Every year people create New Year’s resolutions. And every year, many of those resolutions fail. Well-meaning goals get buried under the chaos of day-to-day life.

I’ve always disliked New Year’s resolutions. I don’t know if it’s because I frequently go against what’s popular, or if it’s because resolutions always feel like an exercise in futility. Either way, they just don’t resonate with me. But for the past several years I’ve adopted the use of focus phrases. A focus phrase is a short sentence or a few words that, for me, have clarified my general aim for the year. It’s like a theme that I want all my activities to align with.

For example, one year my focus phrase was “Find my independence.” This was the year that I attempted a career in financial services. I thought this was a good idea because it appeared to fit within my focus phrase for the year. Of course, looking back, I can say that I was a bit off the mark. I played it safe, and I got burned.

Last year, my focus phrase was “Find my authentic voice.” This theme drove me to commit to write more regularly and more honestly on my blog. I stopped caring about what people would think of my words, how clean or organized the ideas were, and just focused on simply writing what I felt was true in the moment.

Ultimately, my focus prepared me to accept a job where I was hired because of who I am, what I am actually good at. Because I committed to finding my authentic voice, I was able to find more authentic work.

Why a Focus Phrase Is So Powerful

The power of a focus phrase over a resolution is that a focus phrase keeps you open to change. A resolution feels like a fixed activity. So if you have to quit the activity, you quit your resolution.

Focus phrases are driven by more internal, emotional, or philosophical motivators.

If I have a theme of becoming my most healthy self, that doesn’t limit me to working out at the gym or following specific diets. My definition of “healthy” is open to evolve as the year goes on. But my focus remains the same.

Additionally, focus phrases act as a decision filter. When opportunities come up, or hard decisions have to be made, you ask yourself whether your choice fits your theme. If it does, great! Run with it. But if not, you have permission to say ‘no’. Focus phrases empower you to protect your time and your energy.

Focus phrases only work if you have the courage to be honest. Setting goals like “I’m going lose 50 pounds” or “I’m going to start a new business” or “I’m going to finally write my book” are all well and good. But they don’t address why these matter to you.

Your focus phrase reminds you why an action is important to you. But you have to start with what honestly matters to you on a personal level.

Why Matters More Than What

So, begin by asking not just what you want from your year, but also why it matters. The answer to this question has to be something you feel in your gut. It has to resonate with you on an emotional level. Otherwise, it becomes too easy to rationalize giving up.

Why do so many people join gyms in January only to stop going a month later?

The reason is that too many people focus on what they want without defining why they want it. The reality of how much work fitness takes is kind of startling. Especially if you’ve never been in a workout routine before. At the beginning, your body rebels against all this new activity. Soon, your brain starts yelling at you, “What were you thinking?!”

Without a deep, personal reason for why you are putting yourself through this, it is very easy to quit.

This is true whether you are getting in shape, starting a new business or creative venture, or just increasing the number of books you read. We love stasis. Our bodies and minds crave stability. So when that stability is challenged, our natural inclinations fight back to regain that stability.

But when you know what’s at stake for you, when you have a clearly defined why and a short focus phrase to help remind you of that, you can push through any resistance and find your victory.

In his famous TED talk, Simon Sinek emphasizes that “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” He also says that, “What you do simply serves as the proof of what you believe.”

You can watch this great talk below:

Your Actions Prove What You Believe

There’s an adage in screenwriting that says, “A character is what a character does.” Meaning, you get to know your character by putting them in situations where they have to make a choice. The choice they make tells you who they are.

Action reveals character. It proves what a character believes.

This is true of stories and it’s true of life.

We know people based on the actions they take, not on what they merely talk about doing. No matter what a person says about being a writer, for example, you stop believing them when you don’t see any writing. Because their actions prove what they really believe about themselves.

  • Are you someone who has set goals and frequently not achieved them?
  • Do you get frustrated with the idea of goal-setting and feel like, “it works for that person, but it won’t work for me”?
  • Do your actions line up with what you tell others you believe about your life?

Maybe you’re like me: you have set goals in the past that elicit a lot of external praise, but don’t really spark much internal enthusiasm. You set the goal because it sounded like what you should want from life. Or, you set the goal because you liked the idea of the result, more than the result itself.

Maybe you saw the result without considering the reality of the path.

Make Sure Your Goals Align with Your Beliefs

I joined a multi-level marketing group when I was twenty.  Some friends sold me on the idea of working part-time to achieve financial independence. I talked the talk, walked the walk, and dressed the dress to show people I was committed to financial success.

For four years, I tried to convince myself this was what I really wanted. After all, who doesn’t want to wear the best clothes and drive the nicest cars and never have to worry about money again? And who doesn’t want to make millions of dollars so that they can be charitable?

But it never worked. I never got any traction, and my business never grew. It wasn’t for lack of action. I often walked several hours across town to meet new people or hold one-on-one meetings because I didn’t have a car. Because I never totally believed in what I was doing. My goals were never fully aligned with who I was inside.

I’m not saying I didn’t want to be charitable and do good. But to be honest, I just needed to pay rent. I wanted to play music. What I really wanted was the freedom to be who I really was. And I was using this business as a means to an end that was unrelated to the process.

No matter how hard I worked, how many seminars or conferences I attended, no matter how many books I read, my actions and my beliefs were completely misaligned.

By using a focus phrase like “Become a musician,” I could have analyzed what I was doing back then against that theme, and recognized that I was moving in the wrong direction. Running a multi-level marketing business is probably not the best path to making music.

It would have been much easier to step back and say, “The path I’m on is taking me too far away from my focus.” And I could have adjusted more quickly.

Start with Why and You’ll Be Surprised by What Can Happen

Contrast that with my experience in 2018. By focusing on “finding my authentic voice” I was able to align my actions with what I knew was true about myself. And I was directly rewarded with a success that I never anticipated. My why lead me to a what that I didn’t know was possible.

Had I started with what I wanted instead of why I wanted it, I probably would not have worked as honestly. I would have tried to manipulate my actions to achieve the goal in any way possible.

Focusing on what you want first makes it far too easy to cheat your way to success. As long as you hit the goal, who cares how you got there? Right?

But when you start with why you want something, the only definition of success that is acceptable is an honest effort towards aligning yourself with that theme. And who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised by what you are rewarded with.

Thanks for reading!

BJ Cary
Content Marketing Specialist
LTi Technology Solutions


P.S.   If you are ready to take the lead in 2019, then I encourage you to find a focus phrase that will help you define what matters most this year. Write down some ideas. You’ll know when you hit the mark because you will feel it in your gut. Trust me.

What do you want success to look like for you in 2019?
Why is that success important for you?

Share with us what your focus phrase will be for 2019 in the comments below!

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