.” So I responded, “Then how do you know you’re not better at it than you should be for someone who has only been working at a new skill for six months?” After a long pause he said, “I never thought of it that way.” So I asked him, “Six months ago, if you were able to do what you can do now, would you have felt that you were proficient at visual arts?” He answered, “Yes,” very quickly. So I responded, “It’s not that you aren’t progressing, it’s that your concept of how far you can progress is changing.”

I mention this because anytime we choose to develop a new skill or change a habit of personal behavior, the real joy and satisfaction are found in the process of accomplishing whatever it is we are trying to accomplish. That is why it feels so good when we complete our task. If it were effortless, it would mean nothing. Many times part of the process of becoming what we want to become is refocusing on our intention. Judging our progress in regard to some arbitrary timeline serves only to steal energy that could be going into this moment’s effort toward our goal.

Here are two tips to help you maintain the mind-set of “where I am right now in my effort is exactly where I should be, even if where I am is feeling the need to reset my focus.”

To regain this perspective when you have strayed, you must be able to separate yourself from the negative thoughts and emotions that come from judging your progress. Remember the saying “I use my thoughts. I don’t allow my thoughts to use me.” You can only do this if you work daily at being aware of your thoughts. So tip number 1 is to spend at least 10 minutes a day quieting your mind with either a breath-based or a mantra-based meditation. Make a commitment to practice this. When you miss a day, don’t judge yourself, just continue the effort. That is part of the “practice of practicing.”

Tip number 2 is to have a predetermined procedure, an internal response to yourself, that you will activate when you feel you have disappointed yourself in your effort. As a pilot, I can tell you that when the engine quits you can scream all the way to the crash site, or you can accept the situation with nonjudgment and refocus on solutions.

Realizing that you have cultivated awareness of when you have lost focus on your goal and thus given yourself the choice and opportunity to reset your intentions is perfect practice in motion. Embrace and enjoy the power you have given yourself by doing just that.

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Thomas M. Sterner is the author of The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life. Visit him online at


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