Keep your eye on the goal

Imagine you’ve entered a train station.  Suddenly, a train arrives, and hordes of people get off.  They’re all heading towards you.  You need to get on the train.  What do you do?


Some people might try to dodge incoming travelers and avoid them.  Others might try to navigate around obstacles and avoid strollers and angry cell phone talkers.  But chances are, you’re going to bump into someone or you won’t react quickly enough to changes in the flow of people.  Or you might end up in the always popular livelock situation where you both go left, then you both go right, then you both go left… It’s inevitable.  Worse, you’re going to miss that train.


What you should really do is simply keep you eyes fixed on the open doors of the waiting train and walk briskly and purposefully straight to it.  Everyone else around you?  They don’t really matter right now.  Don’t make eye contact, don’t try to figure out where they are going.  Sure you might have to make minor corrections along the way but I guarantee that if you just stare at your destination as you walk, you will be able to walk in a relatively straight line to that train and that people will part ways for you.  I do this all the time when crossing busy sidewalks or getting on transit.


Why does it work?  Well, people have a natural tendency to give way to a stronger force.  So if you are purposeful and clearly indicate your goal (by your gaze), other people will tend to avoid you.  Likewise, if you’re hesitant and slow, you will tend to avoid someone who’s coming towards you at a brisk pace.  Give it a try the next time you’re at the train station.


Analogously, when you have any goal in life, you must be purposeful and fix your gaze on it.  There will always be people who will act as obstacles to your goal.  Some are intentional obstacles, like the jackass who doesn’t hold open the door for you, and some are unintentional, like the mother with the stroller who’s not watching where’s she’s going.  By focusing on your goal, you reduce the impact of these obstacles.  Sure you might have minor course corrections to make along the way, but you will not be needlessly tackling obstacles that do not matter.  Let’s look at an example.


Say your goal is to quit smoking.  So your focus may rest on different things, depending on your priorities.  It may be the vacation you can afford with all the money you save or it may be the health benefits that you will gain.  Whatever it is, keep it always at the front of your mind.  When your co-workers go outside for a smoke – that’s an obstacle.  But does it matter to your goal?  They will do what they want to do and you cannot affect that.  If you let them distract you from your focus, you may be tempted to side step the path.  When your focus slows down, it’s easier to stop and “detour”, perhaps by having a smoke.  And once your momentum has slowed, it is that much harder to get back on track.  I don’t smoke, so perhaps this is a contrived example, but you could insert other habits such as “go to the gym more” or “eat less sugar”.


Or perhaps you have financial goals.  I have several, and one of the things I am absolutely firm on is my grocery budget.  There are LOTS of obstacles to this goal – people who tell you disdainfully that eating on $100/month is “just scraping by” and others who might look down on you for being “poor”.  Mountains of media coverage decrying the options available for people on limited grocery budgets.  Really, I must have no taste buds and be incredibly malnourished.  Other people are unintentional obstacles – like well-meaning co-workers who want to go for a coffee or lunch.  But do they matter to my goal?  Usually not.  Is someone who criticizes my eating habits going to help me reach early retirement?  Hell no.  So they don’t matter.  Are co-workers who want to always go out for lunch going to help me reach my financial goals?  No… but assuming you like your co-workers, this could be trickier and may require minor course corrections.  After all, being well-liked or universally disliked can have an impact on future earnings!  So, I allocate a small amount a month out of my spending/entertainment money to use for socializing with colleagues.  This is similar to what I do for socializing with friends.  But do I deviate from the path set out by my budget?  No.  Never.


In the end, this is all just another way of saying “keep your eye on the goal“.  It’s true because it works.  Whether it’s mental analogies like my train station example or a physical picture of your goal taped to your credit card, being focused on what’s important will help you avoid the obstacles that are bound to come your way.  Good luck!

Posted in: Life Hacks

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