2016: The Year of Focus (+ A New 30 Day Challenge)

meditation

I don’t normally watch much TV, but during the holiday break I binge-watched the entire first season of Master of None on Netflix.

(This is only the third show I’ve ever binge-watched like this. The other two being Mad Men and House of Cards, in case you were wondering.)

I wasn’t a big fan of Aziz Ansari previously—mainly because I couldn’t stand his whiny voice—but this show is hilarious.

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 1.40.01 AM

Each episode touches on different “first world problems” faced by millennials in modern society, and the season finale touches on what I believe is perhaps the biggest struggle our generation faces today…

An Abundance Of Choice

The season finale episode begins with the main character, Dev (Aziz Ansari), trying to decide what to eat for lunch.

After settling on tacos, he spends half an hour on Yelp and Google trying to find where to get the best tacos. Once he finally finds the place with the best tacos, he struggles to decide which of the best tacos is the best of the best tacos. Eventually he decides on carnitas, but by the time he finally places his order, he finds out that they are all sold out.

I was cracking up during this whole scene, especially the Yelp bit, because I do this all the time. Yelp is supposed to make it easier to find a place to eat, but more often than not, it ends up making it more difficult because there are so many options to choose from.

While choosing where to eat lunch is obviously a trivial decision, this is just one example of the bigger issue we are faced with today — the difficulty, yet necessity, of making choices in a world with too many options.

Thanks to the Internet, with so much information available at our fingerpints at any given moment, we never want to settle for anything less than the best. The best tacos, the best university, the best career, etc…

There’s nothing wrong with wanting the best. After all, this entire site is about helping you become the best version of yourself. I believe that you should always strive for the best, because why should you settle for anything less?

However, the problem arises when your desire for the best prevents you from making decisions and moving on with your life.

Don’t Be A Donkey

610px-Donkey_J1

I heard a great story from Derek Sivers (in this podcast he did with Tim Ferriss — one of the best podcasts I’ve ever listened to) that goes like this:

There’s a donkey standing halfway between a pile of hay and bucket of water.

He looks left to the hay, then right to the water, trying to decide…

Hay?… Or water?… Hay?… Or water?

Unable to decide, he eventually falls over and dies of both hunger and thirst.

The problem most of us face, is that we want to do everything, all at once. We want to start a blog, learn how to play the guitar, and get in shape. All by the end of this week.

But, as demonstrated by the donkey story, if you try to pursue many different directions at once, you won’t make progress in any of them.

The solution is to think long-term.

Think Long-Term & Pick One Direction At A Time

The point of the donkey story is that a donkey can’t think of the future. If he could, he’d realize he could just go drink the water first, and then eat the hay after.

Similarly, you CAN do everything you want to do. But, not in parallel. Not all at once.

If you’re a chronic over-thinker like myself, you probably put an unnecessary amount of pressure on yourself when you have to make a decision, regardless of how big or small that decision may be. It can be frustrating to be forced to pick one thing.

But, this frustration is a result of short-term thinking. Just because you have to pick one thing right now, that doesn’t mean you can’t get to the other ones later.

The value of long-term thinking is that it allows you to fully focus on one direction at the time without feeling conflicted or distracted because you know you can get to the others in the future.

Without this focus, you’ll always be bouncing back and forth between different directions, never making much progress before giving up and deciding to pursue another direction. Or, you’ll constantly be questioning whether or not you’re going in the “right” direction, and then feeling stuck because you’re too scared to commit to a new direction.

But life is a mental game and those who can focus—those who can control their focus—are the ones who win.

That’s why this year I want to focus on, well, FOCUS.

Welcome To The Year Of Focus

Last year, I announced the theme for 2015 to be the year of courage.

This year, instead of trying to do a million things all at once, let’s have the courage to focus on one direction at a time.

Here are the three most important things I think you have to do to stay focused.

1. Figure out what you want out of life.

I know this sounds cliché, but figuring out what’s important to you, what makes you happy, and ultimately, who you want to be in this world, is the most important thing of all. It’s hard to stick to a direction if it doesn’t align with your life vision.

If you don’t know what you want to do with your life, this 5 minute exercise might change your life.

2. Never stop fine-tuning your mindset.

Whatever your brain focuses on becomes your reality.

That’s why your happiness, for example, isn’t dependent on how much good you have in your life vs, how much bad you have in your life. It’s dependent on how much time you spend focused on the good vs. how much time you spend focused on the bad.

If you’re not in control of what you’re brain is focused on, then you’re not in control of your reality.

The challenging part is being able to recognize the bad, but then immediately shifting your focus towards improving the situation, rather than just wasting your mental energy dwelling on the bad.

