The ONE Thing: A Case for Narrowing Your Focus

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“If you chase two rabbits, you will catch neither one.”

Russian Proverb

If you’re a blogger, a business owner, or someone with varied interests, I’m sure you’ve heard the advice before. “Find your one thing and channel all your energy into it. Niche down or fail.”

Take a look around, and you’ll see countless examples of wildly successful people. Presumably successful because they’ve gone all-in on their ONE thing at the expense of all else.

As I write this, the summer 2021 Olympics are just wrapping up. And if you think about it, can there possibly be a better example of niching down than an Olympic athlete?

Decades of hard work, sacrifice, and intense focus all come down to one moment. ONE moment that ends in either joyful celebration or heartbreakingly devastating defeat.

And if you’re anything like me, this extreme example is precisely why the advice to niche down falls on deaf ears. I don’t argue the fact that intense focus yields extraordinary results.

It’s the other half of the equation, or the loss of everything else at the expense of that ONE thing, that scares me.

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A Tale of Multiple Interests

I’ve always had an array of potentially all-consuming interests. As an example, my full-time gig is as a nurse practitioner, but I also have a fine arts degree in music.

I started this blog to indulge my love of writing and personal development, but I also moonlight as an organist in a few local churches. And let’s not forget my fascination for anything involving horses but especially the art of dressage.

One could argue that perhaps I put a little too much stock in that old saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

I thrive on variety.

But at times, it feels like I can’t move ahead in anything because my focus is so broad. And to make things even murkier, throw a husband, 3 kids, and the weight of maintaining a house in the mix.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that some days feel like slogging through a lake of molasses in January.

I’ll be the first to admit that the sludge is my own doing through a failure to pare anything down. And my resolve to excel in various fields has only been spurred on by works like Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.

But sometimes, the chaos of chasing so many dreams drags you down. It causes you to look around for an alternate perspective. ONE perspective to fit all those individual puzzle pieces into a cohesive picture.

I found such a perspective in The ONE Thing by Gary Keller.

Success Comes from Subtraction Rather Than Addition

“Extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus.”

Gary Keller

The ONE Thing is a book that frequents top 10 personal development lists. It’s mentioned over and over by self-help gurus.

The book is written by Gary Keller, founder of the largest real estate company in the world. An internet search reveals his net worth of around $35 million.

Keller describes his success as partially attributable to figuring out the ONE thing that makes everything else easier. And once you figure out that ONE thing, everything else falls into place.

Success, therefore, comes from weeding out the excess rather than taking more on. It’s a simple matter of subtraction rather than addition.

And the concept of doing less is a refreshing one in a culture constantly preaching the philosophy of doing more.

There is No Such Thing as Multitasking

Did you know that multitasking is a myth? It’s physically impossible for your brain to process two conscious thoughts at once effectively.

To prove my point, try this little experiment. In your head, add up 546 and 376 at the same time you spell OUTSTANDING aloud.

Did you do it? If so, you might have superpowers!

But if you weren’t successful, take heart. You’re human! Our brains aren’t designed to consciously perform multiple functions simultaneously.

There are tasks that your brain has learned to automate, such as walking and chewing gum. But neither job typically requires deep thought.

True success, however, comes from the type of sustained focus that can only be achieved by blocking out all distractions. Regardless of your end goal, breaking each step into pieces and focusing solely on the tiny action steps is crucial.

Mastery is More of a Journey

“Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason, mastery demands all of a person.”

Albert Einstein

Do you know the one thing that the most successful people in the world all have in common?

They never give up. No matter what life throws in their way. They keep moving forward towards their ultimate goal of mastery.

Successful people realize that success isn’t about a destination. It’s a journey.

Success means showing up day after day. It means putting in the work even when it’s unattractive, demanding, or boring.

It also means blocking out all else to become truly great at their ONE thing. Sometimes that means permanently shelving other passions or interests for the sake of moving forward in one specific area.

At other times, success means scaling back on other interests for a season to clear space for that ONE thing which will then make everything else easier.

A great example of this is pursuing a degree. Being in school means devoting large chunks of time to school-related activities. And because we all have the same 24 hours in a day, you typically must cut down on other activities to ensure success in your academic program. But the hope is that once you finish, your higher level of income will then support your various interests.

And the journey to mastery never ends because there’s ALWAYS another level. There’s always another post to publish, sales quota to meet, or product idea waiting to be created.

Mastery means breaking barriers and pushing limits, both complex tasks when your attention is spread too widely.

Balance Doesn’t Exist When Pursuing Your ONE Thing

I may have mentioned this before, but my interests have bounced around dramatically for most of my life. Although they have all remained relatively stable, there are certain times of my life when I pursue one more strongly than the others.

And I’ve found that I tend to chase interests at the neglect of all others. Although I make progress in one area, I then felt a sense of guilt about the others due to the lack of progress.

It had me questioning balance and whether I was setting myself up for a life of hopeless imbalance.

This again inspired a bit of guilt, and so the cycle continued.

Fortunately, Keller’s philosophy on balance differs from most of social media. He asserts that there can be no balance when you’re genuinely pursuing your ONE thing because success depends upon excluding anything that doesn’t involve that thing.

Imbalance naturally follows mastery.

It’s a strangely profound and comforting reassurance that my efforts are not entirely off base.

Living Without Regrets

“A life worth living might be measured in many ways, but the one that stands above all others is living a life of no regrets.”

Gary Keller

Although there are many great takeaway messages from the book, one of the most powerful is to create a life free of regrets. And as someone with a huge variety of interests, it can be easy to make excuses rather than feel the sting of regret.

Excuses about why I’m not as far along as I’d like to be in a particular area. Or excuses about my limited ability to devote time to any one pursuit.

