How to concentrate on your goal - 12 tips for focus

-   James Stevenson, EMCC Accredited Coach, Applied Positive Psychologist and Coaching Psychologist -

Are you finding it difficult to stay focused on your goal?
If you find yourself getting distracted and struggle to maintain focus here are some helpful considerations and solutions

Learning to maintain concentration and focus on your goal consistently can be tricky. You may find your mind drifts to anywhere but your goals. If you want to feel like your goal is at the centre of your life and create strong focus on it... read on...

Here is what you will find below:

  1. Have you written down your goal? 
  2. Is your goal SMART? 
  3. Is your short term goal connected to an exciting long term vision?
  4. How personally meaningful is your goal? Or are you passionate about it?  
  5. Where did it come from? Did it come from within? or from someone else?
  6. Are you experiencing some paralysis by trying to focus on too many things at once?
  7. What are the main obstacles or distractions from your goal?
  8. Is your physical environment supporting you or distracting you?
  9. Are other supportive people aware of your goal? How are they supporting you?
  10. Is your goal part of a larger plan with steps or milestones? 
  11. Is your inner game supportive? 
  12. Start small and create victories to build on.

Writing your goal down on paper

I like to have my goals down on paper in a folder, up on a pin-board, and also in my phone notes and as an image in my phone. They are everywhere. You can use one of these high quality nice looking printables to print and get started. Each one guides you through the process and you'll have something that looks professional to put up. 

Is your goal SMART?

One way to help you focus on your goal is to make it adhere to the SMART goal setting format. That is: 

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable 
  • Relevant
  • Timed 

You can do this using a smart goal setting worksheet that asks questions helping you make your goal smart easily. You may also want to us the updated version, SMARTER, which includes Evaluated and Reviewed. 

Connecting the short term and long term - chunking 

When your short term and long term goals are aligned it can add a lot. Motivation, drive, meaning, hope. You can do this by chunking up and down. This means when you're exploring a big chunk, like what matters to you most in life? Answer the question, which is important, and with that answer in mind or written down, or spoken in conversation, then ask how is that relevant right now? or what comes first with that? You're turning something large and distant into something small and real. 

The same is true in the opposite direction. Something really small you do in the present or intend to do, you can then check, what is it about this that is meaningful? What makes this important? In this way, the present, the short term and the long term become connected. 

There is a selection of writing activities which help with this work and also some of the worksheets can help you make a start. 

Making it personally meaningful 

As a coach, it's my job to ask about meaning. Is it meaningful? what makes it meaningful? I also give feedback if the words say one thing and the tone of voice or slumped expression says something else. It's surprising how often my clients are talking about a goal and we discover they don't think it matters that much. From there, other much more important things often arise. 

One way around this without a coach, is to have a list of possible goals and rate them in how much they mean to you personally. If meaning doesn't work for you as a word (our relationship with words is fascinating), then you can use important, interesting, passionate, relevant, significant. Find a word that resonates.

Where does your goal come from?

There is evidence that a goal is far more powerful and beneficial if it comes from within, meaning that your motivation is intrinsic rather than extrinsic. 

Of course, sometimes it's not as simple as that. Some goals have elements of both. Sometimes a goal can be given extrinsically by your boss for example, but because you are so happy in the position, it could have just as easily come from within you. 

There are also the external goals that may come from society or culture. A pressure to be a certain way, or achieve certain things. You may say you want A, B, and C, and after closer inspection realise that you don't actually care about that at all. That you only think that way because many others do, or because your parents have always pushed that on you.

The most effective goals come from within. This means you felt the motivation or desire or drive or determination arise within you. You maybe realised something important about yourself or your life and it became clear you really really want XYZ. Perhaps you seen someone else do something and you noticed how appealing that felt to you. It could be that you tried something and the experience was so positive, you felt impelled to learn and do more.

Narrowing your focus

What's the difference between a vague wish and a goal? When you go from ten exciting options that all seem appealing and you could talk about all day, to focusing on achieving one thing, things become real. When you say you'll achieve something in the next few months it's hard not to focus on your goal. It will be there, for better or worse, either annoying you and frustrating you, or empowering you and guiding you.