Learn to recognize when your mind starts going off on a negative tangent, and develop the mental strength to re-shift your focus to the present. Don’t let small setbacks throw you off track. Always do whatever is best for the future in the current situation, regardless of what has happened in the past.

3. Build good habits.

I’ve written a lot about mindset recently, and while mindset is extremely important (and I will continue to write about mindset, because it is so important), habits are the true drivers of lasting change and long-term success. Habits are what will physically transform you into the person you want to become.

That’s why this year I plan on writing more about the different habits that I will be experimenting with in my life. Some habits I plan on building (or continuing to build) this year are:

  • Reading every day
  • Journaling every day
  • Working out 3 times a week
  • Meditating every day

Which brings me to some exciting news…

My New 30 Day Challenge: Meditation 

buddhist monk

It’s been a while since I’ve done a 30 day challenge, but I’m very excited for this one.

I’ve meditated before, but never consistently. So, beginning on January 2nd I will try my very best to meditate every day for 30 days. At the end of the 30 days, I will write about my experience and determine whether it’s worth setting aside 10 minutes a day to sit and literally do nothing, or if it’s something that I can benefit from doing just once a week, or perhaps even less frequently than that.

If you want to join me in this 30 meditation challenge, let me know in the comments below. If you want to wait it out and see how it goes for me, stay tuned.

UPDATE: You can read about the results of my 30 day mediation challenge here.

But, I have a question for you…

What are you going to focus on this year? 

Remember, don’t be a donkey. Tell me two things:

  1. What are you going to focus on this year?
  2. What’s one habit you plan on building to help you stay focused?

About Stefano

Stefano Ganddini

Hey there! I'm the creator of Collegetopia and the guy who writes all these articles. I'm here to help you live BIG, do EPIC shit, & be HAPPY. Click here to read more.

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  • Sukaina

    Hi Stefano! I started the habit of journaling last month and when I read it back or even when I’m going to type it I see the patterns and how everyday I’m doing the same mistakes and doing nothing about them.
    I’m really good at starting new things and I’m willing to try it all BUT I’m bad at sticking to them and finishing my projects. I guess I need to focus more. The first thing I need to focus on this year is my negative thoughts and just STOP them because they paralyze me.
    Also, I’ll start the meditation habit with you! :)

    • Hi Sukaina,

      Glad to hear you’re joining me in the meditation challenge!

      I think one of the most significant benefits of journaling is that it increases your awareness of common themes and thought patterns. It takes time to learn to correct your mistakes, but awareness is the first critical step.

      What kind of negative thoughts in particular paralyze you? And paralyze you from what? Maybe the goal shouldn’t be to stop them entirely, but simply to recognize them, and then choose to think about something more positive, rather than dwelling on them. Or, maybe to recognize them, but then take a moment to recognize and explain to yourself why they are illogical.

  • Zainab

    Hey Stef. Great article. I am so pleased to find the bit about investing time into building good habits, and especially the bit about meditation. My primary goal this year is to focus on my health, given that I spent the entire year of 2015 sleeping in and eating junk. After experimenting with little things, I have realized that waking up around 5 in the morning and meditating for 5 to 10 minutes (or doing gentle yoga for that period of time) helps refresh my mind. Even though starting this is not an issue, keeping up with this habit is my prime issue. It is so easy to break the streak and never get back on track again. I hope that this year can be spent at least trying to accomplish this. Good luck to you and the habits you intend to work towards.
    Happy new year! :)

    • Hey Zainab,

      Some advice I heard some time ago that I’ve taken to heart: it’s okay to miss one day. But no matter what, DO NOT miss two days in a row.

      Happy New Year and best of luck to you as well!

      Stefano

      P.S. Not a big deal at all, but I’m not a big fan of the nick name Stef (for future reference)

  • Miles O’Brien

    Thank you for the post, it’s good to focus on the small things and let the bigger things fall into place. I’ve been meditating every day for almost a year now so I guess i’ll be joining you in your 30 day challenge. This year I plan on drawing atleast 2 hours every day and reading atleast 10 pages. I used to be a big donkey that couldn’t decide what cereal to eat in the morning and it’s such a relief when you realize that little things like that don’t matter. Have a good year, I’m looking forward to it!

    • Haha, classic donkey move… But yeah, seriously. It’s just such a waste of mental energy.

      That’s awesome that you’ve been meditating consistently for so long! Have you noticed that it’s helped with anything in particular? I imagine it has, otherwise you probably wouldn’t still be doing it.

