How to Set Realistic Piano Goals and Achieve Them

How to Set Realistic Piano Goals and Achieve Them

It’s no secret that learning to play the piano can be a daunting task. Many people start lessons with high aspirations but eventually give up because they need help to stay consistent with their practice routine.

Or they get discouraged because they don’t make the kind of progress they’re hoping to make quickly. And other aspiring pianists get distracted by the promise of the newest piano program or app.

I’ve been all those aspiring pianists at various times in my life. But since getting serious about wanting to progress at the keyboard, I’ve learned a ton about setting realistic goals.

And I’ve been able to achieve some of my biggest goals.

Since it’s almost time to think about setting a new year’s resolution, now is the perfect time to help you figure out how to set realistic piano goals! And since practice is tied into learning any skill, I will also touch on how you need to spend practice time.

Lastly, I will cover a few of my favorite practice tools. And, with that, let’s get to it!

This post may contain affiliate links. As affiliates of the Amazon associate program, Modacity, Dr. Josh Wright ProPractice, Musicnotes, Playground Sessions, and Piano Marvel, I may receive a commission at no extra cost if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information and privacy policy. I take no credit for the images appearing on this page. All photos are courtesy of Canva.

Why don’t people accomplish their goals?

If you want to achieve your goals, understanding your potential barriers is crucial. And there are a few very common things that can derail your progress.

Time

Your perception of time has a significant impact on goal attainment. If you don’t believe you have the time to work towards a goal, you won’t even try to make room for it in your schedule.

And although it can seem as if you need huge chunks of time to achieve big goals, the truth is that 5 minutes here and there is sometimes all you need for massive progress.

If you’re serious about making progress with your piano playing, you need to carve time out of your schedule to make it happen.

Uncertainty

Anyone can set a goal. But not everyone follows through with figuring out how to transform a dream into reality.

And figuring out the “how” is often the trickiest part. But one of the best ways to get yourself unstuck from uncertainty is to find a mentor.

The first step is finding someone who is in the spot where you want to be. That person can guide you and save you countless hours of struggling on your own.

And in the case of learning to play the instrument, finding a piano teacher can mean the difference between success and failure.

Mindset

There’s nothing that derails goals faster than having a negative mindset. The way you talk to yourself matters!

And your brain will find evidence to support whatever you believe about your abilities.

Although I’m not suggesting that mindset erases hard work, it all starts with belief. And with stepping outside your comfort zone.

Result vs. Progress

Many people gauge their progress on how far they are from their goals. But discouragement often comes from looking ahead instead of behind.

The more encouraging way to measure progress is to consider where you are now compared to where you started.

Start looking for ways to enjoy the daily habits that will accomplish your goals, and life suddenly becomes more about the journey than the destination.

Impatience

Success takes WAY longer than you think it does. So many people make the mistake of giving up too soon.

It takes YEARS to master the piano. Whether you love classical, jazz, or pop or aspire to play in your church’s band, it will take much longer than you think.

But in most cases, the people who succeed are simply the people who never give up. They find their passion and stick with it, regardless of the obstacles.

What are realistic piano goals?

Now that we’ve explored potential barriers between you and your goals let’s discuss setting realistic piano goals.

The most crucial factor is ensuring your goals are specific and achievable within a certain timeframe. It’s easy to want to jump from one level of playing to another overnight, but it rarely happens like that.

So, instead of going from zero to one hundred overnight, try setting smaller goals and daily practice habits.

For example, let’s say you’re struggling with playing hands together. Instead of making a goal of “playing the whole song hands together,” try something like this:

Play the first line of Prelude in C Major with the right hand ten times without mistakes by Tuesday.

Play the first line of Prelude in C Major with the left hand ten times without mistakes by Thursday.

Play the first line of Prelude in C Major with hands together at 40 bpm by Saturday.

Aim to break your goals into small steps. Your goals should be so tiny that you can accomplish them in a few days or weeks.

Although making long-term goals is okay, breaking them into a bunch of very tiny steps is how you can make steady progress without becoming disheartened.

What is the relationship between practice and piano goal setting?

Although there are many people out there who believe talent is the key to success, it’s not.

Hard work trumps talent every time.

Learning to play the piano is a skill, much like learning to play a sport or getting better at writing. The only way you’ll get better at it is by practicing.

And tying consistent practice into your overall goal setting is one of the best ways to make progress.

Setting practice-related goals are also one of the best ways to prevent feeling like you need to make more progress.

My suggestion is that instead of “learning the last movement of Beethoven’s moonlight sonata,” make a goal of “practicing 5 minutes a day.”

Regardless of whether you’re an adult beginner or a concert pianist, you can accomplish the goal of practicing 5 minutes a day.

5 minutes a day is measurable and attainable. And even if you don’t learn a Beethoven sonata, you can use that time to hone your technical skills, learn a new piece, or have fun playing the instrument.

And by setting small, attainable habits, you’ll be well on your way to achieving any larger piano goal you set for yourself.

How should you divide up your practice time?

I always recommend starting with a short warm-up. This is the time to prepare your mind and body for what’s to come.

Scales, arpeggios, 7th chords, and Czerny or Hanon exercises make great warm-up material. You could also play a song that you have previously mastered.

Sight reading also makes good warm-up material.

After warming up, I like to tackle my most mentally demanding tasks. And for me, that means memorization. I use this time to learn a new measure or phrase in anything I’m working on committing to memory.

If memorization is easy for you, use this time to work on technically demanding tasks within a specific song or for metronome work.

I generally have 3-4 pieces I’m working on at once, and I try to run through all my pieces during a practice session.

And once I’ve gotten through all my practice “work,” I love unwinding by playing whatever I want. Sometimes this means playing a pop piano cover or working out a song by ear. It could also be playing a piece of music that’s fun to play.

To recap:

  1. Warm-up
  2. Anything that is mentally draining/demanding
  3. Other things that need work
  4. Fun stuff!

How long should your practice sessions be?

Although the standard advice is 30 minutes daily, I take a more flexible approach.

I aim for at least 5 minutes a day. And I exceed that goal on most days.

But there are days when 5 minutes is plenty.

Keeping flexibility in my goals leads to less guilt when I have a day here or there that isn’t very productive. The key to making progress is a regular practice routine.

When starting a new practice goal, keep the amount of time you’ll practice each day small. And before long, you’ll be exceeding what you thought was possible!

Are there tools to make your practice time more effective?

Absolutely! My favorite tool is an app called Modacity.

The app allows you to keep track of what you’re practicing. It gives you practice goal suggestions and lets you add personalized goals.

