How to Focus as a Life Enthusiast

Welcoming more focus into your life doesn’t mean you have to focus on getting rid of something.

The period of New Year’s reflection and goal setting can be incredibly challenging, especially as a enthusiastic person about most things. Like cowering before an overwhelming “To Do” list, when I find I have too many resolutions and goals, I end up not doing anything at all. And, as someone who likes to do many things and has an easier time starting projects than finishing them, I have a tendency to let my “Save for Later” list fester.

So this year for my New Year’s resolution, instead of creating a laundry list of granular goals I would likely never achieve, I decided on a deceptively complex quality I want to channel in 2016: Focus. Easier said than done.

With a curious nature and having just left a stable job to find an authentic professional path, how do I not go crazy and sign up for everything and try to meet everyone? In the past month, I’ve already involved myself with three projects run by other people, signed up for several classes, started a 12-week reflection program, and considered that I might have put too many irons in the fire. How do I focus my attention and structure my time so that I can step back at the end of the day and feel confident that I’ve traveled in some direction?

To my surprise, inspiration about how to achieve focus as a life enthusiast came from a book about how to live a clutter free life. The other day I was in a bookstore killing time when I happened upon Maria Kondo’s book “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up”, which I’d heard great things about but had never managed to pick up.

As I started to quickly flip through the pages, I was immediately struck by how clearly Kondo’s advice about tidying up your physical space applied to thinking about how to tidy up your schedule. Her first big argument is that you should decide to keep something if the object “sparks joy” for you. You shouldn’t hold on to the memory of a time when an object used to bring you joy, but make sure the things you keep still currently bring you pleasure. She understands the emotional battle of getting rid of things, prescribing a frame of mind for such an undertaking: instead of thinking about what you have to get rid of, focus on what to keep. Choose to see the positive, the possibility, instead of choosing the negative, the omission.

Kondo’s second big piece of advice about how to maintain a tidy lifestyle is to have a designated place for everything you own. If there is no place for something, you should evaluate why you have it. Having a specific location for each item you own leads to “confidence in your decision-making capacity”. Kondo argues that what we like does not really change much over time. Putting our house in order is a great way to remember or pinpoint what the things we like actually look like.

It was impeccable timing for me to stumble upon this book since I’ve been trying to “Focus” but feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of not getting to do it all. It’s uncomfortable to think: How do I, in good conscience, limit myself? How do I accept that there’s something that interests me but I shouldn’t pursue it? Yet, after I set the book down, I started to ask myself: What if I let go of the idea that I need to finish everything I once started, especially if it no longer gives me joy? What would it feel like to focus on what I’m most excited about, instead of what cool things I have to give up? What if I could confidently back up every event I scheduled with a sound argument for why it merited space in my calendar?

I had been thinking about the process of focusing as a painful one because I thought it meant I needed to say “No” to things I didn’t want to say no to. After applying Kondo’s tidying advice to tidying my time and attention, I realized that another way to focus is to take all of my projects and interests by finding the connective thread between everything I like doing and heightening my attention to their similarities. Rather than hoarding a seemingly disjointed collection of projects and activities without reason, deliberate attentiveness will lead to a greater sense of order and consistency,

I look at my schedule and see I’ve signed up for a photography class, a writing workshop, and an improv class. I see that I spend most of my time writing, learning about other people, and getting together with new and old friends alike. I posit that a common thread between all these things is my interest in people: listening to and connecting their stories, recording and sharing them. So, instead of streamlining my schedule and forcing myself to only focus on one thing — only photography or only writing — I can focus on creating something around the connective point that unites all my nodes of interest. I’ve decided that connective thread, for me, looks like starting a business that is part storytelling and part events/workshop series. And that’s what I intend to do.

Good news for Life Enthusiasts!

To welcome more focus into your life doesn’t mean you have to focus on getting rid of something. It means you have to focus on what sparks joy in your life and how you can hold on to that by designating a space for it.