If you’re like me you want to stay focused on your goals even when anxiety is taking most of your attention.
But, making that happen can be a struggle.
Remember when you were in school, and you worked really hard to study and submit a killer essay or to really nail an exam?
What was the one thing that validated all of that hard work? All of the late nights and the missed parties – what was it that made all of that worth it?
What WAS that one thing?
Receiving a letter grade on that assignment or exam was the only way that you knew if all of your hard work was beneficial or not. The grade was a performance measure and it provided you feedback about how “good” your performance was.
It is the same thing with goal-setting. And, even more so for midlife women like you and me who are living with anxiety.
The stress of having anxiety can take complete control of your thoughts. It makes trying to stay focused on your goals a serious struggle.
But, when your hard work is confirmed, you feel validated. And, that positive reinforcement can go a long way for continuing to set goals and work towards them.
What is a feedback loop?
There are both negative and positive feedback loops.
For instance, anxiety can be part of a negative feedback loop. A trigger event sets the loop in motion. Something like public speaking, a crowded restaurant, a doorknob that needs opening, etc
Then, the overthinking and negative ideas start popping off. The obsessive “what ifs” and worst-case scenario visualizations.
From there, the physical manifestations of all of those negative thoughts begin. Sometimes to the level of a panic attack.
Now, you are practicing embracing anxiety as a superpower, right?
So, you can leverage the power of feedback loops for good instead of evil. And, use the structure for learning to stay focused on your goals.
There are many scientific studies and publications that I could quote and get really dialed in about what a feedback loop is – but, for the purposes of what we are doing here, it is important to know that feedback loops have been studied and proven to work.
In fact, the concept is used with professional and Olympic athletes all the time. While it seems like a really simple thing … it is so powerful. And, really important for making progress and ultimately reaching the goals that you’ve set.
Feedback loops = Goals Are Achieved
The way a feedback loop works is you perform some kind of task or activity, then you measure your performance against the metrics that you have identified as meaningful. From that measurement, you get some feedback about how your performance stacks up.
Finally, you make changes, tweaks, and improvements to the way that you perform the next task or activity and measure again, etc. The loop continues around and around.
The most crucial part of this loop is the beginning. And, by “beginning”, I mean before you even get into the loop. The part where you are setting your goals and your metrics.
For a feedback loop to work, you have to put a time limit on it. In other words, you have to break your goal down into chunks and work on each chunk in a single burst.
It has been found by many performance improvement coaches that a span of two weeks is a good amount of time for goal bursts.
And, during that two-week span, there is an overarching theme or goal, with tiny little tasks or objectives that are designed to get you closer to that goal.
For instance … here is a work goal of mine.
2-Week Goal: At the end of 14 days, I will have written a 5-page e-book about how and where to source free stock images and email it to my list.
From this overarching theme, I can break it out into small objectives and tasks, with corresponding measurements.
Like this …
Week One Objective: Make a list of 25 sources for free stock images and outline sections of e-book
- Monday Goal: Find 5 sources for free stock images and identify heading for section 1
- Tuesday Goal: Find 5 sources for free stock images and identify heading for section 2
And so on …
Week Two Objective: Write 5-page e-book
- Monday Goal: Write section 1
- Tuesday Goal: Write Section 2
And so on …
The feedback loop begins on Monday of week one.
Your goal is to “find 5 sources for free stock images and identify heading for section 1”. This is my goal for a “best-case scenario” day.
Meaning that I’ll be able to stick to my “business growth hours” and nothing else comes up that will derail me from the day that I want to have.
But, it is important to have a backup plan and set an additional goal that is attainable if your day circles the drain and you can’t get your ‘best case scenario’ goal met.
So, in that case, my plan B goal might be “find three sources for free stock images and think about what section 1 could look like”.
Setting goals on levels is important to your motivation because it helps set you up for success.
You don’t want to enter the feedback loop until you have the mindset and the systems in place to support you … no matter what the day throws at you.
Setting A Goal Isn’t Enough … You Have To Implement The Action Plan
You’ve heard me talk about S.M.A.R.T. goals. This is the mnemonic created by Brian Tracy, which gives us a framework of how to decide which goals we need to work on and how to put words to them.
While this system is presented as a way to ‘achieve goals’ … in my opinion, it is only the beginning of the process. Once you have set your goal, you need to put a system into place so that you can take steps each day to achieve it.
When you use the concept of a positive feedback loop, you are creating a system that you can follow to make daily progress towards your S.M.A.R.T. goals.
What does S.M.A.R.T. stand for?
S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Attainable
R = Realistic
T = Time-bound
If we go back to my original goal (at the end of 14 days, I will have written a 5-page e-book about how and where to source free stock images and emailed it to my list.), it already checks off time-bound because it is a two-week goal burst.
I have decided that I will set a new overarching goal every two weeks. It is specific because I have identified the length of the book and the subject that I will be writing about.