One of my favorite features of the app is the ability to record yourself. You can record a short snippet or an entire piece.

Recording yourself is the fastest way to improve, and I love how integrated recording is into this app.

If you’d like to read my Modacity review, click here. And to try it for yourself, click here.

Aside from the app, I wholeheartedly recommend a couple of books to improve your practice efficiency.

The first is called Peak. This book unveils the secrets behind how the world’s best and, more importantly, how they achieved success.

The second is also a book. It’s called The Musician’s Way and gives solid practice advice. It’s a fantastic resource to help troubleshoot practice challenges.

The book also advises setting and achieving performance goals, so it’s a fantastic resource if you struggle with playing for other people!

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Final Thoughts

Setting realistic piano goals and establishing a consistent practice routine are the keys to piano success.

Start small, break up your practice time, and use tools like Modacity to help keep you accountable and improve more quickly.

Good habits stack up over time, resulting in unbelievable progress in a relatively short period of time. And with a solid foundation in habit forming, you can progress in every area of your life.

Playing a musical instrument has many incredible benefits for your brain and overall well-being.

And have fun with it! Piano playing is meant to bring joy.

If you loved this post, check out my other piano-inspired posts:

5 Simple Tips to Help You Be More Productive

5 Simple Tips to Help You Be More Productive

How’s life going for you? Is it everything you ever thought? Or are you feeling trapped on a hamster wheel of never-ending obligations that suck up all your emotional energy?

Over the past few years, I’ve felt stuck. A constant sense that I’m not getting enough done follows me everywhere.

I remember a time when I didn’t feel this way. Work stayed at work, and my home life was blissful.

But then I decided to go back to school.

This post may contain affiliate links, and as an affiliate of Amazon, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.

A Downward Spiral into Negativity

From that moment on, I constantly felt the need to be more productive. If I wasn’t checking off a box every second of the day, I was indeed behind at work, home, school, or maybe all 3.

Deep down inside, I didn’t believe that I could successfully navigate all these worlds. That it was ridiculous even to try.

The self-doubt eventually spiraled into an all-consuming cloud of negativity. I became obsessed with wondering whether there was enough time in the day to do all the things.

Instead of spending my time actually being productive, I began obsessing about time. I felt guilty about anything and everything because somehow, nothing felt enough.

And I was always making wrong choices with how I spent my time. Or so it seemed at the time. At work, I was thinking about how little time I was spending with my kids. And at home, I fixated on the low probability of finishing the mountain of homework always waiting for me.

After graduation, I thought things would get better. I thought that I would suddenly feel normal again.

Nope. Those stubbornly obsessive negative thoughts continued to plague my every waking moment.

After a great deal of reflection, I finally made a decision. My happiness and inner peace depended upon shattering the negativity I had built around time and productivity. It was time to embrace a new perspective on how to be more productive!

If any of this resonates with you, keep reading because I promise to bring you a few unique solutions to the age-old problem of getting more done in less time!

1. Cut the Crap to Be More Productive

What do you actually want to accomplish in life? It’s easy to get caught in a web of “busy.” But “busy” is a very non-specific way to quantify your time. And without a sense of direction, you end up wandering the vast wasteland of coulda, woulda, shoulda.

Unfortunately, there are very dark forces at work in your life. And you may or may not even be fully aware of these forces. In her book called How to Get Sh*t Done, Erin Falconer describes some of the invisible constraints holding you back:

  • Women feel a constant need to prove themselves.
  • Unspoken work expectations mean women are saddled with more responsibility (the type that no one else in the office wants!) that will mean neither increased status nor pay.
  • After putting in a full day at work, women come home just to put in more work.
  • People-pleasing tendencies increase involvement in activities you may not otherwise choose for yourself.
  • The joy-sucking power of “should” is constantly playing over and over in your head.

The first step is always awareness. Falconer does an outstanding job of shedding light on everything that’s cluttering up your life.

And by doing so, you can start to abandon everyone else’s expectations in favor of your version of productivity.

Image courtesy of Namara Creative Studio via Canva

2. Craft Your Unique Version of Productivity

After you strip away the busyness, what’s left? Who are you underneath all those obligations? Are you someone who thrives among people? Or do you prefer a quiet spot to complete your work?

What makes you feel alive inside? And what makes you want to poke your eye out with a pencil?

It’s shocking how little we often know about ourselves simply because we haven’t taken the time. Also shocking is the impact society and those around us have on our aspirations. But when you strip everything away, what you have left is the freedom to make decisions based on you. Not society. And not everyone else in your life.

But you.

Falconer guides you through the process of getting down to you in a seamless and thought-provoking way. If that all sounds intriguing, make sure to check out her book.

3. Comparison Isn’t Always a Dirty Word

Our culture is all about comparison. It starts in grade school when you learn the concept of grades. And it follows you through middle and high school with sports tryouts. Thanks to social media, comparison continues to follow you well into adulthood.

But comparison in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing, and you can use it as a force for good!

Dr. Benjamin Hardy is an organizational psychologist with fascinating advice on flipping the negative to the positive. I recently discovered his work on the School of Greatness podcast and was immediately inspired.

Dr. Hardy suggests that it’s our comparison to others that results in negative thought patterns. As an example, you see a fellow mom posting flawless pics of her family on social media. Their beaming smiles are brilliantly complemented by perfectly coordinated outfits and a gorgeous fall scene.

Upon seeing the pics, you take a turn to negative town. After all, your last family picture was taken 7 years ago. Before your kids were born.

And you immediately feel like a #momfail.

The truth is, you feel like a failure because you’re making an impossible comparison. You have no idea what else is going on in that woman’s life. We are all fighting battles that we share with only a select few.

And you have overcome some pretty tough stuff in your life as well. Therefore, the only way you can feel accomplished is to compare the woman you were with the woman you are right now.

I guarantee that you will immediately feel accomplished!

So the next time you feel compelled to make a comparison, make sure it’s between the current and past versions of yourself. Because at the end of the day, the only person over whom you have control is yourself.

If you’re curious about Dr. Hardy’s work, check out one of his books:

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4. Make a Done for Today List

Have you ever actually finished everything on your “to-do” list? I’d be lying if I said “yes” to that one. Although I always think seeing things crossed off my list will feel satisfying, it somehow never does. Instead, I constantly focus on everything that remains unchecked.

But here’s a new take on an old and tired concept. I recently heard this advice from an interview with Greg McKeown on the Science of Success podcast.

At the beginning of the day, figure out 3 things that, once complete, will also complete your day. Once those 3 things are done, give yourself the freedom to relish in accomplishment.

