The Least Focused People Are Those That Are Easily Inspired
I get it.
The world is so vast, so incredible that it feels hard to pick just one thing to stick at. It feels like whatever you are picking, you’re foregoing a million other things. It feels like a trade-off, one that you can’t quite bear. When finally convince yourself that it’s worth the trade-off and picking one thing is the right thing to do, you’ll find yourself focused. You are inquisitive, hard-working and start to become passionate about your one thing. Maybe, just maybe, this is your thing. Months go by and you’re still set on your thing.
But then you see a post, have a conversation or get a text and it all changes. You become inspired. All of a sudden your mind is doing backflips and your imagination is sparked. Over the next few days, that spark becomes a roaring fire and you have long forgotten that one thing you started with. That work you’ve just put in for the last 5 months falls by the waist-side, now your too busy thinking about your new thing. That is until the next thing comes along.
Where does this cycle stop? What is the line between inspiration and focus? How do you learn to channel your inspiration into your current proposition rather than becoming inspired to do a 180? How do you avoid your whole life becoming a series of flipping and flopping between ideas and never sticking around long enough to see them through? Well, you’re about to find out.
The opportunity to become inspired
In 2019, according to this article by Oberlo, Google was visited 62.19 billion times. Yes billion. Research by Internet Live Stats notes there are 1.8 billion websites worldwide. On top of that, as if you need more places to look, there are 575,000,000 profiles on LinkedIn. There’s even a map to show you where those people are.
The point here is that there is an infinite (finite but you’ll never be able to look at it all, so infinite to you) list of things you could be doing with your life. There are numerous things you could be doing with your life, evidently. The choice is overwhelming. Everywhere you look, everything you own, everything you use. Everything is made by something somewhere which requires people.
The food you eat. The keyboard you type on. The shower gel you use. Everything has a career behind it. That means there is an opportunity to become inspired at every turn. If you log onto LinkedIn you could come across numerous different people all ranging in careers, all presenting an opportunity to you to mentally try that job on for size and see how it fits.
There is a lot an opportunity to try things on mentally and a lot of things will feel like they fit.
What does it take to be successful?
Dan Brown is a world-famous author. His novels have sold over 200 million copies in print, he’s an NYT bestseller, he’s been named in TIME Magazine top 100 most influential people in the world and he’s worth $160 million. For intents and purposes, Brown has hit the jackpot of career success. But of course, it wasn’t always like that for Brown. He tells a humbling story of the beginning of his success that might make you think twice about how much focus success takes.
“Shortly after my first novel came out, Digital Fortress, I was giving a book signing. I was excited, it was one of my first signings and I went to this little bookstore in a mall and they set up a table in the front and they had a stack of my books to the side. And I had a bunch of pens just in case one ran out. It was 3 hour signing. And I waited…
…and I waited.
… and I waited. People would walk into the store and no one wanted to make eye-contact with me and it was demoralising. Until someone walked into the store, they made eye-contact with me, they clearly wanted to speak with me. They walk right up to me and say “excuse me, can you tell me where the restroom is?”
After two years of writing and his first book signing, Brown was at rock-bottom. And you know the drill. From reading various self-help articles and stories on success that there are a few common traits that lead to success in any chosen field. The field doesn’t matter, it’s the traits that people apply to it that does.
All these things are key if you want to become successful in your chosen field. Whether you aspire to be Dan Brown, Zuckerburg, Malcolm Gladwell or anyone in between. The chances are if you want to be successful, you need to hold true to those character traits. One thing that is perhaps likely to lead to the opposite of success is a lack of focus. If you are constantly jumping from one thing to the next, it’s probable that you won’t spend enough time on this current thing to make it work.
The likelihood is that there are many things that you will be good at. Whether it’s cooking, writing, art, business or whatever. There are so many things you could choose to do with your life and I bet that you’d be quite good at a lot of them.
“And what I learnt from that moment is that the process needs to be the reward, you can’t be striking out saying I need to sell ‘x’ of copies else I’ve failed” — Dan Brown
You need to stick at one thing in order to push through the threshold and be really quite good. That’s the difference in success or not.
The Story of Chipotle — Someone who stuck to what they are good at
Founder of Chipotle, Steve Ells did BA in Art and History and then went to culinary school. He then decided that after 2 years at a famous restaurant, his dream was to have a fine dining restaurant of his own. But he needed cash, so he decided to open up a burrito joint in order to fund his big ambition of opening up a fancy, white cloth, dining experience. That was the birth of Chipotle. Chipotle began to grow and went from strength to strength. It took 20 years but Steve exited and is now worth $200 million.
If Ells decided after a year opening the burrito place that actually he likes the idea of ice cream instead, well then he may have transformed his first burrito place into an ice cream shop. Which would have been fine. But then what if he decided he didn’t like ice cream anymore and hotdogs were more of his thing. He would have spent his first 5 years in business going back and forth with different ideas. Each time messing about with design, logos, setups etc and no time spent on the thing that is the most important.
Getting the food out to people and seeing what they liked. Understanding the desirability of his product. That’s the same for everything. In the beginning, you are testing. You are figuring out what people like about what you do. This stage is the hardest because it’s likely that you might not get much traction at all and that feels like a failure.
But you need to stick with this idea of yours and not let yourself get distracted.
Instead, let inspiration come and go (and harness it into what you’re doing already
“What you don’t do determines what you can do.” Tim Ferris
On average, an office worker is distracted every 3 minutes. Added to that, according to research by Gloria Mark of the University of California, it can take up to 25 minutes just to regain focus after being distracted. It’s inefficient to keep finding inspiration every 5 minutes. You’d never get anything done.
Instead of letting your mind run away with you every time you come across something inspiring, let it sit for a while, like mediation. Let yourself absorb the feeling of being inspired and then focus that inspiration into the thing you're already doing. Let’s say you’ve decided you are going to start an ice cream business but then someone posts on LinkedIn about their new successful chocolate bar startup. Instead of getting swayed by the product, get inspired by the execution, the design, the creativity. It’s not the product. It’s the surroundings that make it so great. You can apply that to whatever you are doing right now.
A study found that most employees would check their email every 5 minutes and it would then take them about 64 secs to resume their task. Imagine that the inspiration for a new business idea is pinging up like your email every 5 minutes.
Ping — dog walking business.
Ping — ice-cream business.
Ping — chocolate bar business.
Each one takes 64 seconds of your time to think through and then it takes a whole 25 minutes to regain focus on the task at hand. It might be the case that you spend all your time thinking about different business ideas and executing zero.
Don’t fold into the urge to change what you’re doing. Instead, hold strong and let the inspiration wash over you. Once it has you can use it to make your thing even better.
In 1890, William James wrote: “Attention is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalisation, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence.”
You will perhaps always feel like there are places left unturned. As if you can’t settle because there are so many ideas brewing in your mind and if you could just execute them then you will be able to live the life you’ve always wanted it. But you don’t need 17 ideas. You need to execute and deliver on just 1. It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing, you need to stick to what you are doing in order to execute to a standard that is clearly above the rest.
The only way you get to that standard it to keep plugging away day after day with incremental improvements. By sticking with the thing you’ve got.
You can’t make small improvements if you keep getting inspired and lose focus.