But the benefit of applying all your focus to ONE thing is that your power is magnified. Focus means you find that thing and forget the rest. And by doing this, you can look back and know that you gave it your all.

Not some half-hearted attempt at trying. Or a bunch of excuses about why you never achieved your goal.

You have the satisfaction of knowing you either succeeded or gave it your all in the attempt.

How to Apply The ONE Thing to Your Life

I’ll admit that I was skeptical when starting this book. Mainly because I consider myself to be multi-passionate, and I initially didn’t care for the thought of giving anything up.

On the other hand, I adore seeing progress! I love being able to look back at where I started and tell that my hard work has made a difference.

And thanks to having my hands in so many pots, I’ve not had that type of satisfaction as often as I would like. Even before reading the book, frustration over not making significant strides has caused me to contemplate simplifying my life a tad.

I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t read personal development unless you intend to improve your life. There’s so much value out there if you’re willing to open your mind to alternative perspectives.

And with that being said, The ONE Thing has encouraged me to narrow my focus to improve my impact. The following are specific ways in which I intend to implement what I learned.

If you too struggle with feeling spread too thin, check out the book. Try a few of these tactics and watch your outlook (and feelings of accomplishment!) dramatically improve.

Accept Chaos

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably spent your entire life avoiding chaos. You love wrapping things up into neat little packages.

But the flip side is that you likely feel stressed when life doesn’t go as planned. You spend so much energy fighting the chaos that you have little left over for actually living.

It’s time to release your need for control. Fighting the chaos isn’t getting you anywhere, so why not embrace it?

Accept that when you focus intensely on one thing, everything else gets put on the back burner.

I’m not saying you should forget about your husband and kids to focus solely on starting your business. Or let your house return to its natural state of decay while you spend hours happily blogging away (guilty as charged on this one!).

But I am saying you can expect chaos in your life when you choose to narrow your focus. And that’s ok.

Time Blocking for Your ONE Thing

Throughout his book, Keller embraces the concept of time blocking. If you’re not familiar, it involves dedicating larger chunks of time to very specific activities.

His more specific recommendation is to chunk out at least 4 hours each day for your ONE thing. He does acknowledge that you may have legitimate reasons why you may need to shorten your daily time allotment.

The main point is that you need to prioritize the activities that will promote progress in your ONE thing.

Question Everything

“What’s the ONE thing you can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

Gary Keller

Throughout the book, Keller refers to the ONE question you need to ask yourself to stay on track.

He recommends asking yourself this question first thing in the morning and periodically checking in with yourself throughout the day. Questioning yourself ensures you stick to the straight and narrow path of focus.

It also helps to cut down or eliminate all those little unnecessary distractors we all engage in throughout the day by forcing you to remain accountable.

For me, those distractors include checking email, Facebook and stopping to chat with people during the day.

Time is our most valuable resource, and we have to protect it continually, or it vanishes without a single thing to show for its presence.

Say “No”

And speaking of priorities, Keller is very clear about the need to say “no.” A lot.

You must keep your ONE thing front and center. Consider everything else a distraction.

As a serial people pleaser, saying “no” is sometimes incredibly difficult for me. But hearing that saying “no” is crucial to my overall success somehow takes the stigma out of it.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say again that it’s refreshing to hear the message of less rather than more as a secret for success.

Toast Your Wins

As a high achiever, I have a difficult time celebrating success. I tend to jump from accomplishment to accomplishment with scarcely a breath in between.

Despite Keller’s advice on buckling down and focusing on the task at hand, he implores you to celebrate your wins. Big or small, I wholeheartedly agree.

If you don’t take the time to enjoy life, what’s the point of working hard? Without celebration, life turns into one obligation after another on a fast track to burnout.

For your quality of life, you absolutely must celebrate those milestones!

It’s Your Turn to Find Your ONE Thing

Whether you’re trying to balance a full-time career with a side gig, have too many hobbies, or anything in between, I truly hope you found this post helpful!

Despite my initial reluctance to dive into the book, I have to admit that it was well worth the read. I’ve already started implementing a plan to narrow my focus, accept chaos, and toast my wins, big and small.

For even more great advice, make sure you check out The ONE Thing by Gary Keller. Below are a couple of additional books I consider essential reading for high-achievers.

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As always, make sure to leave a comment below with your thoughts on the post. Are you struggling with multipotentialite tendencies? Have you ever considered narrowing your focus? And what would you need to get started on your journey toward more tremendous success?

5 thoughts on “The ONE Thing: A Case for Narrowing Your Focus

  1. I so relate to this, so I better check out that book ! 🙂
    I easily get bored + have been thriving with lots of different hobbies + interests all my life. when it comes to career choices, however, I feel all over the place, not quite knowing where to go. after making several wrong turns in the past, I’m now trying to figure myself out.
    I bet we are both renaissance souls, which shouldn’t be a bad thing, considering Da Vinci is one of the famous ones. (I should probably read a book about that, too) my dream would be to make a living in several different areas, not feeling tied down at all.
    thanks for your recommendation + insights ! 🙂

    1. I completely agree about being renaissance souls!! 🙂 If you haven’t read Range, move it to the top of your reading list! The book felt like coming home to me and affirmed that there’s everything right with having many interests in life. Before reading it, I was not familiar with the concept of being multi-passionate, and it opened my eyes to all the benefits. Your comment about making a living in several different areas really resonates with me because I would love to structure my life similarly. I think one of the amazing benefits of being multi-passionate is that you have the ability to continually reinvent yourself and therefore have the advantage in achieving that goal. Best wishes in all your efforts, and thanks so much for the thoughtful comment! 🙂

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