How Successful People Stay Focused

Improving your focus begins with breaking damaging patterns of thought and behavior. By redirecting your attention and following these simple steps, you can become a more productive and thoughtful leader.

The most successful business people in the world tend to have one attribute in common: an incredible degree of focus, which is strongly connected with one’s emotional intelligence. In fact, 90% of the world’s top performers demonstrate high levels of emotional intelligence, which is largely driven by self-control, as reported by TalentSmart.

While it may be no surprise that self-control is a key predictor of productivity, it’s an incredibly difficult skill to master. I think it’s safe to say that at some point, we’ve all given in to our impulses and desires — luckily, this provides us with a fantastic opportunity to practice and improve.

Damaging Thoughts

Part of what makes self-control so difficult is our tendency to focus on our failures, and anytime we act on an impulse, we have failed to exercise restraint. It’s natural, then, to get angry and disgusted with ourselves, but in the end, this thought pattern isn’t actually productive. Successful business leaders are great at forgiving themselves, at acknowledging a mistake or lapse in judgment (read: failure) and moving on.

A marker of emotional intelligence is knowing that success means overcoming a failure, even in the face of great risk. Most things worth having don’t come easily, so embrace the challenge and forgive yourself. I promise the rewards will be significant in the end.

In the same vein, try not to fixate on negative thoughts or hypothetical “what ifs?”. The highest performers choose to focus their attention on solutions rather than problems, all the while remaining calm and collected. That’s not to say that you can’t strategically plan for the future, but know the difference between being prepared and merely worrying. Focus on the rewards that your hard work and planning will ultimately reap. It’s easy to give in to negativity, but there is always a positive aspect on which to focus your energies. This in itself becomes an exercise in self-control.

Taking Action

There are several simple steps we all can take to bolster our discipline and develop our emotional intelligence. Taking care of your body lays the foundation for success, and the best business leaders eat a healthful diet, get a good night’s sleep, and exercise on a regular basis, according to Fortune. Even short walks can be enough to get your blood flowing and the neurotransmitters pumping.

Practicing meditation and brief mindfulness exercises (i.e., focusing on your breathing) improves self-awareness and restraint, while giving you the tools to take the inevitable ups and downs of everyday life in stride. Use these tools to identify areas of weakness: whether it’s thinking poorly of yourself (“I’m the worst,” “I never,” etc. — we all have them!), reaching for one last piece of candy (again), jumping on Facebook, or saying “yes” when you don’t want to. Self-control is not about perfection — it’s about improving, so remain vigilant in your mindfulness practice.

Seek Inspiration

Even the highest performing, most successful people in business experience failures and lapses in self-control. What sets them apart is their ability to bounce back, to stay focused on the big picture, and to find motivation even in the most unlikely places. For companies, bringing in top business speakers may be the perfect solution for refocusing and motivating employees to reach the next level. For individuals, it may mean writing inspirational quotes on the bathroom mirror. For others, it may mean talking to mom or dad. No matter what your preferred method is, stay positive and stay compassionate.

Ken Sterling is the Chief Marketing Officer at BigSpeak Speakers’ bureau – the leading keynote and business speakers bureau in the world. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California and an MBA from Babson College. Ken teaches Entrepreneurship, Marketing and Strategy at UC Santa Barbara. He is a serial entrepreneur, keynote speaker, business consultant and sales & marketing expert. For press interviews, contact

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