Reward yourself! Don’t try to use the extra time to sneak in more stuff. Take some time for yourself. Do something that fills your cup. Or do something that lights you up inside.

But most of all, enjoy the feeling of DONE.

As a type-A achiever, I never feel “done” with tasks in my day. And I think this leads to burnout because nothing ever feels good enough. I’m always trying to check a box.

So after hearing this particular tip, I’ve committed to being DONE every day. Regardless of whatever else is on my list, I’ve started celebrating my accomplishments and not only feel more peaceful but also 10x more productive.

5. A Tale of Two Teams

In the podcast, Greg McKeown goes on to tell the gripping tale of two teams racing against the elements to be the first to reach the South Pole.

Each team had opposing views on how to emerge victoriously. And their vastly different approaches made all the difference between victory and death.

The first team was British. Their leader pushed the team to their very limits whenever the weather was tolerable. On days when the weather was inclement, they camped out and weathered the storm.

The second team was Norwegian. Their leader determined that the best approach would be to advance 15 miles each day. Come fair weather or storm; they would only travel 15 miles.

Guess which team made it to the South Pole first? I’ll give you a hint … slow and steady wins the race.

The Norwegians made it to their goal an entire month before the British. And not only did they win, but they lived to tell the tale. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the British team.

Defining Your Daily Minimum to Be More Productive

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Everyone has a daily threshold for productivity, and there’s only so much you can accomplish in 24 hours. The Norwegian team dramatically highlighted this reality by claiming the victory. And the British team just as dramatically highlighted it through their ultimate demise.

You must set clear boundaries for yourself. Or you, too, will become overwhelmed and burned out.

McKeown suggests setting daily minimum goals for yourself. Figure out how to make this goal effortless. Making it effortless helps you achieve the goal and will leave you wanting more.

As an example, I’ve been trying to publish blog posts on a more consistent basis. But I have a mental block about time. My perception is that it takes time I currently don’t have.

After hearing McKeown’s advice, I decided to set a daily 30-minute writing goal. I have found that I no longer try to procrastinate my writing because 30 minutes feels very attainable.

And once those 30 minutes are up, I stop. I don’t force myself to keep going even if I’m in the middle of writing flow. Stopping when I’m in flow is crucial because I know when I begin again tomorrow, I will be excited to get started.

One of the worst things as a writer is a block, and stopping when I’m mid-paragraph, or even mid-sentence ensures I have something to pick up the following day.

Taking small, daily steps towards your goals increases your odds of success. Find ways to make the process enjoyable, and you’ve suddenly become dramatically more productive.

It’s Your Turn to Be More Productive

You define productivity. And with your unique definition comes freedom. The freedom to say “yes” to anything that feels aligned and “no” to everything else.

Narrow down your big goals to 3 or less at any given time. Go all-in on those goals. And when starting a goal, stop asking “how.” Dr. Hardy explains that “how” is a word that causes procrastination and overwhelm. It immediately adds an element of impossibility to the equation.

You instead need to ask “who.” Who can help you achieve your goal more quickly? Do you need a coach? Or maybe you need a course designed by an expert in the field. Making investments in someone who is already skilled helps you achieve your goals infinitely faster.

As important as “who” is the concept of effortlessness. Once your goal has been defined, how can you make it as easy as possible? Greg McKeown offers brilliant advice on finding joy while making goals feel effortless. Sadly, the perception of effort has held me back personally in all areas of my life. I, therefore, adore his philosophy on productivity!

And remember that slow and steady wins every time. There’s simply no need to make things overly complicated or overwhelming. I would even suggest that if you feel overwhelmed, you need to take a step back. Figure out your priorities. And cut everything that doesn’t make the grade.

Find the person who can help you. And make it effortless.

Additional Resources

If you’re looking for even more resources, make sure you check out any of the following books:

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And make sure to check out the following posts for even more great personal development!

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The ONE Thing: A Case for Narrowing Your Focus

The ONE Thing: A Case for Narrowing Your Focus

“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.

This post may contain affiliate links, and as an affiliate of Amazon, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information. All photos courtesy of Canva.

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?

How to Dramatically Improve Your Mental Focus

How to Dramatically Improve Your Mental Focus

The world is full of distractions. Thanks to technology, we can now follow any breaking news story in even the most remote corner of the world. Or stay caught up with friends from high school without as much as a phone call. We can even entertain ourselves for hours on end simply by watching 30-second video clips made by strangers.

All these distractions can make focusing on one task for any length of time feel impossible. And it can seem as if the world discourages the deep mental focus necessary for goal achievement and true mastery.

The good news is that there are ways you can dramatically improve your mental focus. Even if you’re not training for the Olympics or to be a cab driver in London, learning to improve your mental focus has incredible benefits. From stress relief to momentum to a greater sense of accomplishment, taking the time to improve this vital skill is well worth the effort!

In the following post, I’ve broken down the various ways you can improve focus both in the moment and over time. Although each tip requires effort, the benefits over time far outweigh the time spent up-front.

This post may contain affiliate links and as a member of the Amazon Affiliate program, this means we may receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

How to Dramatically Improve Your Mental Focus NOW

Although there are long-term tactics and daily habits which compound to better focus over time, there are also ways you can improve your mental focus right here, right now.

Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

Check the clutter. Does your environment encourage you to focus, or is it distracting? I’m speaking from experience when I say that focusing surrounded by messiness is nearly impossible.

As an example, I give you Exhibit A, my living room, when I sat down to start this post yesterday. It gave off an incredibly messy, cluttered, and chaotic vibe. And although I tried as hard as I could, I wrote barely ten sentences.

Yikes … did a typhoon hit my living room?!

Getting into the flow of creativity felt impossible.

So I took a break. I hit up Pinterest and got my organizational groove going. And then I made a quick Wal-Mart stop.

Three short hours later, my living room was well on its way to Better Homes & Gardens greatness. Maybe it wasn’t quite impressive enough for a magazine, but things feel 100% more relaxing.

Huge improvement! Ready for my photo shoot …

And when I’m relaxed, it’s much easier to get into a creative flow.

Needless to say, after taking a timeout to organize my environment, my mental focus improved by leaps and bounds. If you’re also struggling to get into a creative flow, take a quick check of your surroundings. It may be well worth your while to take time out to be more productive in the long run.

Limit Distractions

It’s ironic that as I type, my 5-year-old is whispering, “and now the chickens have the ball” into my ear. And the dog has wrapped himself up around the patio furniture for the 16th time today.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I’ll say it here. Life is one huge distraction!

