What if you knew with full confidence where your ship of life is going and had complete clarity to say No to what’s unessential and zone in on what’s essential for achieving your top priorities with ease? Let’s talk about how to do that, starting with your Why and then developing the awareness to seperate what matters from what hinders your most important ventures. The more clarity you have about where you’re going, the easier it will be to do what’s necessary and — to stop doing what has been keeping you or slowing you down from achieving your goals so far.
We live in a society that constantly bombards us with stimulation. Advertisements, different kinds of information, news, others wanting or demanding things from us. People trying to convince us to one thing or the other. Why are we being bombarded in this way? Why do advertisements exist? People want to tell us: “Hey! There is something that you need. Here is a service that’s good for you. Hey there! You’ve got to do this. Look: This is the way to be happy!” Why? They want to have our money in exchange for what they are providing. They are providing and we’ve got to consume. In order to consume what they offer (besides food, shelter, clothes and medicine) they have to convince us that what they have is something we need. That’s how the system works.
Energy flows where attention goes
Now the issue comes when you have a certain goal in your life that takes a lot of focus and attention. Something that takes a lot of work to make it happen and to make progress with that. Then this system is not going to help you, because when you engage too much with the games the world tries to play on you then you lose precious time and energy — time and energy you need to further your objectives. This is a world that is built to distract you and that is built to make you do stuff for other people, not for yourself. Really think about this. All these advertisements are not there for your benefit — they are there for the benefit of the people who advertise. Do producers and marketers of unhealthy sweets really care about your health or enjoyment? Or is their main objective to make money with their products — even if their consumers are small children? Take a look at how sweets are marketed to small children if you don’t believe me. Mostly it’s not about what’s best for the consumers — it’s about what sells the most product. So what we need to do in order to stay on course and not get distracted by the agendas of other people is to start discarding unessential things and focus on the essential things in our life. We’ve got to do this like our head is on fire, if we want to be successful.
Know your Yes
In order to say No to anything we’ve got to know what we are saying Yes to. What are you saying Yes to? The yes is your why.
- What’s your biggest goal?
- What’s your biggest aspiration?
- What’s the most important thing for you?
- What’s your true number one priority and goal in life?
Once you have that, you’ve found your Why. That’s why you say Yes to certain things and No to others. Finding what defines your main purpose and priority enables you to make intelligent choices. If you don’t know what harbour you want to make for with your ship of life then any harbour is fine. There are plenty of harbours all around. The advertisements and people around you — they are going to give you many suggestions of what you can do with your life. They are even going to tell you what you should do with your life! Yet there is only one person who has to carry the responsibility of your decisions and who has to ultimately face the consequences all on their own — You. When you take full responsibility and you know what you want to do with your life, what is meaningful to you, then you know your Yes. You can feel it in your heart. With that yes comes the responsibility, the necessity even to develop a No to certain things. There’s so many things coming at you and you just have to say No. If you accept everything that’s coming your way then you’re going to end up flooded and confused. You’re going to be drawn into random directions — not the direction that you actually want to move in.
Essentials & Nonessentials
There will be things that are not essential to your main objective. So you have defined your goal, you have it very clear in front of you: clearly figured out and at best written out. You also know: There are things that I have to do on a consistent day-to-day basis to move towards the realisation of my goal. Now once you have that this crystal clear vision in your mind you will notice: There are certain things I’m doing in my life that are not furthering this purpose. Still they are important to you in some way. What you can do now is to weigh your Why for doing that activity/behaviour with the why of your main objective. Then see what happens. Ask yourself: Is this supporting my main purpose in any way, shape or form? Sometimes it might positively affect your main objective. For example if you want to perform at your best at work then it’s going to be essential to keep your body and mind in good health. To practice good sleep hygiene. If your body is sick and you’re not feeling well then you’re not going to perform well either. Try to find the connections and see which of the things you’re doing are valuable and which may be more detrimental than helpful for achieving your main priority. You’ve got to be totally honest. If there’s something you’re doing and you are only doing it because it’s very pleasurable but it takes up a lot of your time and you have no time left to progress with what actually matters to you then then you might have a problem. Of course it’s only a problem if you make it one — that is if your Why is strong enough. Indulging in things that are a hindrance or that have no positive impact on my main objective is something I try to reduce and avoid in my own life. The next time you get the feeling that something you’re doing might hinder your main objective honestly ask yourself: “Is this activity a waste of my time?” If it is then you’ve got to be able to say: No.
