“A person who aims at nothing is sure to hit it.” —Anonymous
Distractions. Our world has become a constant feed of information and entertainment. Each message enters our mind with one goal: Gain control of our attention and resources.
Additionally, we live in a world of unparalleled opportunity. Most of us live in environments where we are free to pursue an infinite number of possibilities with our lives.
And in a world of constant distraction and ever-increasing opportunity, the need for focus becomes even more significant.
Those who accomplish the most good and realize the greatest influence with their lives understand this importance. As a result, they are committed to refining their focus and living intentional lives because of it. They know the good they can bring to this world. And they seek desperately to remove the distractions that keep them from achieving it.
Focused, intentional living requires three important steps, none of which can be forgotten or neglected:
1. Those who live intentional lives define what they most desire to accomplish. They recognize there is not enough time to accomplish everything. Instead, they have learned to develop a clear picture of their greatest possible accomplishment/s. For example, one of my goals is to significantly change the world by promoting minimalism in a world of consumerism. This passion provides the framework upon which I make decisions. It impacts my pursuits. And it directs the resources (time, energy, finances) I have available to me.
2. Those who live intentional lives recognize the importance of removing distraction. Distractions, by their very definition, cause harm by stealing our resources. They adversely impact our potential to achieve our most-desired accomplishments outlined above. But unfortunately, far too often, they go unnoticed. Our lives go unevaluated. We are subtly lured away from true significance in our lives. As a result, our greatest goals often go unmet. One of the greatest benefits of minimalism is that it forces us to define our values. And it helps us better define and remove distractions—at least, in physical terms.
3. Those who live intentional lives act upon their understanding of the world. The true potential of wisdom is found in its implementation. Simply knowing we are a distracted people accomplishes little, the solution must also be implemented. The specific steps to remove distraction and gain greater focus vary from person-to-person and passion-to-passion. What distracts me may be an essential piece of your life’s purpose and vice versa. While the specific solutions may vary, the importance of finding one does not.
There is little doubt our world is filled with constant distraction. And there is little doubt that those who achieve the greatest significance in life learn to manage them effectively. Influence may, at times, find us by chance. But those who create it for themselves are entirely committed to intentional living.
Maria Pinto says
I read an article recently titled The Zen of Dishwashing, doing a task that many would find mundane and really focusing on what you are doing. The sound and flow of the water, the feeling of washing the dishes with intention, the satisfaction of having the dishes clean and the area orderly. It is easy for the mind to wander but when we try to focus on the task at hand we can find more enjoyment and then go on to something else. Maybe just sit for a few minutes and meditate or just do nothing.
Anna Bates says
I completely agree. Though it can be quite a challenge to resist the distractions. Here are some simple strategies to fend off that feeling that I use when at my desk and working:
*Simply stop and be aware of the feeling. Often just breathing quietly for a moment or two and acknowledging the craving helps to alleviate it.
*Move around. Physical activity — taking a quick walk or standing up to tidy your desk — can help clear your head and shift your mindset back to your focus.
When these don’t work, then its time to seek out why the urge to check Facebook or surf Youtube is so powerful. Have you been at a task for too long and really do need a mental break? Or is there something about the task that makes you procrastinate? Don’t know where to start, fear of failure, boredom etc etc. Getting a handle on the why can lead to finding constructive ways to change your habits. You can then make a conscious plan to spend 15 mins at lunch googling time management strategies or whatever.
And whatever you learn, teach it to your kids as well. Help them build their concentration skills too!
Brady Faught says
Great article as usual Joshua,
I agree that the constant distraction in our lives is holding us back from our full potential. I think the brain is always looking for a problem to solve, and as long as that problem is “my house isn’t big enough” and “I don’t have enough nice dress shirts” then it will never be able to focus it’s attention on bigger problems like ‘How can I be more happy?’ or even global problems like “How can we rely less on fossil fuels?”
Julia Bloom says
This meshes nicely with a webcast I just watched the other day from Laura Vanderkam, based on her great books about time management. Her book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think revolutionized my life when I read it a couple years ago. Right now I am in the middle of time-tracking a full week (logging what I am doing every 15 minutes – an exercise from her book). An excellent way to realign oneself with life purpose.
