One of my readers recently asked: “Can you have more than one goal at one time? Or is it too overwhelming for you and your mind?”
That’s a really good question.
The length of what follows reminds me of Blaise Pascal, who is known to have said (in French), “I have made this [long] …because I have not had time to make it shorter.” I understand, Blaise. I understand. Anyway, here we go:
You can have as many goals as you want, but there should be an ultimate overall goal that steers the ship and helps you determine all the other goals you should set along the way.
Before I talk about focusing on one versus juggling several, there are three things to consider:
- What is my overall goal in life? How do I define success?
- Do each of the smaller goals contribute to my overall goal?
- Which goals must wait until the more urgent, priority goals are accomplished?
Other goals may help you reach the main goal, or if you’re not careful, they can distract you from it. Contradictory goals will cause you to spin your wheels.
Every one of your goals may be important and good, but timing is important. When I was first married, it was my goal to stay home from work when we began our family. So without knowing how we’d do it, and expecting a windfall miracle to make it financially possible, I quit work and stayed home with my baby for that first year.
A miracle showed up, but it wasn’t the one we were looking for. It showed up as hardships, debt, and my husband eventually losing his job. It would be another decade before I’d look back with gratitude for the struggles we endured. The “miracle” was that God believed we could, and would, handle our mess and that eventually we’d rise above it, solve the problem, and share what we had learned with others.
The goal to stay home with the children never changed. To me, that was one important representation of what success meant to me. But our order of priorities had to change for a while before we could earn the privilege of having a mother in the home.
My ultimate goal, though, had more to do with how I wanted my LIFE to turn out when all was said and done. Part of that vision included how I’d like my children to turn out. A family rich in relationships and fulfilment better defines success to me than a fat checkbook. But watch how this all fits together:
As I’d picture how I wanted my children to turn out, it made me want to be the one to have the most influence on them as they grew up, which (for me) translated into wanting to be home with them.
In order for me to be home with them (and not be thinking about money stresses all the time), I desperately wanted to develop a passive income, which would be there whether or not something happened to my husband, or if I became physically unable to work.
We set dates for our lifestyle goals based on what we wanted in place by the time they were teenagers. Instead of waiting until they were teenagers for me to make a contribution, I worked at odd hours with piles of laundry all around, learning real estate strategies, stock market strategies, book writing and site development skills, typing one-handed with a baby on my lap and preschoolers on the floor with cut-up paper and coloring books strewn around, so that I’d be free by the time they were adolescents to finally give them the kind of deep engagement and focus they’d need me to give — a different kind than what toddlers need.
Did I ever feel guilty about doing more than June Cleaver did? Yeah, sometimes. Until a certain Bible passage helped me feel a little better about it. It is the definition of a “virtuous woman” from Proverbs 31 and goes like this:
“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She ariseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard… She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle… She maketh herself coverings of tapestry… She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant… She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her…”
A virtuous woman sounds busy doing many, many things, including working for financial gain. This verse helped me feel better about burning the midnight oil now and then to make my own contribution to our family.
Still, even now, every monetary goal I set is always for the primary purpose of being free to focus on raising my children the way I want, which is for the purpose of helping them enjoy fulfilling, happy lives as adults, which is for the purpose of me coming to the end of my life pleased with the contribution I made while I was here.
Every goal I set will fit into the big picture of life success as I see it, somehow. If it doesn’t, then I know that I will NOT be passionate enough about it to make it happen.
Setting a goal to own a Rolls Royce will have no power for me because it makes no contribution to the driving purpose for my life. Is a Rolls bad? No, it’s beautiful! But I know myself well enough to know that it isn’t something for which I’d go through the refiner’s fire.
Even if I pictured myself in a Rolls, feeling grateful and so forth, I’d never take the “action” I’d need to “receive” it. I just wouldn’t care enough to make the effort. And all the visualization and feeling in the world wouldn’t cause it to appear in my driveway without MY firm INTENTION to make it happen.
So, set as many goals as you’d like, and know that you will not focus on all of them at the same time, or with the same intensity. You must put them in priority order and tackle them with laser focus one at a time. You’ll create a goal statement for each one of them (as described in The Jackrabbit Factor). And then you’ll pick the one that is most important and urgent, and you’ll spend your energy (mental and otherwise) on making daily progress toward its accomplishment.
If your LONGEST term goal is clear, then you’ll INSTINCTIVELY know which one needs your attention first.
The other goals will be written and posted where you’ll see them now and again, but your main focus is on the ONE. Sometimes stuff shows up out of nowhere to take you closer to one of your non-priority goals, while you spend all your energy in another area. It’s really cool when that happens. You are rewarded for your determination one way or another.
To focus only on one goal is not to say that, in any given day, you will not work on more than one. But no matter which goal you’re working on, at that time be 100% focused on it, like a laserbeam.
A lightbulb will brighten a room, but a laserbeam will cut through steel like a hot knife in butter. Both are good, but only laser focus has the power to accomplish the tough stuff.
Personally, I’m not so good at keeping to routines where I give a certain part of my day to different goals like that. It’s hard for me to shift gears at the drop of a hat and switch my focus. For me, I trust that my “temporary seasons of imbalance” are just that: temporary.
If you have a lot of wonderful goals in mind but you are not truly focused on any one of them, you are like a gently shining lightbulb. Plants will grow, and you’ll keep people from stubbing their toe, but no steel will bend for you.
What if there are too many things that are urgent? What if your mind is in a fog because there are too many demands bombarding you?
That’s when you really need to put it all on paper to get it OUT of your head, so you can look at all of it objectively, without emotion. Relax, and you’ll instinctively know which one needs your attention first. Pay attention to your gut feeling, and go for it. Trust that things will all work out if you just keep doing your best. If something falls through the cracks, be at peace knowing you’re doing your best, and that it’s all perfect just as it is. There is good that will come from even the failings.
By putting your task list on paper, you’ll find that the “problem” and the “overload” is really just in your head. You’ll see that the list is just ink on paper. There really is no problem there. It’s just data. It is what it is, and no amount of worry or panic will make it any better. The solution will only be able to reach your consciousness when your mind is relaxed, at peace, hopeful and expectant about finding the solution.
Prosper on! Originally published on July 14, 2007