  • Rickard

    Hello Stefano
    First I’d like to wish you good luck with developing your new habit. It’s one I already have the luck to have aquired and I can tell you that words can’t do justice to how valuable it has been.
    Now on to my new thing to focus on. As of right now it looks like I will spend this year focusing on doing what I want to do for no other reason than I want to do it. In other words enjoy life. This is partly a result of having spent several days listening to seminars by Alan Watts on youtube.
    As for a new habit there is one that Steve Jobs told about in a speech of how every day he would look in the mirror and ask himself if today was his last day he would like to do what he is going to do today. Something like that.
    Anyway good luck again with your new 30-day challange.
    Rickard

    • Hey Rickard,

      LOVE Alan Watts. One of my close friends just introduced me to him not too long ago, actually.

      Hm… that would be an interesting habit to develop. I think the only challenging part with that whole “enjoy life” pursuit, is that it can easily be confused with hedonistic, short-term pleasures. Obviously, what it means to “enjoy life” is simply a matter of interpretation. I’m sure you’re aware of this, but I would be weary of falling into that trap.

      By the way, how long do you meditate for? And in what ways would you say it has been valuable?

      Stefano

      • Rickard

        Hello again Stefano
        I suppose “enjoy life” can sound a bit hedonistic. And whilst such a life may have it’s charm I meant more along the lines of doing things and learning things because I am interested in doing it rather than to please someone else or fulfill there expectations. Think of when Steve Jobs took a caligraphy class for no other reason than he wanted to do it.
        As for my meditation practice I do it for atleast twenty minutes a day as soon after I get up as possible. Sometimes depending on how much time and will I have over I will meditate again later in the day anywhere between another twenty minutes up to an hour.
        The single biggest benefit I have gained out of it is that I actually feel genualy happier, I find life to simply be more enjoyable.
        Though I should mention that I very much doubt I would have gained as much out of it as I have, or perhaps never even started meditating, if I hadn’t found Headspace. Headspace is a pay for service that gives you guided lessons on how to meditate. Here is a link to their website and to a lecture about them and meditation and mindfulness in general if your interested.
        https://www.headspace.com/
        https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pk_08X5gsJA
        And a TED-talk by one of the cofounders.
        https://www.ted.com/talks/andy_puddicombe_all_it_takes_is_10_mindful_minutes?language=eng
        If having to pay for it sounds of putting it’s only after the first ten days that you have to pay and if your still not convinced by then you could simply replay those ten days over and over.
        Also I would reccomend the various lectures on meditation that Alan Watts have done if you haven’t found them already.
        Again good luck with your 30-day challange and sorry for the misspellings I couldn’t bother to check.
        Rickard

        • Wow, that’s a lot of meditation! Meditating just 10 minutes (using Headspace!) a day for the last 6 days in a row I can say I already feel a difference. I’m curious what studies, if any, have been done on the impact of meditating for 10-20 minutes vs. longer periods of time (60+ minutes)… Might have to look into this when I write my post after the 30 days are over.

          Are you still only using Headspace for all your meditation, or do you also do other styles/forms of meditation?

  • Hey Stefano,

    What’s going on man!

    This year, I’m focused on being a freelance copywriter and making six figures (while still in school). I know I had talked to you about blogging before… but due to some changes financially I decided that I needed to make money quicker, and also that I would be able to best serve an audience if I wasn’t hungry for money… it would be best to come from a place of abundance.

    The donkey quote was hilarious! Before I decided to commit to freelancing I was totally in that position haha.

    The habit I’m focusing on developing is having a morning routine, which consists of getting up early, meditation, visualization, exercise, and journaling. I’ve gotten into the habit of doing each of those separately, now I’m focusing on doing them all at once in the morning to supercharge my day.

    One trick I’ve discovered and have been doing lately -> Meditate for a minute by breathing in for 4 seconds, holding for 4 seconds, then exhaling for 4 seconds, and then holding for 4 seconds. Repeat this 2-4 times.

    Then visualize your goals. But here’s the kicker: You visualize your goals by imaging that sometime in the future, you’re telling a friend about how your goals already happened and how exciting it was for that to have happened already.

    By imagining your goals having been achieved in the future, you trick your brain into thinking it’s already happened.

    Then, after visualization, breathe in and out, kind of quickly- about a second out, a second in. Imagine you’re pulling energy into your body, then pushing it back out.

    I’ve been doing this, and it’s amazing how much focus and clarity it gives you!

    Cheers Stefano!

    p.s. Yes, I will join your 30 day challenge

    • Hey Darryl,

      Definitely a good point that it wouldn’t be a good idea to try to serve an audience when you’re hungry for money. I must say, six figures is pretty ambitious, but I just checked out your new site and it looks good! I think your ebook will definitely help you out. Best of luck!

