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 to reach, 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. Non-achievers reach, attain or accomplish something other than their goals — and quite often that is someone else’s goals, without consciously making those goals their own.
Achievers give their goals sufficient attention so as to reach, attain or accomplish those goals. This means that to be an achiever, 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?
Are you making progress on your goals by giving them many hours of attention, or are you putting your attention elsewhere? What exactly are you reaching, attaining or accomplishing in a typical week?
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 cancelling. Starbucks may send you a reminder email if too much time goes by without you showing up. 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 side-track 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, organisations, 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 behaviours, 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: 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.
Direct Your Attention
Fortunately you have the power to consciously direct your attention. You can let your attention float around aimlessly or 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 concerning what deserves your attention. Keep deleting and declining unnecessary fluff and obligations that might 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 eventually achieve it? But when you let your attention become diluted by too many competing interests, 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
As Warren Buffett has said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
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 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.
You can even make a goal like doing your taxes 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 it 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 as motivation to achieve his or her goals. Where non-achievers see excuses, achievers find incentives.
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. Visualise yourself taking the action steps. Make this your default behaviour instead of pulling out your phone to attend to something trivial.
Carefully plan out the action steps to achieve your goals. Clear time to work on your goals, and make this time sacred and inviolable. If you can clear only a small slice out of each week to work on your goals, then consider setting the goal of reaching 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?
The Goal of Freedom
One of my past goals was to remove financial scarcity as a potential source of distraction, so I could spend most of my time each week working on my goals, whether they were income-generating or not. I want to centre my life around personal growth pursuits and share what I learn as a legacy for others. I devoted a significant amount of attention to that goal over a period of years until it was achieved, and after that I could continue to maintain such a lifestyle with relative ease. I know that some people think it’s unusual to have the freedom to immerse oneself in setting and achieving goals like travelling around Europe for a month or going vegan or exploring open relationships, which may have nothing to do with making money or having a job. But this kind of freedom is important enough to me that I made achieving this goal my top priority for years, sticking with it until it was achieved. It was challenging but definitely worthwhile.
I know many people who’ve achieved similar goals. Generally speaking, they tend to be the happiest people I know. Instead of taking orders from someone else as their daily routine, they put their attention on their goals, desires and interests. They make it a priority to maintain this freedom. They don’t use a job, kids or the lack of money as an excuse — just the opposite, in fact. From these people I commonly hear stories of setbacks recalled with laughter and good cheer, not with fear or regret — like the time a couple of friends had to sleep in a park because they had no money for a place to stay. What non-achievers fear as roadblocks are merely stepping stones (and entertaining future stories!) for achievers.
If lifestyle freedom is important to you, then make that your primary aim. Put the attainment of this goal first in your life. Working to achieve this goal must become more important to you than keeping up with social media, pleasing your parents, watching your favourite TV shows, and other distractions. If anything else is truly getting in the way, then either drop it from your life or find a way to turn it into an advantage that increases your drive and motivation.
It’s easy for me to tell the difference between people who are committed to achieving lifestyle freedom and those who aren’t committed. The ones who are committed are obsessed with the goal; they think of little else. I can’t get them to shut up about it! They’re constantly trying to figure out how to make it a reality. They work hard at it. They stumble and keep right on going. Usually the goal takes longer than they’d like. They often want it to take less than a year, even though it usually takes two to five years to reach the point of financial sustainability. The achievers make it obvious that they’ll get there no matter how long it takes. For them the goal is mandatory, not optional.
The non-achievers talk about the goal as a distant fantasy. It’s a wish, a dream, a possibility… something that would be nice to have if and when the planets align properly. Their action plan consists mainly of reading books about the law of attraction and listening to Abraham-Hicks recordings. They treat the goal as a casual desire but not a serious commitment. They disrespect the tremendous force of will that’s required to achieve it. They virtually never get there.
If the goal of lifestyle freedom matters to you, then drop, cut and burn whatever distracts you from it. Put your attention squarely on that goal, and obsess about it until you achieve it. If you need more time, cancel cable TV, close your social media accounts and keep your phone powered off during daylight hours. Take breaks as you need them, but keep putting your attention back on this goal. If you do that, it’s a safe bet that you’ll achieve it.
You’ll set yourself on the path to achieving lifestyle freedom when you stop putting other distractions ahead of that commitment.