Japanese Artwork with Ikeda Quote about taking the first step

It can feel kind of nice to not get real... I totally get it. It may even be what you want more than anything else right now and in that case, I'd embrace that. 

If you are able to go for what you want, and you're keen on creating goal focus, then bringing it back to what's next? Or what's the one thing that needs to happen? will definitely help.

Obstacles and Distractions

Obstacles and distractions that can cause you to procrastinate or avoid are everywhere! It takes some serious determination and focus to make them disappear. 

Identifying and naming what's getting in the way for you is a great step.

It's important that once you've faced up to the realities and complexities of your situation and self that you do the empowered work of changing habits

Adjusting your environment

Part of this work is using this truth about your environment to your advantage. You are constantly responding to the environment you find yourself in. You're options are either limited or enhanced by your physical environment.

It's no co-incidence that supermarkets put all kinds of little overpriced snacks and trinkets right by the tills. But you can also exercise your power and choice to some extent with your environment. A bit of planning and some changes can go a long way. 

When it comes to concentrating on your goals, there's loads you can do. How about downloading these daily goal cards as a little reminder? 

Supportive people

Motivation is a fascinating thing. Over the course of a single football match you can see it rise and fall many times within players and teams.

A goal by the opposite team can suddenly raise the motivation of the team that's gone behind as the urgency of the situation and what is required comes sharply into view. 

There are also differences depending on the captains or leaders within teams. Motivation bounces around teams impacting everyone. Even in individual sports like tennis the impact of the team can be felt often. The player looks over to the coach throughout the match.  

One key to your achievement is setting yourself up for victory and that means making sure you have your team. Who will you bring in? Which players will you manage to be a better influence? 

If you have a friend who is also setting a goal, especially if the goal is similar you can create a constant source of motivation. The same can be said of a mentor, a coach, a group. 

Just being around some people and listening can help loads. 

Is your goal part of a larger plan?

Sometimes if a goal is isolated it can lack power and influence. There may be limited conviction about the potential your goal will unleash. If you don't believe that achieving the goal will lead to something amazing then it makes sense that intensity of focus is low. 

However, if you have a small goal that you know will make something else possible, and you know that will make something truly special happen, then of course concentration will naturally occur. 

Even something as simple as After doing A, I can do B. When I've done B for a year I can do C and D. Then E F and G will be do-able. 

Or by this date I will attempt A. Then by this date I'll try and complete B and C. A timeline on A3 paper extending out to the future can be a useful tool for this. 

Develop your inner game and create self-belief

Sometimes all of these nice sounding steps which all sound appealing and desirable just don't start. If within, it's tough to praise yourself, to encourage yourself... If when you try then a currently stronger or more prominent part of you criticizes yourself, if thoughts like "It's all pointless" happen, then work on your thoughts and feelings will be important. 

The inner critic- "I'm not capable of this"

The inner doubter- "This won't work for me anyway"

The inner avoider- "It's too hard"

If these kinds of thoughts are triggered by self-praise and attempts at new approaches, then it may be that not focusing on your goal is a way to avoid the pain associated with such inner dynamics. All of this can be changed over time. A psychological theory called learned helplessness comes to mind. If it can be learned, then it can be unlearned.

Build confidence with one small victory followed by another

Impatience and fear of disappointment can be significant blocks to concentrating on your goal. I've seen many people see small victories as evidence of their uselessness. They win and change. They do the impossible and then throw it all away because it's not enough! All too often they end up doing nothing instead for months, sometimes years. Of course, if small victories were built over that timeframe, then self-confidence would grow and bigger victories and changes would become possible. 

There is truth in the old sayings like... slow and steady wins the race. 


Best of luck! If you have any questions send me a message in the comments below and I'll get back to you as quick as I can.

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James Stevenson is the owner of and a qualified and accredited wellbeing and philosophy coach.

He works with clients in an patient, understanding and creative way to help them apply great philosophical ideas and psychological scientific findings so they can flourish in a way that leads to them also contributing to a better world.

The development of a strong sense of mattering and agency, alongside deep understanding of inner and outer obstacles give clients a powerful coaching experience. More about James here

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