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Valerie Pierce

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Five steps to thinking clearly and achieving your goals


Ashridge Business School's Valerie Pierce provides some advice for developing clear focus.

Many of us admit that we find it hard to focus, blaming the distractions we have on our modern, multi-tasking, working life. We blame the countless emails, phone calls and meetings that we have to contend with during our normal working day. We say that many of these distractions, outside of our control, are the reason why we cannot get the important things done more efficiently. Here's some advice to help you focus.

Check your attitude

It is incredible how our focus follows our desires. To illustrate this, notice how easy it is to think of lots of ways and new ideas to achieve a goal when you really want it. Conversely, if you do not want to achieve a goal, notice how you focus on all of the reasons why it is not a good idea to forge ahead. To attain clear focus – try to be honest about your desire to achieve a particular goal – Do you really want it? This may save you a lot of time at the very beginning or your pursuits.

Have a clear purpose

To achieve our goals we must be specific. The reason for this is that it is impossible to think towards a moving target. If we keep changing our goal, then we are also demanding of our brain to continually change its focus and so can lose our direction. To keep your focus, sit down for five minutes and write down, as clearly as you can, what you want to achieve.

Use your passion to control your emotions

There is a simple reason why this is so: As you strive for your goal, Your passion overcomes problems as it focuses on the pleasure of achieving the perfect goal. Your emotions, however, can be overwhelmed by problems as they feel the pain to the ego of a potential loss of the goal. To keep your focus, clearly look ahead to achieve what you want: use your passion to control your emotions.

Use your negative thinking to produce positive action

One of the most valuable assets we have is our negative thinking – for far from negative thinking leading to negativity, negative thinking is the stimulus that can free our imagination to achieve exactly what we want. Using the phrase ‘Why not = How to’ you can stimulate your imagination to focus your negative thinking into positive action. For example, Anna, a member of a large corporation in the UK told me how she was able to progress her career on a global level, by using this technique.

She looked at the reasons why she could not progress in her career – the 'why nots'. They were:

  • She lacked experience and contacts for her new career path· She did not have a visa to work in the USA where she needed to be to progress her career

  • She was lonely to leave her family and friends

And by using these negatives as a signpost, instead of a blocker to her career progression, she was able to turn these ‘why-nots’ into a ‘how to’ plan to achieve her goal:

  • Anna sought out colleagues and mentors who could help her to gain the experience and knowledge that allowed her to progress. Amongst these contacts Anna found a sponsor who helped her to gain a short-term contract in a similar corporation in New York. This short-term contract became the springboard to finding a permanent position.

  • This was the easiest to overcome, as Anna kept in constant contact with family and friends through electronic and social media – and she made some fantastic new friends stateside.

So remember, your negative thinking is the intelligence that allows you to focus on achieving your goals if you can use it in a positive way.

Use cool logic in hot situations to reach your goal

This last skill is most important to retaining focus, for so many of us can begin with clear focus on our goals, but then be diverted by ourselves or others to lose that clear direction. The golden mantra to retain clear direction to achieve what you want is to ‘focus on the issue, not the ego’ – and learn to see the difference in all conversations you have. What this means is that in every conversation, either within yourself or with others, make sure that you are concentrating on the issue you are trying to achieve, only. Do not let the conversation focus on the egos involved.

For example, if you find your focus is more on your ability or the ability of others to achieve your project or goal, you may find yourselves becoming defensive and egos becoming more important than the issue at hand. Using 'cool logic in hot situations' means that you direct all conversations to progress the goal you want to reach in an objective and purposeful way.

Being aware of these five simple steps will switch your personal psychology to achieving what you want.

Valerie Pierce, Associate Faculty at Ashridge Business School, is the Author of the book ‘FOCUS: The Art of Clear Thinking’. Valerie is a Tutor on the Ashridge Leadership Process Open Programme


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