      That’s an interesting meditation technique. I’ve heard of similar breathing exercises, but the visualization part is something I’ve never heard before. What’s the benefit of tricking your brain into thinking you’ve already achieved your goals? I feel like that would just make me become more complacent… Am I missing something?

      Stefano

      • Thanks for checking out my site :)

        As far as visualization goes… Have you ever heard that your subconscious can’t distinguish between what is real, and what is imagined?

        So by doing the visualization, you’re telling your subconscious that you’re already the person that is making six figures a year from freelance writing, or the guy that had massive success in his social skills course launch.

        As you continue to do that, your subconscious associates the image that you’re visualizing as who you are right now.

        This bypasses the normal resistance of “the gap” between your current self and future self – because your future self is thinking about your past success – because it’s in the past, you were already the person who made it happen.

        Basically, it’s a hack to help you replace subconscious beliefs quicker.

        It’s a lot to wrap your head around, but the easiest thing to do is try it yourself :p

        I do it when I get up in the morning, and sometime in the afternoon

        • Ah, okay I see. So I guess it’s really a confidence thing. I will give it a try.

  • Steve

    What a coincidence, I was just reading the book Mate (a great read, by the way), and read a section talking about the importance of meditation. I’ve always been skeptical of meditation, but because of Mate and this post, I’m going to try the challenge with you, Stefano.
    I’d really like to focus on trying to improve other people less. No one likes unsolicited advice, so I need to stop giving it. I’m not sure what habit would accompany that. Maybe something along the lines of having a check-in with myself every day to make sure I didn’t “help” anyone. That way, I can modify my behavior the next day, if necessary. I’m open to any suggestions of habits that could accompany this change.

    • Hey Steve, I think that meditation would help with that, because meditation helps you develop awareness.

      By being aware, you’ll be better able to identify when someone would be receptive to your advice, or when you’re just so excited about it that you want to share it whether the other person wants to hear it or not.

      Hope that helps,

      Darryl

      • Steve

        Thanks Darryl, I’ll try that.

        • I don’t think you should want to avoid trying to help people, but like Darryl was saying, you should focus on being more receptive to people who DO want your advice.

          There’s an idea I heard about some time ago (from Daniel Wendler) called the “Creaky Door Theory,” which is based on the idea that if you have a really creaky door, you don’t want to open it all at once (because the noise will annoy people), instead, you should open it bit by bit. Similarly, when you’re interacting with people, you shouldn’t spill your entire life story (or all of your brilliant wisdom) on them all at once. Instead, you should gauge their interest in what you’re saying, and let them ask for more, if they’re interested. If they’re not interested, then you change the subject and move on.

  • Christian Schiller

    I have to words for you: challenge accepted! 😀

    Seriously, I tried meditation a few times, but I never really developed the kind of perserverance it takes. Maybe I was just too ambitious. Your 30-days-challenge is a reasonable approach to that problem.

    I want to build the habit of reading at least two non-fictional books per month, reading each morning for not less than 30 minutes. By that, I intend to build focus and that perserverance I was talking about. As a side effect, I develop my own knowledge and understanding of different areas, for example, economy, politics, culture, history, self-improvement and personality, and so on.

    My focus this year lies on making professional experiences and building up my network. I want to lay the foundation for future success and seek new endeavours, chances to create something of value that grows and is continuously shaped.

    All the best for 2016!

    • Great goals, Christian. Reading more books has been one of the best things I’ve done in the last few years. One thing worth noting, however, is that reading for 30 minutes/day and reading 2 books/month are two different goals. Two books/month could require more or less than 30 minutes/day, depending on the length of the book and how fast you read. Personally, I would recommend sticking to 30 minutes/day, because it’s easier to maintain this consistency.

      Glad you’re joining me in the 30 day meditation challenge! Let me know how it’s going!

  • Rawia

    Hello Stefano.

    I’m in for the meditation challenge. I’ve read a lot about meditation and how it helps you controle you mind and your reaction to different things in you everyday day. And one of my 2016 goals is to meditate more often. It’s a great opportunity to start. So let’s begin.

    So this year i want to balance between school and my personal life. I think that i work harder than what I think i should work for a high school girl. I mean school takes the most of my time. If I’m not take classes and in my room studying for i don’t know what. And I feel that my social life is being neglected. I don’t what to be that person that gets perfect grades but doesn’t know how to talk to people or is afraid of starting a conversation with a stranger. So that’s why biggest goal is to have BALANCE.