Although distraction comes in all shapes and sizes, it’s not all bad. I love my family more than anything and acknowledge that my kids are growing bigger every day. At some point, they will no longer be whispering random phrases about chickens in my ear.

I’m thankful for the distraction my family brings because it reminds me of what’s truly important.

But having limitations on my time and attention means I’ve learned to limit wherever I can. One of the ways I’ve done this is by shutting off phone app alerts. As a result, I am no longer interrupted every time I get an email. Shutting off phone alerts is one of the simplest ways to improve your mental focus.

Although stopping a task to respond to one email may not seem like a big deal, it adds up over time. Research shows that it can take around 23 minutes to re-focus on a task after an interruption.1 Multiply that one email by the total number of emails you get in one day, and it’s easy to see why limiting interruptions matters!

Add Variety

This next tip is for you if you want to improve a skill or to understand a topic on a deeper level. Whether you’re trying to become a better pianist or pass a business law exam, get creative with your study time.

The more creative you can get, the better! For example, if you’re studying for an anatomy quiz, bust out your lyric writing skills and pair that previously boring material with your favorite pop tune. You could also try creating a quiz, explaining the topic to a friend, or even writing a blog post about it.

And when practicing a skill or studying, keep in mind that learning doesn’t stop at remembering the information. You have to also practice retrieving the information you’ve stored in your brain. Finding creative ways to store and access the information ensures stronger neural connections and the ability to apply the knowledge in various settings.

Using a variety of techniques to learn keeps things exciting. And when something is interesting, it’s much easier to improve your mental focus.

Don’t Scratch the Itch

Have you ever been trying to get into a creative workflow, but all these intrusive thoughts keep popping up?

“I wonder if Jessica had her baby yet. I should check Facebook.”

“Is it going to rain later today? I should check the weather.”

“What are the current COVID-19 rates in my state? Maybe I should check the news.”

It’s almost as if your brain knows it will be working hard, and it wants to avoid the work by distracting you. And it usually distracts you with incredibly superficial ideas. The type of ideas that take almost zero energy to address.

And since these ideas take no energy, one would think they’re not a big deal. Except for a couple of things. Remember how long it takes to re-focus when you’ve been distracted? Multiply that one distraction by the number of times your attention shifts from the topic at hand during the day.

The other thing is that distraction can become a habit. Give in too many times, and your brain forgets how to do the challenging work necessary for goal accomplishment.

My brain loves to throw superficial distractions at me constantly. I’ve found that when I consistently give in, it’s much tougher to get into a creative flow. But I’ve learned a simple trick to thwart my brain’s attempts at laziness.

Whenever a distracting thought comes up, I tell myself that if I still have the burning desire to check Facebook in 5 minutes, I will. Problem solved! And by the time 5 minutes have passed, I’ve completely forgotten about it.

If you’re looking for more tips on getting into a creative flow, make sure to check out this post.

Take a Break

After you’ve put in focus for a length of time, give yourself the reward of a break! Breaks are essential if you’ve been focusing intensely for a sustained period because your brain needs to recharge.

So indulge in that guilty Netflix pleasure or chat it up with a friend. You’ve earned it!

How to Improve Your Mental Focus Over Time

Now that you have a solid understanding of quick fixes for how to improve your mental focus, it’s time to switch gears to habit changes over time.

Set Goals

Although setting goals is essential, one of the more important tasks is to review your progress. Are you attaining the goals that you set for yourself? When you look back at where you spend your time and energy, are you satisfied?

There’s a ton of advice out there about setting goals. Anyone can sit down and write a list of things they would like to accomplish. But setting goals is the easy part. The hard part comes when you commit to a goal and focus on making it happen.

Although it can be difficult to acknowledge this truth, you actually can’t do it all. And depending on the size of the goal, you have to make tough choices. Pursuing one goal often means saying “no” to 26 others.

But you can accomplish great things if you align your goals and actions.

And you can dramatically improve your mental focus by gaining clarity and becoming specific about your goals. Our brains love clear-cut and measurable when it comes to goal-setting, while vague only results in mental clutter.

Therefore, if you want to improve your mental focus, consider whether your goals align with your actions. If they don’t, it’s time to make tough choices about where to devote your time and energy.

Check out this post for how to gain clarity on your life and goals.

Make a Plan

After taking time to seek clarity on your goals, it’s time to set a clear direction for where you want to go.

It may sound counterintuitive, but you only need to figure out the next step or two. You don’t need steps 3-5 or even 8-11 when you’re just getting started.

Take one step at a time. The next step will reveal itself when you’re ready for it.

Even if it’s a concise one, having a plan helps to reduce mental clutter and improve your mental focus over time. And, if nothing else, it gives you a way to track your ongoing progress.

Improve Your Mental Focus by Sleeping & Exercising

Sleep and exercise go hand-in-hand with better cognition. Each has a role in reducing stress and promoting feel-good chemicals in the brain. Both are vital components of overall health.

Since we’ve already established that specifics important, try to get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, pair with 150 minutes of aerobic exercise weekly, and you’ll be well on your way to improved mental focus!2

And if you’re looking for tips on improving the quality of your sleep, make sure you check out this post.

Meditate to Improve Your Mental Focus

Alongside sleep and regular exercise, meditation is rising to the top as a practice beneficial for decreasing anxiety and improving mental focus.

Although there are different types of meditation, mental focus is central to most practices. In some instances, it may be awareness of the breath. Focusing your thoughts on a specific image or feeling may form the basis of other meditative practices.

Regardless of the type, meditation also involves regularly refocusing after distraction. And being able to refocus after distraction is a beneficial skill in today’s highly distractible world!

Although research into meditation and the brain is relatively new, results have been positive. One study even demonstrated enhanced focus among people who regularly meditate compared to those who do not.3

Meditation offers a host of other benefits to those who practice it regularly. It may just become your new favorite self-care activity!

Play Games

I’m not kidding! There is research to support specific games having the ability to improve your mental focus.4 Mario Kart didn’t quite make the list, but if you’re a fan of sudoku and crossword puzzles, you’re in luck!

You could also try chess, word searches, and jigsaw puzzles.

These and similar activities improve both working and short-term memory while improving problem-solving skills. How amazing is that?

Stop Multitasking

It may come as somewhat of a shock, but did you know that our brains can’t multitask? Although it seems as if we can do two (or more) tasks at once, our brains can only do one. What you are experiencing when trying to do multiple tasks at once are micro shifts in attention that facilitate the completion of tasks.

But the micro shifts in attention come at the cost of both efficiency and accuracy. And I have to think that multitasking regularly prevents the deep, mental focus required for specific tasks. It encourages superficial and distracted thinking, which is the exact opposite of focus.

