Focus, On What Is Yours?

 Focus is, no doubt, a tool with which we are all familiar.  Focus is a tool we may claim to understand and most of us attempt to harness its power.  And without question, many of us do so with significant affect.  However, try as we might, sometimes – perhaps often – we still fall short of our targets.  Why is this?  We were focused and offered a proud effort but still fell shy.

Frequently, this shortcoming is blamed on a deficiency in our ability to focus or willingness of effort.  Most often neither is the case.  Rather it is the result of a misapplied focus steering our efforts counter to our true objectives. 

One of the first truths a motorcycle rider will learn in a safety class is to not focus on the curve but rather to “look through the curve”.  As a seasoned rider, I can confirm that the surest way to hit something is to stare at it while thinking “don’t hit it, don’t hit it, don’t hit…wham“.  Fortunately my direct experience is limited only to potholes and pre-existing road-kill but is does provide a motorcycle-based validation of the ole maxim – you will accomplish that which you focus upon.

So what are your objectives and where are your focal points?  As my writing is geared to the Personal Finance set I will direct my discussion along that path, but the mentality is universal in its application – direct your focus through your curve and onto your desired state rather than on the issue bending your route.

As Personal Financiers or Familial CFOs we are often given to activity.  What are we doing to improve our fiscal well being?  And while there is value in activity, the value is not the activity.

From my personal experience, I recall a time when I allowed my want for activity to cloud my ability to accomplish.  My goal was to reduce my debt and in my haste to achieve this target, I created for myself an impossible task.  Three or four credit cards, a Jeep payment, student loan, and HELOC all vied for my dollars.  Oh, and I wanted to save a few bucks each month too.  In true attack mode I plotted extra payments, to everything.  Of my ‘extra’ income each month, everyone got their taste:  $100 to savings, $50 extra to this credit card and that, round up that Jeep payment to the nearest half hundred, and spread around what’s left to everyone else.

Ah, the feeling of activity.  I was not just doing something, I was doing a lot.  I was making extra payments to 6 or 7 individual debt holders while setting some savings aside.  I was busy you know.

But for all my activity, nothing was getting done.  Each month the statements would roll in and the numbers never seemed to be getting smaller.  All this effort, where was my reward?

But I was not failing for a lack of effort, nor was there a lack of focus.  I was thinking about getting out of debt and I was focused on….ah.  I was focused on the activity of paying everyone extra.  I know this was my focus because some months I had to work hard to make sure everyone received their extra.  It was not until I reoriented my focus against my true target – getting out of debt – that I was able to stop making sure everyone received extra (as though a favor to them) and start making large impactful payments towards one single creditor at a time (indeed a favor for me). 

Because I started with my smallest balance, I was able to quickly accomplish something that no amount of prior activity had contemplated – completely pay off a debt.  The impossible mission had now entered phase one and I was the one sampling my initial taste.  And it was good.

These many months later I stand on the cusp of completing something I once thought impossible – my wife and I are nearly free of all non-mortgage debt.  This is an objective we have achieved by being true to our goal.  We did not fret interest rates when it was the principle we wanted to remove, we did not embrace extreme frugality when routine cost cutting measures delivered better returns on our efforts, and we did not try to resolve all our financial objectives each payday when a deliberate schedule provided a peace-of-mind inducing visual.

So take stock of your goals and objectives – financial or otherwise – and consider the steps you are currently taking to produce those outcomes.  Do they match?  Does the activity directly map to the desired result or does it veer off course?  Are you wrestling with the mechanics of an interim step or do your efforts flow towards your vision?  This is not to suggest that the activity will be easy but rather that the outcome of those efforts will be maximized, a reward unto itself. 

Redefine your focus and align your activities accordingly.  And remember… look through the curve and the bike will follow.

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