    For the second question i guess in orther to be focused i need to build a couple habits: reading, journaling, meditating and yoga.
    The good thing is that I love all of those things. All what I have to do is practice them gradually. Slowly building into doing them daily which seems to me now like impossible. But i still Joelle that I’ll be possible but the end of the year.

    Thank you so much for this blog post. I really enjoyed reading it.

    • Hi Rawia,

      Those are all great habits. It’s definitely not impossible, but I’d recommend focusing on building only one or two habits at a time. Once you get one down (30+ days in a row), then go ahead and try adding another one into your routine. Right now, for example, my focus is meditation (a completely new habit) and journaling (a habit I’ve had before, but recently stopped doing consistently).

      Glad you enjoyed this post! :)

      Here are a few more articles I’ve written that you might find helpful, if you haven’t already checked them out:

      Top 5 Time Management Tips For Those Who Don’t Have Enough Time In The Day
      How to Approach Anyone with the 3 Second Rule

      Stefano

  • Brandon

    Hi Stefano!

    Great new article.
    Question regarding habits… I noticed that you listed 4 habits. Are all 4 of these habits brand new? Reason I am curious is because I’ve noticed that I struggle to build habits simultaneously and develop new habits more effectively when I focus on one thing at a time. I was wondering how you combat this and if you have any advice on how to develop multiple habits at once.

    Thanks & Happy New Years

    • Hey Brandon,

      Good question. The answer is no. I definitely would not recommend trying to build 4 new habits all at once. Focusing on one, maybe two, at a time is definitely the route to go. Right now, for example, my focus is meditation (a brand new habit) and journaling (a habit I’ve had before, but recently stopped doing consistently).

      Happy New Year!

  • Hi Stefano,

    I’ve been meditating for some months. I fail to do it every day, but I do it most days. I started with meditating for three minutes, then went up to five minutes, and I’m trying to make my sessions longer and currently meditate for seven/eight minutes a day. I haven’t noticed any benefits yet, except for this very specific one: if whenever I’m sad or angry because of the jerk!brain refusing to shut up, and I sit down to meditate, I’m calm afterwards.

    During the holidays I’ll focus on making a 50 pages comic (I did a 20 pages long one last winter, and a 5 pages one some years ago, so this would be my third comic), and during the school year, I want to focus on college.

    Daily habits wise: meditating every day (sometimes I forget D:), three italian lessons on Duolingo (103 days in a row so far), and reading something that feeds my spirituality. Articles about spirituality, or information on aromatherapy, ho’oponopono, metaphysics, etc. This one might seem like it’s not focused at all, but I trust that my soul will seek what it needs, so I just read what I want to read in the spur of the moment.

    Have a nice year :)

    • Hi Isho,

      Woah, a 50 page comic? Very cool, and good luck!

      By the way, I’m using a meditation app called Headspace right now, which guides you through 10 minute meditation sessions. So far, it’s been great, and I can already notice a feeling of increased calmness and tranquility. Unfortunately, it’s only a 10 day free trial, so I’m not exactly sure yet what I’m going to do when the 10 days are up (someone above mentioned that you can repeat the 10 days over and over), but you might want to check it out!

      Stefano

  • Ilian Roudev

    Hey bud! I’m joining you on the 30 day meditation challenge as of today!

    1. My plan for this year is to become more knowledgable in my career (particularly in finance, accounting and the music industry).

    2. I will do this by reading for at least an hour a day outside of work hours or by attending more concerts through work and getting my name out there in the industry! Thank you and best of luck!

    -Ilian

    • Hey Ilian!

      Good stuff. One suggestion, if I may — why not start out by reading for just 30 minutes a day? An hour is definitely doable, but there’s a lot more resistance to reading for a full hour than for 30 minutes. Speaking from personal experience, it’s always more effective to start small and build up, than to start big and give up.

      Best of luck to you as well!

      Stefano

  • Great post Stefano!

    What I’m focusing on this year, is finishing the things I start. Too many times, I start projects, write blog posts, 30 day challenges and stop halfway.

    I’ve actually been meditating for a little over a year and have attended some retreats. Great habit to start building awareness. Awareness is the first step to making positive changes. Might I recommend Sam Harris’ guided mindfulness meditation:

    https://soundcloud.com/samharrisorg/mindfulness-meditation-9

    • Hey Jeff,

      That’s awesome! A couple questions…

      1. What kind of retreats have you attended? How long are they?
      2. What do you think the main reason is that you always stop halfway through things?

      And nice! I became a fan of Sam Harris not too long ago when I heard him on Tim Ferriss’s podcast. This guided meditation is actually very similar to the Headspace guided meditations I’ve been using. I like it, thanks for sharing!

      Stefano