Multitasking is difficult for me to break free from because my work and home life are inherently filled with it. I find myself in a constant state of distraction, and finding the time and mental energy to focus is challenging.

But I’m always searching for ways to improve. And by trying each of the above strategies, I’ve improved my mental focus over time.

It’s Your Turn to Improve Your Mental Focus

And there you have it! Actionable tips you can try to improve your mental focus both in the short term and over time. Give them a try, and let me know how they work in the comments below.

If you’re looking for even more resources, check out these life-changing books!

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1. Wong, K. (2015, July 29). How Long it Takes to Get Back on Track After a Distraction. How Long It Takes to Get Back on Track After a Distraction (lifehacker.com)

2: Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, October 1). Tips to Improve Concentration. Tips to improve concentration – Harvard Health

3: Gowin, J. (2012, April 20). Brain Scans Show How Meditation Improves Mental Focus. Brain Scans Show How Meditation Improves Mental Focus | Psychology Today

4: Raypole, C. (2019, September 3). 12 Tips to Improve Your Concentration. How to Improve Concentration: 12 Science-Backed Tips, and More (healthline.com)

7 Life Lessons from Horses

7 Life Lessons from Horses

Earlier this week, I received the call every horse owner dreads. The call which starts with “there’s been a terrible accident” and ends with uncontrollable sobbing.

Grief and pain immediately take over, leaving you unable to do anything but continuously replay the horrific details over and over again in your mind. In that one instant, all your hopes and dreams suddenly vanish and you are paralyzed with sadness.

Moving on after such an intensely sudden and painful loss feels utterly impossible.

It’s the type of call which causes you to question why you ever got involved with horses in the first place. This one incident threatens to derail a lifetime of passion, perseverance, and hard work.

Even despite the emotional agony, a tiny piece of me yearned for the answer. I desperately needed something to hold onto. Something to get me through the quiet desperation of an unfair situation.

That tiny piece of me needed a silver lining. I needed his legacy to be defined not by his death but by his life and by the value horses have brought into my life.

I’ve heard it said time and time again that horses have the ability to reveal things about ourselves which would otherwise remain hidden. They are a mirror into our inner selves and I sincerely believe this. Every partnership has something different to teach us if we are willing to listen.

In this time of grief, I am choosing to reflect back upon life lessons from horses rather than dwell upon the sadness of his loss. And if you are going through a similar situation, I hope that you too can take comfort in reflecting back upon all the good times. The times which were so incredible that you’d never dream of trading them even if you knew how it all would end.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

My History with Horses

Fortunately (or unfortunately for my husband!) horses have been a lifelong obsession. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by their beauty, strength, and majesty.

Some of my earliest memories revolve around our family’s horses. Although my dad and his brothers operated a dairy farm, we always had a diverse range of horses around. My dad and uncle grew up farming with horses and even after machinery entered the picture, the horses remained.

As did my passion for these beautiful animals. And my own life lessons from horses.

I read everything about horses that I could get my hands on. Subscribed to multiple magazines and watched movies and shows galore. Throughout middle and high school, I rode in 4-H and other open shows. And as a natural introvert growing up in a very small town, horses also served an emotional support role for me.

After high school graduation, my life went a completely different direction. Horses were no longer a central focus and although the passion was still there, it lay dormant for a period of time.

A New Direction in Life Lessons from Horses

About 5 years ago, I began to feel the need to include horses in my life once again. After some searching, I finally found an instructor willing to give me a few lessons in a completely different discipline than I had grown up doing. And I immediately fell in love once again! Since that time, I’ve ridden a few different lesson horses under her careful (and very patient!) guidance, even doing a partial lease on one.

But there’s just something about owning your own horse. Ownership means an opportunity to grow and bond with the animal on an entirely different level.

Although I had seriously contemplated ownership, there were several significant roadblocks (aka my husband) in my path so I eventually resigned myself to leasing.

Until about a month ago when my sister completely took me by surprise with an offer. She had recently acquired a new horse and was wondering whether I was interested in her other horse, Ike.

My sister had purchased Ike about 10 years ago and had gone through thick and thin with that horse. She had taken him from an unruly youngster to a sound and sane partner over those years. Countless hours of patient and persistent work were put into him.

But despite all those hours, Ike simply was never cut out for the type of riding my sister loves. He liked to move out and became bored easily, qualities which do not win in the western pleasure circuit.

But they are qualities sought after in the dressage arena and he was therefore right up my alley.

After about a week of begging and pleading, my husband begrudgingly agreed to the purchase. And I was in heaven! After 5 years of lessons and leasing other people’s horses, I was finally going to have one of my own.

Curious about dressage? Find out more here.

Ike

Although I had ridden Ike a few times over the years, it had been over 5 years since I had last done so. To make matters even more complicated, my sister lives in Kansas, a bit of a trek from my home in Wisconsin. Agreeing to the purchase without even trying him under saddle beforehand was a gamble.

But a chance at horse ownership meant fulfillment of my dressage dreams and even more life lessons from horses. It was a gamble I was definitely willing to take.

After some deliberation, my sister decided to make the trip from Kansas up to Minnesota where her in-laws live on a Thursday and then head to my trainer’s farm the following day.

On that Friday morning, I eagerly waited for her to drive up with my dream horse in tow. Finally, I heard the rumble of gravel and frantic whinnying signaling his arrival.

He was clearly not impressed with the number of hours spent in the trailer over the past 2 days.

Despite being slightly disgruntled, he calmly walked out of the trailer and across the yard to the round pen. After trotting a couple of laps in the pen, he realized there was grass to mow down and he settled right in.

Two days later, I saddled up for the first time and had an absolutely fabulous first ride. I was ecstatic thinking about our future together and the partnership being built.

Little did I know that our first ride would also be our last and in a little over 24 hours, I would be making the heartbreaking decision to say goodbye forever.

Life Lessons from Horses

Although our journey together was incredibly short, Ike’s loss has been a deeply painful experience. I wouldn’t have changed a thing but desperately wish we could have had more time together.

In moments like these, there’s a natural tendency to question why bad things happen. And in truth, we may never get the satisfaction of knowing exactly why things happen the way they do.

But we can make a choice to actively search for the silver lining. We can choose to focus on the good which is present in even the worst of circumstances.

Ike’s loss has driven me to search for the good and the valuable life lessons from horses I’ve gained over the years. He gave me retrospection and the opportunity to appreciate the impact horses have had on my life.

And for that, I am truly grateful.

