I’m sure you’ve read that clarity and focus are important qualities for success. Decide what you want, and then pursue it with passion and energy.
But what if you’re feeling uncertain and don’t have a lot of clarity about your future direction? What if you can’t decide what you’d like to do next? This is a common problem, especially for today’s 20-somethings who are growing up in a world of unprecedented change.
Fortunately there are many actions you can take and mental adjustments you can make that will help you shift from uncertainty to certainty.
Here are 11 tips for infusing your life with more clarity:
1. Assume 100% responsibility for your own level of clarity.
Many people assume that clarity is something that will arrive in good time if they simply wait patiently. Others feel stunted that they aren’t gifted with the same degree of clarity as others. The common pattern is that clarity is seen as something that is bestowed from the outside in, that it’s something God, the universe, or the world at large has the power to grant you — or that it’s an accident in some way. Some people get lucky; others don’t.
These attitudes are pointless and self-defeating.
Clarity isn’t something that arrives from outside of you. Clarity isn’t a matter of luck either. Clarity is what you create for yourself.
Clarity is a decision.
Whatever degree of clarity you’re experiencing right now is what you’ve decided to create. Not deciding still counts as a decision; in that case it’s the decision to remain uncertain.
The word decide comes from the Latin decidere, which means “to cut off from.” To make a decision, you must cut away other potential directions. If you remain open to lots of different directions at the same time, you get confusion and fuzziness. When you commit yourself to one specific direction, clarity is the natural result.
It’s wise to remain open and responsive to what comes your way. Don’t be so rigid as to ignore what’s coming to you. But neither be so “open” that you succumb to wishy-washy indecision. Be like a ship captain who sets sail with a specific destination in mind, while keeping a keen eye on the wind and waters during the journey.
Now it’s entirely possible that you may not be very good at creating clarity yet. You may in fact be very good at creating confusion and uncertainty for yourself — and have a long track record to prove it. That’s okay for now, but take it as a given that you’re the one who’s creating your current level of clarity. No one else is doing it to you — not God or the universe or your friends and family or your boss or your spirit guides or the Law of Attraction.
Furthermore, realize and accept that if your current degree of clarity is to improve, then you must actively make some changes. Endlessly pondering why you don’t have clarity will only perpetuate confusion, so that’s a bad habit you can drop immediately.
If you want more clarity, then it’s time to treat the generation of clarity as a serious undertaking that’s entirely 100% your responsibility. It’s not going to happen unless you make it happen.
2. Stop creating the opposite of clarity.
Some thoughts and actions lead to increased clarity. Other thoughts and actions have the opposite effect.
If you want to experience more clarity, you must disengage yourself from that which has an adverse effect on your clarity.
Clarity-reducing patterns include:
- Hanging out with fuzzy, unfocused people who are drifting aimlessly with no direction
- Living with people whose goals and values are in conflict with yours
- Distracting yourself with excessive TV, web surfing, video games, or other time-wasting habits
- Numbing your mind and emotions with junk food, alcohol, or other addictions
- Overstimulating yourself with caffeine (which for many people leads to racing thoughts)
- Whining about your lack of certainty or complaining that you don’t know what to do
Clarity-boosting patterns include doing the opposite of the above:
- Hanging out with clear, focused people who can tell you their purpose and direction
- Living with people whose goals and values align well with yours
- Feeding your mind with inspirational and motivational material like quality books and audio programs
- Eating healthy, unrefined foods (especially fruits and veggies, fresh juices, and smoothies) that keep your mind sharp and alert
- Avoiding stimulants that cause swings in your thoughts and emotions
- Thinking about your goals and the next actions you can take today
If you find yourself surrounded by people and circumstances that leave you feeling dizzy and confused, drop those elements from your life, and give yourself the space to create and enjoy the clarity you seek. Spinning in circles is unproductive.
3. Harvest and apply the clarity lessons from your past.
Notice that your level of clarity isn’t the same at all times. At some points in your life, you’ve been very clear. At other times you’ve been extremely uncertain.
Take a moment to review those times when you’ve been at one extreme vs. the other. See if you can identify some of the causal factors on both sides.