Thanks for your work, Joshua. As a minimalist myself, I’m very selective about what I read/watch/hear – and your blog continues to be an anchoring voice for me.
Darcy Cronin @Darcy's Utopia says
I love this post. It couldn’t come at a better time in my life. I’m about to launch a new blog and begin teaching Simplicity Parenting workshops. Your third point really hits home, it’s all about the implementation.
Thanks for your work,
The Quote is “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time” is by Zig Ziglar.
Anders Hasselstrøm says
Your article makes perfect sense to me. In a time where we are offered so much and still have limited resources we have to take control of our focus. I’m new to the minimalist way of thinking but I like the idea and I’m striving to implement some of the principles.
I’d love you to read an article I published a few weeks ago. It touches upon happiness and how we can become more happy in a busy day full of expectations: http://andershasselstrom.com/happiness/
Have a lovely day,
Timely and meaningful for me…Having worked for a spiritual (not religious) Oneness organization worldwide for ten years, I found things like ‘multitasking ‘ to have its downside – especially in light of how much of the rest of the world lives and / or has to exist. You post today was something I shall share across my social networks and on my blogs.
Thank you for Who you are and all you do.
Blessings & belly laughs.
Miss Growing Green says
“Those who live intentional lives act upon their understanding of the world.”
I would expand on that and say that, in order to live an intentional life, you must be open-minded and inquisitive of the world around you. So many people today take everything for granted- where our food comes from, the things we buy, the house we live in. Truly understanding the place you fill in the world, and how all the things you interact with each day made it to you, inspires a greater understanding of the world around you. With that understanding comes a greater respect for life and a natural tendency towards minimalism.
Those who live intentional lives are less buffeted by the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”
Which is probably why it is so very difficult to live intentionally, and also why it is so beneficial.
Buddhism also says that living intentionally changes the question from, “Why me?” to “Why not you?” We are all so self-centered that we feel out of control and as if life is acting upon us; living intentionally helps us both gain control and let go of it, simultaneously.
This is a very simple concept that is extraordinarily difficult to put into practice consistently.
Chris Peek says
This issue often comes down to trying to do too much. We are told to “go for our dreams,” but often our dreams are vague and/or unfocused. Historically, those who are most successful seem to pick a niche area to focus their influence.
Fantastic message and comments! Thanks to all!
I live by the following saying in my life – What you think of grows. The more you focus on a certain idea (negative or positive), the more that idea/stuff/whatever will come into your life.
Of course, it is hard sometimes to avoid being negative, or avoid thinking about having not enough money to do the things you want. But I always try to turn the thoughts around to something positive. It helps not only in keeping my health and sanity, but also helps in moving my mind into thinking about solutions, rather than problems.
Acting on something even if you don’t know what the ‘right’ way is, helps you move onward and upward. Otherwise, you are stuck in the same spot, or worse in a loop.
Thanks for the post.
Sandra Pawula says
I’m deeply inspired by the breadth of your vision, Joshua. This is such a crucial message about reclaiming our focus.
Karl thompson says
While I intuitively agree with everything you say, This post would be more authorotative and persuasive with two or more (besides yourself) concrete examples and emprical evidence of successful-focussed people and stressed-out distracted people. I’m thinking Tich Nhat Han vs Kim Kardashian as a good starting point. Also I don’t think focus + minimalism is sufficient to lead an ethical life – look at Steve Jobs, into minimalism and a man who knew a lot about zen, but only the sort that suited him, as a case in point.
However, I’m in full agreement that both life strategies are effective if not sufficient means to a happy life!
joshua becker says
Thanks for the additional examples Karl. And I entirely agree that focus + minimalism does not equal an ethical life. I was actually writing more about influence than ethics/morality in the post above.
Christy King says
I’d add: 4. Those who live intentional lives are mindful of and grateful for what they already have.
Miss Growing Green says
Agreed. Being grateful for what you have is imperative in leading an intentional life and striving towards minimalism.
(By the way, I just took your “How Minimalist Are You?” Quiz and got “Skillful Simplifier “. Cute idea!)
Christy King says