It is measurable because I can determine if I have reached my goal by measuring how many pages and how many sources. And, it is attainable and realistic because I am breaking it down over a period of two weeks.
When you start out your goal-setting with the feedback loop in mind, you are already setting up your goals in the S.M.A.R.T. format and, you are also creating an actionable framework for getting started working on your goals.
Big Goals and Small Goals Are Best Set With Feedback In Mind
All of my goals are set with the idea of the S.M.A.R.T. structure and feedback loop framework in mind. Because, regardless of how my day goes, I want to feel successful.
For example …
I woke up this morning with these tasks on my list …
- Write new post and publish with content upgrade, 3 images, and quotes
- Write six pages of content for client X (this is part of a 2-week goal to write 62-pages of copy for a client’s website)
- 30-minutes of video recording
- Post 12 blog posts for client Y
But, when I woke up this morning (after not getting my usual morning quiet time), I reassessed my goals for the day and decided that my list would look more like this …
- Write new post and publish
- Write six pages of content for client X (I kept this because I was realistic when I bid the project for the client and gave myself 2-weeks to finish it.)
- 5-minutes of video recording
- Post 4 blogs for client Y
And, the one thing that I absolutely must get done today is to write and publish this post.
When I finish my ‘one thing’, I will go to my list and cross it off.
My brain will release dopamine in response to that sense of accomplishment and I will feel awesome about completing that one most important thing that I needed to get done today.
Tomorrow, the day will look completely different and I will assess my circumstances, time available, etc. and adjust my goals for the day accordingly.
Obviously, I will need to make up some of those things that I didn’t get done today but, it is absolutely amazing the things that you can accomplish when you are being mindful of your time and your level of focus.
The feedback loop and S.M.A.R.T. goals systems are not necessarily designed to help you be successful by always reaching the maximum amount of work.
They are designed to help you create a healthy relationship with goal-setting and with yourself … in the face of the restrictions that your life runs within. It is a simple strategy to help you stay focused on your goals.
Living with anxiety, depersonalization, and panic attacks doesn’t mean that I can’t still get shit done. And, that goes for you too 🙂
Be kind to yourself.
Set your goals each day so that they are realistic for THAT day. And, make sure that you are keeping the feedback loop in mind.
I know that S.M.A.R.T. is not the only system for setting goals. But, I do think it is a good starting point.
It helps to create a framework for identifying goals that you can actually reach, and that will help to move things forward in your business.
When you take a look at your tasks for the day and assess what you’ll be able to get done, the tasks that will help you make the post progress should be the priority.
If you want to stay focused on your goals – then, leverage your time!
You need to get laser-focused.
Once you have eliminated everything off of your list that is not directly related to your goal, it is time to pick one project for your two-week burst. This project should be something that will propel your efforts the most.
This is your goal.
The daily action items that you perform to get you closer to your goal are tasks. The feedback for your tasks is checking them off of your list each day when you reach them.
These ‘quick wins’ are great for keeping the momentum and continuing your work towards your two-week goal.
If you worked for an organization, your manager or company might have a performance management plan that includes various strategies for providing feedback and igniting productivity.
But, since you are “awesome. party of one.” – you have to create these little checkpoints for yourself.
Some ideas for your performance management plan might include:
Setting a two-week goal with an incentive attached to it like going to get a pedicure or eating a really big keto cupcake. Anything that you feel would be indulgent and celebratory of the hard work that you put in. Here are a few self-care ideas for you.
Giving yourself a day of no meetings or work for one day is a great way to celebrate completing a two-week goal. And, taking time away from your work can give you some great perspective about the next two-week goal to set and the direction to move things in.
If your two-week goal was something that your friends and family would really love to hear about – share it with them! There is nothing better than announcing a major milestone accomplished in your life and hearing all of the awesome congrats from all of the people who helped you to get there. Spread the news!
This might not seem like a celebration but, it is a very powerful exercise. When you write down the goals that you have achieved – it is an amazing thing to see in writing. It can be a huge confidence boost and really help with your motivation. Plus, you can read back and see a timeline of all of the things that you have accomplished – which is very cool to see.
Include the fam.
When you reach a big goal in your life, take the family out for ice cream or to dinner. They each had a role to play in you achieving that goal, and when they can share those wins with you. It helps them to realize what all of that “not right now, I’m working” talk was about.
Having a healthy relationship with goal-setting is an important part of being successful in life.
And, using the right systems and framework for devising your goals and feeling inspired to continue working towards them – even when your day has gone to pot – is the best way to ensure you stay focused on your goals.
34 Ways To Stay Focused On Your Goals When Anxiety Distracts You
To help get you started on creating the structure that you will follow to stay focused on your goals, I have listed some of the best ways that I have found to keep anxiety from taking over progress.
Wake up with a plan
Waking up with a written plan for what you will get done that day is key to making progress. This is true even if you don’t have anxiety! But, even more so when you do.