1. Be Grateful for Life Lessons from Horses

Life comes with no guarantees and tomorrow is not a promise. The key to happiness is appreciating the here and now as the gift that it is.

Too many people in this world spend all their energy wishing for things to be different instead of acknowledging what they do have. I am certainly no exception.

There have been more than a few moments over the past week when I have desperately wished things had gone differently. But no amount of wishing will bring him back again.

And this type of mindset gets you nowhere except bitter and unhappy.

Although there will never be another Ike, there are other incredible horses out there waiting for their human partner. And those lesson horses that I spent the past 5 years riding? They’re still there too.

I have so much more to learn and am incredibly grateful for everything they have taught me thus far.

Choose to be grateful and watch your world brighten.

2. All Good Things Take Time

If you want to truly excel at something, you have to put in the work. There are no quick fixes in life. No shortcuts.

Especially when you are building a partnership. This is true regardless of whether it’s with a horse or with another human.

Building trust takes time and effort.

Things will almost never go according to plan and nothing worth pursuing in life comes easy.

Add in a little patience and you have the recipe for success in the dressage arena and in life.

3. Do What You Love

Want some good news? Opportunity is everywhere in life but it comes with a catch.

Opportunity is everywhere in life.

Confused?

Let me explain.

The world is full of distractions disguised as opportunity. There are choices to be made at every turn. Choices about your work and home life. And choices about how you spend your free time.

In other words, you have to be intentional about your time otherwise you will undoubtedly fill it with mindless distraction.

But if you are truly passionate about something, set your intention and follow it with all your heart.

Life is too short to live in a state of constant distraction instead of with focused intention.

4. Forgive Easily

Any partnership, whether with a fellow human or with a horse, is susceptible to misunderstandings from time to time. We will be let down because no horse or human is perfect.

But if our ultimate goal is a strong partnership, there can be no room for holding grudges. We have to learn to let the small things go for the sake of the bigger picture.

In thinking back to my early days of riding, I had a tendency to hold grudges against my horse for not responding correctly. I would then hold onto this negativity and it would darken the entire riding experience.

Once I learned to let go of perfection and forgive the mistakes, riding became much more satisfying. It took on a lighter and more positive experience when I finally realized that I was far from perfect and should forgive my horse’s honest mistakes.

Forgiveness is central to happiness because bad things are inevitable in life. Learning how to process tough emotions and move on releases us from a cycle of pain and bitterness.

5. Find a Mentor

It’s incredibly difficult to make progress in a vacuum. Finding a mentor is essential if you desire more from your riding, your personal development, or really any other area of your life.

An outside perspective provides unbeatable value when you long for lasting and meaningful improvement.

Prior to starting dressage lessons 5 years ago (and coming from a strictly western background), posting the trot was a foreign concept. Mastering even this very basic technique felt nearly impossible.

Today I am able to not only post the trot but have made huge strides in achieving throughness and collection across all 3 gaits. I have become a much more confident and able rider under the guidance of an experienced trainer.

There’s absolutely no way I would be where I am today if I hadn’t found a mentor.

6. Motivation Comes from Doing

There’s a common misperception out there about motivation. Many people think motivation is the very first step toward achieving greatness.

I disagree.

No matter how passionate you are about something, I guarantee there will be days when you won’t feel like putting in the work. There will be days when you don’t feel like saddling up, hitting the gym, or writing.

Motivation in and of itself only takes you so far and is typically highest at the beginning of your journey. But then a shift happens and you must rely on something else to drive you toward those goals.

At that point, motivation only comes after you’ve put in the daily work.

Doing the work then becomes the thing which motivates you.

Dig deep into your why and saddle up even when you can list 10 different excuses as to why you should skip today’s ride. It’s the small, daily actions which eventually add up to spectacular results.

Check out this post for tips on staying motivated.

7. Life Lessons from Horses Involve Never Giving Up

I’m not going to lie. In those moments after Ike’s death, I seriously contemplated getting out of horses altogether. Losing him so quickly after waiting 5 years to find an equine partner seemed like a sign.

A sign that maybe horses weren’t my path. That maybe I should give up, go home, and just forget about the whole thing.

Except it’s nearly impossible to give up something you’ve thought about every single day of your life.

My earliest memories include horses and even to this day, they are a constant presence in my best and brightest daydreams. Even away from the barn, I am always mentally processing my latest lesson and figuring out how I can do something better next time.

Walking away at this point means giving in to the sadness and letting negativity engulf me. It means completely eliminating something which has brought so much joy and fulfillment to my life. It’s not the legacy that Ike deserves to leave.

And although his life ended far too soon, he was truly loved and that’s really the best a horse can ever hope for.

The silver lining in all of this is that his death has given me the opportunity for reflection and has proven my gratitude for life lessons from horses.

Horses are my passion and I would feel completely lost without them in my life.

If you are going through a similar loss, I hope this article has inspired you to find your own life lessons from horses. I pray that you can take comfort in knowing that your horse was also deeply loved and that the memories will forever live on.

How to Overcome Perfectionism

How to Overcome Perfectionism

Perfectionism is sneaky. It often starts as a coping mechanism when we’re young and unable to recognize its lies. Although it disguises itself as a desire for excellence, perfectionism is actually an intense fear of failure.

This fear has the power to destroy confidence, self-esteem, and relationships. It keeps those in its grasp believing that our worthiness comes from achievement. That we could never be valued or loved based solely upon our status as a human being.

Perfectionism is a toxic force which often associates with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and even suicide.

If perfectionism is ruling your life, it’s time to set yourself free. Ditch the inner critic and choose peace. Start here.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means as a member of the Amazon Associates program we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

The Perfectionism Myth

Perfectionism has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s tough for me to recall a time when I didn’t obsess over every little detail of everything I do. Or procrastinate because I believe that I’ll never complete something to my own impossibly high standards.

It’s funny how quickly our own maladaptive coping strategies weave their way into our lives, blinding us to their truly negative impacts.

At least not until something challenges our inner world. Although I have recently had one of those “reality check” moments, I once regarded perfectionism as my super power. Deep down inside, I secretly believed that my success in life was directly related to my perfectionism.

I believed that my tendency to stubbornly cling to ridiculously high standards drove me to greater heights than I could otherwise achieve.

In fact, perfectionism eventually permeated my thinking to such a degree that living any other way was simply unimaginable. My constant need to control every aspect of my life was exhausting but felt safe. It wove its way into my very being, wreaking havoc on my motivation, confidence, and even my self-esteem.

And it all starts innocently enough, often with the simple desire to succeed. But instead of focusing on achieving success, the focus is on avoiding failure.