Saying No is letting go
If you’re not having an advertisement blocker on your phone and computer — get one (I use “Adblock Plus” both on my phone and computer). Seriously! You don’t know how much of your brain capacity and focus you are wasting. Resources that you could invest in your top priorities.
Be really careful about the people you associate. We’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with. If the people you are associating with are not supporting your main objective, your main goal in life then, as hard as this may sound, it might be best to let them go. Or to reduce your affiliation. That might be painful but associating with people who support where you actually want to go is incredibly beneficial and satisfying instead. Even if that means you’ve got to stretch and live up to a higher standard to be able to keep up to them. Even if it makes you feel a little uncomfortable and out of your depth at first, because you notice that these people are having their life in order more so than you, they are more disciplined, positive and productive or have cultivated a better character and more positive qualities than me. It’s great when you can seek that out. Seek people and information that make you raise your standards, to do just a little bit better than how you did yesterday and be proud of yourself.
There’s so much to read. Information used to be scarce and people had to go to the library to get a book. Now we just unlock our smartphones. We’ve got the whole world at our fingertips and can consume endless amounts of information anywhere, anytime. Information is not the culprit — it’s what kind of information we choose. Which pieces are you taking in? You’ve got to be ready to say No more than you ever had to. Because if you take in everything then you are going to lose out, not the other way around. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. If you take in two hours of information per day that are not contributing to your big Yes, to your main objective, to what’s most important to you, then you have just wasted two hours of your life. You’re never going to get them back. Never. If you spent them, they’re gone. You can earn back money if you lose it, but you cannot gain back time. Your time is an invaluable resource.
These can be a blessing or a curse. You are doing certain things on a consistent basis, you’ve gotten used to it and it feels normal to you. But how often do you ask yourself: Which of the habits I’m doing are actually contributing to my success and happiness, to achieving my top priorities in life and which are not? Maybe you spend your evenings watching movies. Every evening you go watch a movie or series. I’m not saying don’t do this. If you ask yourself in each situation: Is this helping me with my main objective in life? — You’ll know the answer yourself. I used to watch a lot of movies. For many years I watched five or six movies a week. I remember watching three seasons of game of thrones over the course of two days, doing nothing else. At some point in my life I realised that while there is some pleasure in entertainment, it’s not really going to help me become happy. Once the movie is over, so is the happy feeling. It’s not going to help me achieve the things that are important and dear to me either. I stopped doing that (watching movies at all) and I’m feeling much better since I’ve done so. Of course you don’t have to take such an extreme route, but even a small course correction can bring many benefits! Just consider.
There’s so much coming at us and we have to be careful with our choices. We’ve got to be able to say No and really focus on what’s most important for us, if we want to achieve our goals. We’ve got to zone in on those things that matter. Some time ago I was talking to a friend of mine who has his own company that’s now growing quite big. I always noticed that he’s extremely focused. He told me that the most important thing for him is to focus on what’s essential and only do the things that serve that purpose. To do what’s necessary to progress with his main objective. If you focus intently on what’s most important to you in your life then there’s not going to be any time to do things that are unimportant. Your vision is going to grow. What you focus on grows. As you focus on the things that are dear to you, that give you the most benefit and the greatest impact the unessential things will fall away. At the same time it’s good to employ a proactive approach of saying No to things unrelated or detrimental to your main goals in life. When you’re taking the subway: Are you looking around? Are you looking at the adverts? Are you looking and thinking about the people around you? Are you using your time or are you wasting your time? That’s the question you should be asking yourself.