Notice which factors lead to reduced clarity, and do less of them. Also notice which factors lead to increased clarity, and do more of them. This sounds childishly simple, and it is, but chances are that you aren’t applying this idea as well as you could. Humor me, and give it a try. You’ll be amazed as the a-ha moments that can be gotten from a quick review of your past patterns of clarity vs. fuzziness.
For example, do you feel clearer and more certain after taking the time to write down your goals? Do you feel fuzzier after having a conversation with someone who’s always nagging you to change in ways you disagree with? If so, then do the former more often, and do the latter less often.
4. Use visualization to create the vibe of clarity.
Either you feel clear and focused right now, or you don’t.
You may assume that your external reality has to be a certain way in order for you to feel clear and focused. Having all your ducks in a row may make it easier to feel clear, but you can also use your imagination to create the feeling of clarity.
Clarity is more than just a feeling. There’s an emotional state associated with it, but it’s more than that. Clarity is a certain vibe. When you’re really clear, you can sense that vibe through every cell of your being. Your mind and emotions are centered. Every part of you is on the same page. There’s no doubt or uncertainty. This is a powerful state of being to experience.
Sit quietly for a few moments and imagine what it’s like to hold the vibe of total clarity. Imagine what your surroundings would look like if you were really clear about your direction in life right now. Imagine the people and circumstances that would be in your reality. Imagine how you’d dress, how you’d move, and how you’d communicate with others. Paint a vivid picture of a reality — any reality — in which you feel crystal clear about your direction in life.
What matters isn’t the specific visualization you create. What matters is the vibe you experience. You can imagine yourself as an ancient Roman conqueror as long as it helps you hold the vibe of clarity. Do this for at least 10-20 minutes per day until the clarity vibe feels normal and natural to you. The more you practice holding this vibe, the more clarity you’ll bring to the rest of your life and to all the decisions you make.
For more on this visualization process, read the article How to Visualize Your New Reality.
5. Ask for help.
Help is available when you need it, so take advantage of it. Ask someone who’s clear about their path to assist you.
The quality of help you receive will vary depending on the source. An experienced counselor may be able to help you gain clarity quickly, while an enthusiastic but inexperienced friend may create more confusion than certainty. Also, consulting with an unbiased outsider is usually more beneficial than asking for help from someone who’s personally invested in your situation.
Bear in mind that you’re still 100% responsible for your level of clarity. Use counselors, coaches, and advice givers as a resource to help you see the big picture, but don’t give your power away to them. If you try to give your power away to such people, hoping they’ll tell you what to do, it will backfire. A good counselor can help draw out and validate a path that’s right for you, but s/he cannot create a path for you. Creating the path is your responsibility.
6. Put your goals in writing, and review them daily.
This is a well-known habit of success, yet its practice remains inconsistent for most people.
As soon as you write down your goals, you’ll experience a boost in clarity. And each time you review your goals, you’ll gain more clarity.
Writing down your goals pushes you to make them clearer and more precise. It’s easy for a goal to remain fuzzy when it’s only in your mind, but if it’s stuck in your head and you can’t even write it down, it’s more of a fantasy than a goal. Putting your goal in writing is the first key action step toward making it real.
How many times have you imagined a sexual fantasy for instance? And how many of those did you commit to writing as an actual goal or intention? Which ones are more likely to manifest? Whatever you’d like to keep as fantasy, leave it in your imagination. But whatever you’d like to experience in physical reality, put it down in writing.
Keep drilling your goals into your subconscious mind by reviewing them daily. Imagine your written goals as physically real — not fantasy — and soon your internal resources will be aligned with making those goals come to fruition. It takes a while to condition the subconscious through repetition, but if you persist with this habit, you’ll begin to notice subtle shifts that bring your goals ever closer.
Jack Canfield recommends the practice of writing your goals on index cards, one goal per card. Then flip through the cards and imagine each goal as real when you first wake up in the morning and again before you go to bed. This is an excellent habit to install.
7. Accept that any goal is better than no goal.
When asked to take a few minutes to write down some goals, certain people love to whine, “But I don’t know what to write down. I don’t know what my goals are.” In that case you can write down, “I want nothing!” If all you have is a blank page — or no page at all — then your goal is nothing. That’s what you’re asking for, so that’s what you’ll receive.
