Focus! You Can Do Anything, But Not Everything

You can do anything you set your mind to do" goes the saying. My parents repeated it over and over during my childhood; you may have had a similar experience because lots of people - especially professionals - love to talk about initiative and ambition.


Unfortunately, many people only internalize the first half of this statement.


"You can do anything..."


This implies if you want to found a $10 billion company, you can found a $10 billion company.


If you want to get promoted in six months, you can get promoted in six months.


But most goals are dependent on the second part of the statement:


"You can do anything you set your mind to do."


In other words, you can't do everything.


You can't keep your weekends free, learn how to speak Italian, and found a $10 billion company. (You probably can't have kids or get married, either.)


You can't do everything also applies to much smaller goals.


For example, early in my career, I used to sell. The first principle I learned was: pitch one idea at a time. The more ideas you float at one time, the less likely any of them will result in a sale.


A few days ago, Dr. Carmen Simon reminded me of the importance of both halves of this principle when she shared this image:


Carmen is a cognitive scientist who helps businesses influence decisions by crafting memorable messages. You don't influence others by dumping a mess in their laps; you do it by focusing attention carefully.


Of course, before you can focus other people's attention, you have to focus your own.

Most people do this by, say, writing down a goal on a piece of paper. Maybe they tell their boss.




Carmen points out that there are two kinds of memory. There's remembering the past, which is how most people think about memory; this is called retrospective memory. But there's also “remembering the future” you want to create, which is called prospective memory.


Unfortunately, prospective memory tends to be less vivid and powerful... unless you take steps to reinforce it.


Carmen explains, "The obvious difference is that the two systems have a different temporal orientation. Past memories are also more vivid and more detailed."


But prospective memory is what powers successful careers. The lack of it explains why some people just seems to spin their wheels endlessly.


Remembering a future intention," says Carmen, "Has remarkable advantages for any professional because it keeps you viable: your company stays in business - and you thrive - when people remember what we say and act on it in the future. Getting people to remember a future intention and act on it: that’s progress."


Doing this successfully means keeping a few key goals front and center in your mind. It means making them clear, vivid, and detailed. Don't just figure out what you want; picture exactly how you're going to get there. Then, don't let anything push your aspirations aside... not obstacles, not distractions, and especially not other goals.


In other words, remember the future you want to create.


You can't have everything, so focus much more intently on what you really want.

(This blog was first published on LinkedIn. It has been re-posted here with prior permission from Bruce Kasanoff.)

(Image Courtesy:

Categories: Leadership

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Bruce Kasanoff

Bruce Kasanoff helps companies empower and inspire their employees. He brings relentlessly positive messages of personal empowerment, flexibility and clarity. ...

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