This year I took up yoga and I’m loving it. I don’t go to classes, but just slip on my workout clothes, pull the curtains, and turn on the video in our office.
Yoga, I’m learning, is all about focus.
While many of the moves seem easy at first glance, what really makes the difference is whether you’re giving it your full attention, engaging your muscles, and actively working on your form and balance. Tighten those legs, straighten those arms, clench that behind, and keep that torso upright, strong and steady.
This is how the results come.
Lazy, unfocused yoga may be relaxing, but it’s not really effective for getting in shape.
Just as it does in a physical discipline like yoga, focus makes a genuine difference in our lives. It impacts our well-being and quality of life far more than we may realize.
And just how do I know this so well? Only because I spent so many years trying to frantically do and be everything, unsuccessfully.
What I actually managed to do was make myself an incredibly stressed out, frantic, always-running-late, exhausted, stretched thin, and defeated woman.
My well-intentioned goals of trying to accomplish so much left everything (and everyone) worse off—not only was I doing myself a disservice, but also my family, my friendships, my home, my work, and my health were all suffering.
I’m about halfway through my thirties as I write this and I have to say, it’s been my best decade yet. Yes, it’s been accompanied by a few wrinkles, my first gray hairs and the sense that my children will be grown before I know it, but it’s also come with a heightened sense of confidence and knowing who I really am and what matters to me.
One of the most important aspects of that personal growth and self-knowledge has been an increasing depth of focus in my life.
I’m learning to ignore the myriad number of “good” things out there—all those things I would like to do and accomplish and learn and be a part of—and instead narrow in on the few things that I can do really well and with all my heart.
With that, I’m recognizing there are two possible versions of myself that result from the degree of focus I’m exercising in my life:
The do-everything me: She has goal lists a mile long and a stringent routine she tries to follow in order to maximize every moment of her day. She never reads novels, or takes time to create something beautiful, or leisurely sits on the lawn on a sunny day. She forgets birthdays, loses important papers, snaps at her kids for interrupting her, and she regularly finds that (as much as she loves the people in her life) relationships begin to feel like a burden instead of a blessing. She’s stretched way too thin, struggles to sleep well at night (partly because her mind is always racing), and she keenly feels the disappointment of others. Most days, despite how incredibly hard and tirelessly she works at all the things in her life, she feels like a failure, as if none of it is ever good enough.
The focused me: She’s had to give up some things, and that was really, really hard. At times, she worries that she’s disappointing others or missing out on something, but at the end of the day, she knows she’s living more within her actual physical and emotional limits and there’s great peace in that. She still has tiring days and weeks, but it’s not a perpetual sense of exhaustion. Instead of doing many things poorly or in a rush, she does less but with more care and intentionality. Her work and relationships feel more centered and fulfilling, and she’s slowly letting go of the guilt of not “doing it all”. She stops to play and enjoy life more often now, to snap a photo of the light on the mountains, to snuggle with her toddler, to spend an hour really listening to a friend, and to say “who cares?” to trivial things like Christmas cards when they just feel like too much that year.
I happen to like the second version a whole lot better. She’s more alive, more at peace, more successful, and more vibrant.
My husband once had a pastor who liked to remind him that “the good is the enemy of the best”.
All of the seemingly good things in our life can become like that—camouflaged, guerilla enemies, stealthily creeping in to our life and ultimately stealing from us what really matters most.
But when we narrow in on what’s best, not just the myriad things out there that seem good? Those things that truly match up with our values and priorities, that fulfill us, that compliment our strengths and work with our season of life?
Then we get to experience the best—that which lights us up and makes us passionate, that feels deeply meaningful and impactful, that will have long-term, big-picture results, and that brings us quotidian, daily joys at the same time.
Being that second woman fills me with so much more life. Achieving focus requires more intentionality of me, not to mention a vocabulary that makes good use of the word “no”. But if I’m serious about the getting the results I want, then I need to exercise the kind of focus that will make it happen.
ACTIVITIES & QUESTIONS
- Make a list of all the good things in your life you could be pursuing—goals, skills, activities, etc. We’ll talk more about choosing the best ones to focus on as this month continue, but I’ve found that I carry many of these expectations of myself subconsciously and allow them to drag me down; writing them on paper takes away some of their power.
- “Good is the enemy of the best.” Can you give an example of when this has been true in your life?
- Does Stephanie’s description of the “do everything” version of herself ring true for you? What are the symptoms that you’ve lost focus and are spread too thin?