The people who whine that they don’t know what to ask for are really saying, “I want nothing. I can’t think of any single thing I want. So I’m asking for precisely nothing.”
Sounds pretty foolish, doesn’t it? It is foolish!
Surely you can come up with something to ask for that’s better than nothing. Ask for a nice dinner. Ask for an extra $100. Ask for a new friend. Ask for a nicer phone. Anything is better than nothing.
Imagine asking a child, “What do you want for Christmas?” and hearing the response, “I’m content with what I have. Please don’t trouble yourself on my behalf.” Now that would be a rare child indeed. Some might say that such a child is enlightened. I’d say that such a child was drugged. Even a dog is capable of expressing what s/he wants, including a neutered dog.
Don’t pressure yourself into trying to come up with the perfect list of goals. You’ll never get there. Just write down some items that appeal to you, such as new experiences you’d like to have. Start with the goals that are easy for you to desire. Is there someplace you’d like to visit? Some activity you’d like to try? Someone you’d like to meet?
As you get into the habit of setting and achieving goals, better goals will come to you. Don’t worry so much about changing the world if you’re still new to goal setting. Focus on some appealing but smaller achievements first, and as you get good at achieving those goals, continue to expand your goals in new directions.
8. Crystalize your goals.
At first you may write down a goal like, “I have a job I enjoy.” That’s an okay place to start, but it’s not a very powerful goal because it’s so fuzzy. Your mind will have a hard time locking onto it and taking action.
As you review your goals, try to lock them down and make them more specific.
For example, instead of asking for a job you enjoy, you could say, “I make a living creating movies.” That’s a positive step towards greater specificity.
Then as you think about that goal, you may progress to, “I enthusiastically earn $100,000 per year writing, producing, directing, and distributing independent short films that uplift, motivate, and inspire people to find their passion.” That goal is much clearer still.
Clear written goals help you stay focused. Fuzzy goals leave you feeling uncertain.
There’s no need to add superfluous details that are irrelevant to you, but if you can be more specific about what you truly want, it will help you achieve your goals faster, partly because clearer goals are less prone to procrastination. It’s too easy to procrastinate on a goal when you can’t figure out what the next step may be.
9. Pay attention to the path, not just the end result.
Sometimes the way you achieve a particular goal is more important than the goal itself.
When I started college my second time, ostensibly my goal was to earn my degree in computer science. That was an important goal for me, but it wasn’t very motivating by itself. The first time I pursued that goal, I failed miserably and got expelled from school. The thought of spending 4 more years in school to get a degree was demotivating, so I triple-majored in poker, alcohol, and shoplifting instead.
A year later when I started over as a freshman, I altered my goal to be, “I graduate with a computer science degree in only 3 semesters.” Now that goal inspired me! Challenging myself in that way was even more inspiring than the degree itself. I could have majored in psychology instead of computer science, and the goal still would have excited me.
Would your goal be more inspiring to you if you found a way to achieve it faster? With a partner or a small team? While traveling? Without spending a dime?
When a goal is too straightforward, it can become demotivating because the action steps may get tedious and repetitive after a while. But if you can spice up the process used to achieve the goal, you may discover some newfound excitement.
Sometimes it’s fun to take the scenic route.
10. Stick with one primary goal at a time.
If you have a lot of goals, it’s easy to fall into the trap of jumping around between different goals and making little progress on any of them. If you want to actually achieve a goal, focus on one key goal single-mindedly until it’s achieved. Then move on to another goal. This is what top achievers do. Having too many competing goals will simply scatter your energies.
It’s great to have a big list of goals, but which of those goals is most important to you right now? Which one do you want to achieve first? Make that goal your primary aim, and focus on its achievement. When you can work on that goal, do so. Work on other goals while you’re waiting for responses from others or if you simply need a break from the first goal.
What if you have a really huge goal that will take many years to achieve? Same rule applies. If that goal is truly important to you, then center your life around it. Otherwise you’re unlikely to sustain the kind of momentum needed to make it a reality. If that’s too much for you though, you can scale back your goal to something more manageable. Set a subgoal to achieve, but realize that if you do other things between those subgoals, you’re delaying the end result of your primary goal. That’s perfectly fine if you’re still making good progress and enjoying the process. The final result isn’t the only thing that matters.