Over time, the focus continues to narrow in on avoiding failure. It consumes you and soon it’s nearly impossible to enjoy the journey because you’re too busy fixating on failure.

You tell yourself that you’ll be able to relax once you achieve the goal. Except the goal you’re going after is constantly moving. The bar is always being pushed higher.

And there is no celebration because perfection does not exist and you will therefore never achieve it. This is the myth of perfectionism.

You may also enjoy reading this post about overcoming self-doubt.

Signs of Perfectionism

Perfectionism can take many forms. It may show up in your life as rigid, all-or-nothing thinking. Soon this can morph into the desire for greater control. Then follows the nagging thought that if you only had more control, then you could achieve perfection.

Or maybe perfectionism manifests as having unreasonably high expectations of yourself or others. Thus the difficulties with achieving both inner peace and harmony with those around you. After all, it’s tough to have a sense of calm when nothing ever feels good enough.

It’s that voice in your head which points out every tiny mistake in an endless array of life scenarios. A misspelled word here or an awkward interaction there. Such mistakes may cause you to seriously question your worth as a person. How could anyone ever love you after such gigantic blunders?

Maybe you even find yourself feeling completely overwhelmed but unable to delegate anything to anyone else. After all, there’s no one who can do it like you do. No one else has the attention to detail or commitment to the project. It would only result in you needing to do everything all over again anyway.

Procrastination is perfectionism when you put off tasks due to fear of being unable to complete them to your high standards. You’ll never succeed anyway so what’s the point of starting?

And being unable to accept compliments from others is yet another sign perfectionism is ruling your life. Anyone who compliments you is clearly lying because there are a million things wrong with this project. Either that or they’re too oblivious to realize all the mistakes you made in its completion. And at the end of the day, neither scenario is flattering.

Perfectionism Holds You Back

Regardless of how perfectionism shows up in your life, it’s holding you back. It holds you back from your true potential, from authentic relationships with others, and ultimately, from happiness.

Perfectionism is a mask we use to hide our true selves from others. Something which starts as a coping mechanism evolves into a completely skewed view of the world.

Perfectionism has you believing that your worth is based upon your accomplishments. That you have to earn love and acceptance. And that showing your flaws to others will only push them further away from you.

Perfectionism keeps you from trying new things. It paralyzes you with fear of failure. And it keeps you stuck where you’re at.

The worst part about perfectionism is that it lulls you into a false sense of security. It feeds you the lie that you’re in control and as long as you’re calling the shots, nothing bad will ever happen.

But the truth is that as long as perfectionism is running the show, you’ll never be the person you were meant to be.

The person who simply tries their best and is ok with the rest.

Or the person who can actually kick back and relax without fearing the world is coming to an end.

And you’ll never find the inner peace of someone who accepts themselves for who they are, flaws and all.

As someone who has lived the lie of perfectionism for the past 20 years, my greatest wish for you is to find peace.

The Path to Recovery

If any of the above rings a little too true with you, congratulations! You have achieved the crucial first step of awareness. It has taken me years of discovery, self-development, and counseling to unpack the negative impact perfectionism has had on my outlook.

But I couldn’t have done it without opening up to someone. I had to let someone in so I could finally see that all my self-imposed rules were ridiculous. My goals were unattainable. And all the negativity was only feeding into my anxiety and depression.

Perfectionism tends to keep you locked in your head avoiding action. But opening up to someone you trust releases those thoughts and gives you outside perspective.

Although friends and family are great for support, I recommend finding a professional, at least in the beginning of your journey. A neutral third party, such as a counselor, is essential for giving you completely unbiased feedback.

Loved ones mean well but they often have their own opinions about your life. This can actually be counterproductive when trying to break free from people pleasing perfectionist tendencies. Their feedback has the potential to trigger the perfectionism in such subtle ways that in many cases, you will be completely unaware of it.

A trained professional can help you identify these behavioral patterns. They can also help you develop ways to overcome them.

Although I have been known to joke about my perfectionist tendencies, it is a serious issue which requires attention. Just the other day I read an article about a beautiful woman and mom of 3 little ones who struggled with perfectionism and unfortunately, took her own life. Her family was very clear that perfectionism was a contributor to her suicide.

Get the help that you need now to overcome the negativity. You matter!

Stop Comparing

Comparison is a slippery slope to perpetual unhappiness. There will always be someone out there who is prettier than you. Smarter than you. Wealthier than you. And someone who has a better Instagram feed than you.

Their house is bigger, cleaner, and more tastefully decorated. Maybe their kids are better-behaved and their husband does all the cooking. They’re always driving late model SUVs. And they were recently promoted at work.

There will always be someone out there who appears to be further ahead than you are. It’s a fact of life.

The reality is that we all struggle in one way or another. Perfectionism wants you to believe that you are the only one struggling.

It has you believing that you need to look and act a certain way to gain the approval of others. That you will never receive love or acceptance if anyone sees the messy parts of you.

Perfectionism is a liar.

We all have messy parts in our lives. Everyone struggles, fails, and starts all over again at some point in their lives. Not one of us has gone through life without failing at some point.

There is no such thing as perfection. It doesn’t exist.

So stop the comparison trap. Turn off social media. Take time to do those things which make you feel good about yourself and who you are.

Meditate. Exercise. Journal.

Do whatever it is that makes you feel like the person you were created to be.

You may also enjoy reading this post about comparison.

A Word About Self-Talk

Self-talk is the language we use with ourselves. It includes both the easier to identify conscious and the more subtle subconscious.

What does your self-talk sound like? Is it encouraging and uplifting? Or does it sound more like the mean girls from middle school?

If you’re struggling with perfectionism, chances are good that your self-talk is the latter. It’s time to put those mean girls in their place. Middle school is over. You’re an adult and as a human being, you deserve better than that.

Start paying attention to the words you use with yourself. If you’re having difficulty identifying whether or not your self-talk is positive, write down your thoughts and read them out loud.

I had no idea how truly hurtful my self-talk was until I started asking myself whether I would say the thought out loud to a friend. It’s shocking how clear the nature of your self-talk becomes when you use this filter.

And I became immediately aware of just how critical I had become of myself.

Self-talk is powerful. It can either build you up or tear you down. It’s the most frequent voice you hear so you owe it to yourself to make it a positive one.

Mute the inner critic. I promise that you will miss her even less than your 8th grade bully!

Shift Your Mindset

Once you begin working on your self-talk, it’s time to tackle your mindset. Perfectionism has you believing things are black and white. Gray doesn’t exist. There is only success or failure.

Perfectionism is a liar.

There is a gray and it’s the place where the most growth happens.