A great thing you can do to nourish that vision and objective of yours is to create a Daily #1 Priority. Something that you can do every single day. Start small. For example this can be reading for 5 minutes on the subject that is most relevant for achieving your goal. Now 5 minutes may sound ridiculous, but I suggest you stick to that bare minimum for at least a month. Define finishing those 5 minutes as success and focus on consistency. Everything above 5 minutes can be a bonus. Trust me, this works for building habits. Maybe 5 minutes a day are perfect for you, or maybe you want to take a bigger step like spending one hour on your goal first thing each morning. (Only do this if you know you have the necessary motivation, discipline and strategy. Otherwise it’s better to slowly build it up. You want to build on small successes because thats most effective.) Personally I spend three hours, one in the morning, at noon and in the evening working for my main objective. I do this every day and I also do this when I have to work mornings (I just do it before work and usually get up at 4:30 AM). If that sounds painful to you check out my video on Early Rising or my article on Nurturing Your Vision for developing motivation. It’s not something I have to force myself to do (of course it still requires a certain amount of discipline), but it happens naturally as a consequences of me having clarity about my priorities. This as well as awareness of the consequences of not taking action AND of the positive consequences of me taking action. Whatever your action steps are going to be — it’s really important that you do it consistently. If you’re working on your most important goals every single day, if every single day you are putting in work and effort then it’s bound to grow. It becomes much easier to let go of things that are not part of your vision and to really focus in, zone in on and stay with what really matters.
Let’s say you commit to those 5 minutes . Now 8PM rolls around and you haven’t done it. It’s the time of the day where you usually watch TV, read or play games, or where you go out with your friends. Now you’ve got to be clear: “I’m having a conflict between my most important value — that’s making progress with my main objective that is really dear and important to me and enjoying myself in front of the TV.” Now you can decide for yourself. You could say: “Ok. I haven’t done it until now. I’m going to skip TV until I’ve done it. I will do this because I prioritise what’s going to give me the best long-term benefit. Because if I don’t take the small steps then I cannot achieve my big goal.” Decide wisely how you want to spend your time. All our time is limited, even if most people make it seem like we have “all the time in the world”: We don’t. You really don’t.
There are four steps to goal achievement:
- What do you want? Define your goal, your Yes.
- Take action. Start moving towards its realisation. Wanting is not enough. That’s those 5 minutes or more you are investing each day to start making tangible progress.
- Notice if it’s working or not. There’s no use in following a plan that doesn’t work.
- Change your approach until you get the result.
New strategy — new actions — new results. If you’re reading for 20 minutes every day for a few months but you feel it’s not really helping you get closer to your goal: see how you could better invest your time to get where you want to go. “This is not working — what else can I do?” I talk about this in my article on planning. The point of a plan is to get to the goal, it is merely a tool. Maybe instead of reading you need to go out and actually connect with people who are good at what you want to become good at. Maybe you need to start experimenting and taking action, instead of only reading.
This process has to be repeated again and again. I describe the mechanics of it in “Staying Motivated”. You keep progressing and adapting your approach until you achieve the desired result. In order to do that it’s essential to: Discard the Nonessentials and Focus Exclusively on the Essentials. To what degree you want to do that — that’s up to you. However I can say from personal experience that it is a very gratifying experience to know in my heart that I am focusing the brunt of my life, most of my time, on my real priorities. On what’s really important and what matters to me. I can’t say with 100% that in a few years time or even in ten years (if I’m still alive by then) I won’t have a different opinion or think: “That wasn’t such a good decision back then.” Yet right now it’s my conscious decision and I’m taking full responsibility for the way I live my life and that’s an empowering position to be in.
I encourage you to take full responsibility and control of how you spend your life. Every minute of it. Take the time to find out about your Yes, about your Why, because it’s worth it many times over. Once you know it you’ll no longer be like a ship without a captain. You’ll know which harbour you want to make for with absolute clarity. All these different harbours that are enticing you from all around — they will be nothing but faint dots on a map. You’ll know: “This is the harbour I am going for and these are my reasons for doing so. I’m saying No to this, because I know what I’m saying Yes to.