When you look back on the previous year, do you see a track record of massive progress toward your primary goal? If you aren’t satisfied with your current rate of progress, then you’ll need to make some changes to avoid repeating the same pattern next year. There’s no honor in having a big goal on your list if you aren’t making serious progress towards its achievement. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that setting a big goal is the same thing as achieving a big goal.
11. Explore and experiment.
Sometimes it’s tough to set a clear goal because you don’t know what you’re getting into. In that case you can experiment in order to gain clarity about the goal space you’re exploring.
When I worked in the computer gaming industry, one of the major chicken-egg problems was that you didn’t really know what game you were trying to build until you were already well on your way to building it. Very rarely could you write out a complete design on paper and then implement it. That simply never happened for larger projects. Too many important design decisions had to be made along the way; otherwise golden opportunities would be missed, and the final product would fall far short of its potential.
Much of the time, a small team would develop a prototype that would demonstrate some interesting gameplay dynamics, and then they’d play around with it to see how they might develop it into a commercial product. Funding would typically occur in stages, with one or more rounds of funding to create the experimental prototype and demonstrate key features, followed by additional funding to staff up with a larger team and create the final product. The final goal, i.e. defining exactly what kind of game was being created, often didn’t become clear until the project was well underway. This process made sense for the designers, but it often drove the publishers and marketers nuts, so typically the production team would document more certainty about the specs and the schedule than was realistic, so as to make their financial backers more comfortable. Nevertheless, this design-as-you-go process led to the creation of some very innovative games (which inevitably went over budget and were released a year or more behind schedule).
Doing what you’re already doing won’t give you more clarity. Thinking about what to do next and writing down some goals can certainly help, but that isn’t always enough. Sometimes you have to get moving first before clarity can be achieved. You’ll enjoy more clarity when you’re in motion than when you’re standing still. A pilot has better visibility from the air than from the ground.
At the end of 2008, I blogged that intimate relationships would be my primary personal development focus for 2009. I shared my uncertainties about my marriage and my future relationship possibilities. I didn’t have a clear goal at the time, so I picked a new direction to explore that I felt would help me gain clarity. That direction was a bit controversial for some people, especially the religious folks, so I took flak after blogging about it, but I stuck with the decision. In retrospect it was definitely the right course for me, and 2009 became a year of extreme growth and change in my personal life. I’m immensely grateful that I didn’t settle for maintaining the status quo.
This has been a challenging exploration, sometimes an emotional roller coaster. But I don’t see how I could have learned what I needed to learn any other way. One thing I discovered is that I really enjoy new connections that are fresh and exciting, yet at the same time, I also enjoy the stability of grounding connections like spending time with my kids (who are sleeping over at my house tonight). My next challenge is to find the right balance between these two aspects of my relationship life instead of swinging the pendulum too far one way or the other. New goals are now emerging, goals I could not have verbalized a year ago.
When you’re stuck in a state of ambivalence, do whatever it takes to break the impasse. Do something radically different than what you’ve been doing. For example, if you know your current job is unfulfilling, but you don’t know what kind of work you’d enjoy, then quit the unfulfilling job immediately, and do something completely different for a while. Don’t expect to get it perfect on the first try. Go out and rack up a string of failed experiments, and you’ll be much closer to figuring out what you truly love.
Some people will judge you harshly for undertaking such an exploration, but their reactions have little to do with you. They may be upset because you’re reminding them that they haven’t been learning and growing as much as they could be. Or they may be upset because you’re interfering with their sense of certainty; they thought they had you all figured out, and then you throw them for a loop. Or they may just be having a bad day. Regardless of the reason, don’t let fears about other people’s reactions hold you back from conducting your own growth experiments. If I can handle all the sardonic silliness that other bloggers feel inclined to publish about me, then surely you can handle your friends and family thinking you’ve gone off the deep end for a while. Just remember that every person who takes issue with what you’re doing is really saying, “I care about you enough to invest my time in you.”
Don’t wait for clarity to come to you. You’re responsible for creating your own clarity from within. If you lack clarity, then get busy creating it. If you can achieve clarity by doing written exercises from the comfort of your home, great. If not, then leave your comfort zone behind, go outside, and explore what’s out there!