It’s so easy for a panic attack or chronic anxiety to take over the day. But, when you have things written down, you can just dive into the list and stay focused on your goals.
I recommend taking 10-minutes the night before to write down what you will get done the next day.
Set Monthly Goals
You can’t get anywhere if you don’t know where you’re going. Setting monthly goals help to break things out into manageable pieces that you can create objectives and tasks from.
You can’t just say, “I’m going to lose 30 lbs.” and expect that it will happen. You have to work at it a little bit each day.
And, if you’re living with anxiety, some of those days may not be productive.
Instead, set a monthly goal of 10 lbs.
Break Your Goals Down
Expanding on the idea of monthly goals, the next step is to break your goals down from there.
So, for the example above, the weekly objective would be working out 3 days a week. And the daily tasks would be drinking 8 cups of water and skipping all sugar.
“I’m going to lose 30 lbs” has a lot of moving pieces. But, I’m not going to eat any sugar today is very concrete and manageable.
Keeping things broken out into manageable pieces is essential for you to stay focused on your goals.
Live With Intention
When you have a plan for your time – you will get so much more done. The tasks that you complete each day are little steps towards your overall goals. And, those overall goals are what will actually change your life. Be intentional about your time.
Keep a Journal
We’ve talked about this one before. Keeping a journal and writing how you felt about the day, what you were grateful for, and how you want the next day to go can be very therapeutic.
Write Your Goals In More Than One Place
On the bathroom mirror, on a whiteboard in your office, on the refrigerator, with dry erase marker on the windshield of your car. Put those suckers everywhere!
Set Your Mantra
A mantra is such a simple and powerful tool for managing anxiety. But, also for trying to stay focused on your goals. Choose one that evokes a real emotion to make sure it really works. One that makes you feel strong, powerful, and motivated.
Plan With A Vision Board
Not only are they super fun to make but, vision boards are also just awesome goal-getting tools. When anxiety derails your focus and motivation, your vision board can bring you the inspiration to keep going.
Keep Your Eye On The Prize
Keep your goal on your mind every day. Visualize how your life will be once you achieve your goal. And, think about what parts of your life you’re unsatisfied with but will feel better about when your goals is completed.
Visualize Your Goal Achieved
Spend time each day picturing in your head what life is like with your goal achieved. See the smallest little details of the whole picture. Keep that picture in your mind each day as you’re going about your routine. THAT will help you to stay focused on your goals.
Start With the End in Mind
When you start planning out your goals, think about what end results you want. Keeping those results in mind will help you to make sure you’re moving in the right direction to get what will really make you feel happy.
Stay Connected to Your Why
There is a reason that you’re setting these goals. There is something inside of you that is connected to the end results of the goal. That is your why. Stay connected to that feeling and it will push you along when you’re losing steam.
Change Your Mindset
When you start to lose focus on your goals, just change your mind. Think of your goal and all of the reasons you “can’t work on it”. And say to yourself “It’s just not a priority for me”. If that feels true, then you need a different goal. If it doesn’t feel true, then stop making excuses and get to work.
Focus on the 1%
You only need to improve by 1% each day. Don’t think about how far you have left to go, just think about doing 1% better today than you did yesterday. Those incremental bits will combine together to make a massive shift.
Celebrate Your Wins
Each time you make progress towards your goal – celebrate that ish!! This sets the feedback loop into motion that each milestone means victory and a treat.
Don’t Fall Victim to Shiny Object Syndrome
There are a ton of “magic bullets” out there that claim to help you get to your goals faster than any other way. But, the truth is, the only way to really achieve your goals is to show up for them consistently each day.
Your goals are for you. So, show up for yourself and be accountable. You can use an accountability tool, which will ensure that you’re better organized for success.
Ask yourself this question to make sure you are always pushing yourself to do as much as you can, “Have I done everything that I can today to reach my goal?”
Some of my other favorite tips for how to stay focused on your goals include:
- Ruthlessly cut out all distractions. No Netflix until bed, no going out every weekend, no sleeping in. Just stay focused on your goals.
- Ask for help and better yourself consistently
- Schedule regular check-ins to check your progress
- Read your journal each Friday to see how far you’ve come that week
- Make your commitment public so others hold you accountable
- Say it out loud!
- Surround yourself with like-minded people
- Fill your mind with inspiration (YouTube videos, podcasts, books, etc)
- Meditate daily to stay mindful of your goals and your effort towards them
- Set good, better, best goals to allow for the ebb and flow of life
- Exercise and eat well to nourish your mind and body to manage stress
- Practice self-care
- Write out your mission statement (how would this goal improve your life? how would your life suck if you didn’t reach this goal? who in your life would be impacted if you reached this goal and how?)
- Use time blocking to make the most of your time so you can always work on your goal a little each day
- Don’t procrastinate! Use Mel Robbins 5-4-3-2-1 method. It’s MAGIC!
- Practice gratitude. It will keep you in the right frame of mind to work on your goals.