You become an achiever by achieving your goals. If you achieve your goals, you’re an achiever. If you don’t achieve your goals, you’re not an achiever.
This is a simple, binary way to think about achievement. To achieve means toreach, attain, or accomplish. What you choose to reach, attain, or accomplish is up to you.
The difference between an achiever and a non-achiever is largely a matter of attention. Non-achievers give their goals little attention, if they bother to set goals at all. Achievers give their goals sufficient attention so as to reach, attain, or accomplish those goals.
Non-achievers reach, attain, and accomplish something other than their goals. Quite often they will reach, attain, and accomplish someone else’s goals, without consciously making those goals their own.
To be an achiever, you must give your goals sufficient attention to reach, attain, or accomplish them. This means you must withdraw much of your attention from activities that are not directly leading to the accomplishment of your goals.
In a given week, where is your attention going? If you aren’t habitually obsessing over your goals, then what are you obsessing over instead?
What do you normally put ahead of your goals?
Do you manage to watch some TV or movies?
Do you keep up with email, social media, and text messages?
Do you attend to the social obligations that your family, friends, and co-workers expect from you?
What exactly are you reaching, attaining, or accomplishing in a typical week? Are you making progress on your goals by giving them many hours of attention, or are you putting your attention elsewhere?
Achievers accept that in order to achieve their goals, they must withdraw attention from non-goal activities. Achievers also accept that these competing interests may resist being put on the back burner. The cable company may try to talk you out of canceling. Starbucks may send you a reminder email if you don’t show up for too long. Your mother may nag you about something trivial. Achievers learn to decline these invitations for their attention by default. They keep putting their attention back upon their goals.
You must especially be on guard for new invitations and opportunities that come up while you’re working on your goals. These hidden distractions can easily sidetrack you. If an opportunity aligns solidly with your goals, wonderful… take full advantage of it. But if it seems off-course with respect to your current goals, then stick to your path, and say no to the diversion. Generally speaking, it’s wise to be less opportunistic, so you can be more of a conscious creator. You’ll often make faster progress by creating your own opportunities instead of haphazardly chasing the random opportunities that others bring you.
The Scarcity of Attention
Attention is a limited resource. The ability to consciously direct your attention with good energy and focus is even scarcer than the time you have available each day.
In any given week, there may be many interests competing for your attention: friends, family, co-workers, random strangers, corporations, organizations, government agencies, media, and more. And these days they have many different ways to reach you.
Internally you have some competition as well: your physiological needs, your emotional needs, your cravings, your habitual behaviors, etc. You need to eat, sleep, eliminate waste, bathe, and so on. These activities require some attention too.
Somewhere among those competing interests is another voice seeking your attention. This is your goal-oriented nature, your greater intelligence, your desire to live a life rich in meaning and purpose. This part of you craves achievement, and it won’t be satisfied by anything less. It wants you to set your own goals and to reach, attain, and accomplish them.
How much of your attention are you giving to your achievement-oriented self?
If you starve this part of yourself for attention, it will punish you with low motivation, low self-worth, and a general scarcity of resources. But if you give it the attention it craves, you’ll be rewarded with high energy, drive, passion, abundance, and a sense of purpose and contribution.
Directing Your Attention
Fortunately you have the power to consciously direct your attention. You can let your attention float around aimlessly. You can focus your attention on something other than your goals, such as the goals other people have for you. Or you can focus your attention on your own goals.
To really move your life forward requires a major commitment of attention. If you want to improve your finances, you must put your attention on creating value for people, sharing that value, and intelligently monetizing that value. If you want to positively transform your relationships, then give that part of your life some intense and prolonged attention.
Unfortunately we have the tendency to remove attention from those areas of our lives that aren’t doing so well. In the short term, it’s wise to shift focus when we feel overwhelmed because temporary diversions can help relieve stress. But for deeper transformation to occur, we need to put lots of attention squarely on those areas that scream for improvement.
Setting goals requires focused attention. Planning out the action steps to achieve our goals requires even more attention. Executing those action steps takes more attention still. Achievers make such activities a priority in their lives. Non-achievers don’t.
As you get older, keep raising your standards for what deserves your attention. Keep deleting and declining unnecessary fluff and obligations that might otherwise distract you from your magnificent goals. This will free up more attention to focus on your goals.
Have you noticed that when you put your full attention on a goal and obsess about it, you can really move it forward quickly, and you do eventually achieve it? But when you let your attention become diluted by too many competing interests, then progress on your goal slows to a crawl, and you eventually lose your connection to the goal altogether. Goals require significant and prolonged nurturing until they’re achieved; otherwise they die.
Say No to Almost Everything
The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything. – Warren Buffet
What does it mean to say no to almost everything?
For me this means being able to work full-time on my goals, without letting anything get in the way. It means keeping my schedule free of distracting entanglements. It means that even when I work on goals that seem to be put on my plate by someone else, I must either make those goals my own (and say yes to them), or I must reject them and not give them any attention. If I cannot make a goal my own in some way, it doesn’t deserve my attention.
Even a goal like doing your taxes, you can make your own. You can commit to keeping your finances up to date and in good order. You can choose to pay the tax contribution for whatever reasons appeal to you. But if you can’t make a goal your own, and you try to work on it anyway, then you’re fighting yourself, and your progress will be stunted and inconsistent, which is an enormous waste of precious attention.
Don’t dwell in the land of half-commitments. Put your full attention on your own goals, including goals you’ve made your own. If you have a job, then either make the commitment to do your very best at that job, or vacate the position and let someone else do it better.
Put Your Goals First
Many achievers have jobs. Many achievers have families. Many achievers have competing commitments of various kinds. But achievers don’t use their job, kids, and other commitments as excuses for not giving sufficient attention to their goals. For everyone who uses these to excuse their inability to set and achieve goals, there’s a real achiever who started from a more challenging position and used those same elements to help motivate them to achieve their goals. Where non-achievers see excuses, achievers find drive.
A good way to put your goals first is to set high-quality, holistic goals to begin with. Don’t squander your attention on shallow pursuits like making money for its own sake. Set goals that will help you grow, build your skills, create value for others, and do some good in the world. Ask yourself: Does the goal seem meaningful and intelligent when you imagine yourself 20 years past its achievement?
Deliberately put your attention on your goals. When you catch yourself standing in line, dwell upon your goals. Visualize yourself taking the action steps. Make this your default behavior instead of pulling out your phone to attend to something trivial.
Carefully plan out the action steps to achieve your goals. If you received my latestnewsletter, you’ll find an extensive how-to article about planning the achievement of your goals.
Clear time to work on your goals, and make this time sacred and inviolable. If you can only clear a small slice out of each week to work on your goals, then consider setting a goal to reach the point where you have the freedom to devote as many hours to your goals as your energy allows. What specific goals would you need to set and achieve to make that a reality? Imagine being able to devote most of your time every week to working on your most important goals, without anything getting in the way. Many people live this way, and they love it. Why not you?