To Focus, use the Power of “No”

To focus on my goals can often be challenging.  A few years ago I was confronted by a quote that helped me become unstuck in this area.

“If you can’t say “no,” your “yes” doesn’t mean anything” – Charles Feltman

It stopped me in my tracts because of having always viewed myself as a “Yes” type of person. Yes, everything is possible. Yes, you can do it. Yes, your goal is great. This “yes” approach was for me the embodiment of positiveness. Choosing to be positive and expecting a positive outcome was my definition of being an optimist.

Since the confrontation with the quote, I now take a different view. Saying yes to everything also has a dark side. It shatters your focus. It distracts and can become an addiction. As always, there is the need to harmonize the “yesses” (the expectation of positive outcomes ) with “no’s” (the gatekeepers of focus).

Why, other than to have integrity, would we want to say “no” in business and life? Because “no “is the key to focus and focus is one of the crucial the keys to success.

The singular focus on a critical value or outcome is what distinguished a lot of great business from those that were merely good. Jim Collins refers to it as the “Hedgehog” concept.

So what is it to focus?

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Defining Focus

The best definition, I could find is the following story:

It’s the days of the epic Mahabharata in ancient India. All the kings send their sons to the ashram of Guru Drona for their education. Guru Drona teaches them everything from the Vedas to philosophy to the art of war.

One day, Guru Drona decides to see how attentive his students are. He wants to know how far they’ve come with their skills in archery. So he places a wooden bird on a high branch of a tree. And asks his students one by one to take aim to shoot the left eye of the bird. Guru Drona then asks each one what they see before they shoot.

One by one, the students come and claim that they can see everything clearly. The forest. The trees. The branches. The bird. They then shoot their arrows. Some come close to the mark. Others miss by wide margins. One or two even hit the bird. But no one is extremely accurate.

At last, comes Arjuna. He takes aim, and then Guru Drona asks him: what do you see? But unlike everyone else’s answer, Arjuna doesn’t say that he can see everything clearly. In fact, he says: I only see the left eye of the bird.

When he shoots his arrow, it goes straight through the center of the left eye of the wooden bird. 

The power of saying “no” is in our dedication to our desired outcome. It is the conscious choice to deprive ourselves for now from specific rewards to gain the more significant reward later. It is not easy. I know.

Simplicity, among other things, is a conscious choice between inclusion and exclusion. Often the magic is in what you leave out. But this means that you need to be comfortable with saying no, to yourself and to others. This is not easy to do. – Steve Jobs

If you need a conversation to help you gain your focus, send me a message.

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