Failure can never exist if you instead re-frame it as learning.

Whenever something doesn’t work out as planned, you have a choice. You can either allow yourself to be defeated or you can pick yourself up and try again. Learn from the experience and apply those lessons toward a different future outcome.

Perfectionism has you believing that you are powerless. A victim to circumstance.

But do you want to live your life that way? Wouldn’t you rather be the heroine of your own story? The person who never gives up and never surrenders?

I do.

Shift your mindset. Embrace failure as an opportunity for growth. Remember that failure can never exist if you learn and grow from it.

Ditch the black and white thinking and start living in the gray.

You may also enjoy reading this post about achieving a positive mindset.

Live, Laugh, Love

Perfectionism is an evil cloud blocking out the sun in your life. It’s time to get serious about confronting its subtle lies.

You deserve happiness. Life is messy and unpredictable. But you are more powerful than you realize. You are the heroine of your story and can overcome anything, even perfectionism.

Stop hiding behind the lies and start living. Don’t let its lies steal even one more moment of happiness from you.

Get the help you deserve.

Here are a few extra resources to help on your journey to free yourself from perfectionism.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts on how perfectionism holds you back and what you’re doing to overcome it below!

4 Steps to Ditching the Comparison Mindset

4 Steps to Ditching the Comparison Mindset

“A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.” -Zen Shin

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It was Friday night. My hubby and I were doing our typical but very sophisticated Friday night thing. I was attired in the very latest of fall fashions with hair and make-up perfectly done while my husband was similarly decked out. Minus the hair and make-up, of course. We were headed to one of our favorite top-notch hang-outs downtown for wine and live music but had just enough time to stop and snap a pic commemorating yet another highly successful date night.

Just kidding. We were actually lounging on the couch, he attired in athletic shorts and I in my favorite pajamas which unfortunately happen to have a gigantic hole in the crotch. Some type of sports ball was playing in the background and he turned to show me a Facebook pic. A married couple we know was doing exactly what I described in the first paragraph and the thoughts started rolling through my mind.

“They always look so happy. I bet they never bicker about household chores or the kids. And they are always dressed like they walked out of a fashion magazine shoot. We’ll never be as happy or as successful as they are.”

Social media is a double-edged sword. One side facilitates communication with friends and family. But the other side displays everyone else’s highlights and greatest accomplishments for all to see. And I am as excited as the next person to see professional family photos, job promotions, and brand new baby photos but sometimes my mind goes to a dark place of comparison.

Suddenly everything that I’m doing (or not doing) somehow seems inferior and everybody else is having all the fun. Everyone else is prettier or more successful or has their lives way more put together than I do. Surely no one else forgets school picture day. No one else can possibly forget parent teacher conferences or to send a snack for the kindergarten class. Those pictures of one isolated moment don’t only reflect perfection in that moment but also in all areas of life.

Inevitably this line of thinking then brings me to comparison and ultimately, scarcity. As if there are only limited amounts of beauty, organization, or love in the world and I am definitely missing out because my Facebook feed doesn’t highlight lovely photoshopped versions of myself and my family doing artsy, sophisticated hobbies. There cannot possibly be enough love or beauty to go around for everyone and especially not for someone who has no idea how to capture a decent selfie.

Have you ever caught yourself in this same trap of negativity? It starts innocently enough with five minutes of scrolling here and then ten there. Suddenly, you realize an hour has gone by and you’re feeling anxious and depressed with no idea why.

In my own life, I’ve reached the conclusion that comparison sucks the joy right out of living. Not only that but thoughts that resources such as success or admiration or even hard work are limited and only bestowed upon a very select few people are closely tied with thoughts of comparison. The entire package is a devastating blow to positive progress in your life if you’re not aware of the insidious nature of these thoughts or how they’re tied together.

Comparison leads directly into scarcity because the very nature of competition implies multiple people going after the same thing. Only one person goes home with the trophy. We are all driven by competition to various degrees and therefore it is a natural progression of our minds to see other people’s success and almost subconsciously reach the conclusion that we will never attain that level of success because that person already went home with that trophy. There isn’t room on the Olympic podium of life for more than one person to have success in a particular aspect of life.

But the truth lies in the fact that there is no finite amount of success, love, beauty, or talent in the world. These qualities are out there in such abundant amounts that they can never be used up. Furthermore, one person’s beauty in no way diminishes your own beauty. We have all been given a specific set of interests, talents, and abilities to share with the world. The only fair and valid competition is that which exists between the person we are right now and the person we either used to be or the person we are evolving into.

Just as there are infinite amounts of the incredible qualities which make life worth living, so too is the truth that you are on a completely different journey than anyone else. No one on this earth has had the exact same life experiences, setbacks, influences, or education that you have. No one else in the world is faced with the same questions and decisions about which path to choose. You are unique and beautiful and deserve to free yourself from the self-defeating mindsets of comparison and scarcity.

Challenge yourself to grow in the areas which are important to you and minimize comparison and scarcity by taking action on the 4 steps listed below:

  • Spend time reflecting upon where you have been, where you are now, and where you want to go
  • Set goals which are measureable and have clear action steps
  • Periodically check your progress toward those goals
  • Celebrate your successes and learn from your mistakes

Having a clear sense of your own goals, priorities, and successes makes celebrating the accomplishments of others easier because you have outlined a road map for your own life. You know where you’re going and how far you’ve come. You embrace celebrating your own achievements as well as the knowledge which comes from missteps. It’s incredibly easy to be sucked down the rabbit hole of comparison and suddenly lose focus of all your own progress but you have something to share with the world and although it may be vastly different than what others are doing, it has value. Don’t let your progress be stalled by competition and scarcity.

Only by celebrating your achievements and maintaining a mindset of abundance can you truly ward off the trail of negativity which can be precipitated by mindless scrolling. Start being mindful of how you feel when spending time on social media and take steps to alter these behaviors if you find it puts you in a negative space. As the saying goes, “Ain’t no one got time for that.”

If you find yourself struggling with the flip side of comparison, which is fear of what others think of you, check out my previous post about freeing yourself from the opinions of others. It can be a tough mindset to change but absolutely crucial for a happier and more joyful life. And if this post hit home for you and you’re ready to take an even deeper dive into mindset, click the image below for more information on one of my favorite inspirational books by down to earth, tell it how it is Rachel Hollis.

Never forget that you have value in simply who you are as a person regardless of your profession, accomplishments, or talents. You are amazing!

I’d love to hear about the impact this post had on your mindset! Leave a comment below with new revelations or ways you plan to implement this into your daily life.