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Forget About Single-Minded Goals, Focus on This Instead

Do you really achieve more when you focus on one goal at a time?

Joao Silas/Unsplash
Source: Joao Silas/Unsplash

I see many people trying to focus single-mindedly on achieving one macro, superordinate goal. Entrepreneurs, athletes, researchers, artists, and even leaders are bombarded by the advice they need to eat, breathe, and sleep whatever their goal is. If they're not, then they're just not doing it right.

But rare is the person who can succeed in their single-minded focus, though many try. Why is that? Is there a better strategy for managing and achieving our goals?

In my experience, the answer to these questions comes down to an understanding of our roles.

How Many Hats Are You Wearing Every Day?

Most of us fill many roles in our life, and often switch between more than a few "hats" on a daily basis. We are parents, children, siblings, spouses, friends, colleagues, bosses, subordinates, neighbors, and more. Ken Gergen in his wonderful book The Saturated Self speaks very eloquently on the multiple roles we play in this post-modern world and how we transition through them actively and inactively.

In each of these roles, we likely have goals: some long-term, some short-term, some conscious, some unarticulated. For example, when you are in your mother role, your goal is to help your child achieve independence (talk about a long-time goal!). But in your role as a wife, you may have the goal creating a loving environment for your spouse. Then again, in your role as a professional, you may have the goal of leading your team to grow sales. All of these goals exist at the same time, just as all these roles exist at the same time.

In fact, what we see is that those rare individuals who are able to focus single-mindedly on one superordinate goal are also more likely to eschew holding multiple roles. Think of Olympic athletes. Think of Steve Jobs. They purposefully don't wear many hats so they can maintain this focus.

This means that for those of us who, through choice or circumstance, fill many roles the, single-minded approach to superordinate goal achievement is illogical if not plain impractical. Our lives aren't built to accommodate such a severe strategy.

So while we can admire this strategy in others, we shouldn't waste our energy trying to implement it for ourselves.

Focus on Active Rotation, Not Single-Minded Goal Achievement

Now the question becomes how can we strategically work toward achieving and servicing multiple goals simultaneously?

When I look at the resilient leaders I research and work with, I see them intentionally using a strategy I refer to as "active rotation."

This means they have a clear understanding of what goal they want to achieve in each of their life roles, and are deliberate in prioritizing and rotating them according to time, desired achievement pace, and resources.

The rotation can happen on a monthly basis or hourly basis, depending on their current life situation. One individual I know rotates her role focus on a weekly basis, while another rotates depending on the time of day so he can service his goals as a parent to a middle schooler, husband, and business reporter simultaneously.

The key is to make active and conscious decisions about how simultaneous goals are prioritized and attended, and to be agile in your ability to adjust these decisions in light of role needs.

The bottom line here is don’t let pursuit of the highest prioritized goal at the moment look (or feel) like having a single-minded goal. I find life is experienced more richly when we eat, breathe, and sleep the evolving tapestry of our many roles and goals.

For more insights on cultivating resilient leadership, sign up for Madelyn’s free 52 week email series Resilience Brilliance.

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