Identifying and anticipating what will sidetrack you from your progress is a powerful practice. It’s a practice of awareness that few people develop. Once you do, it can feel like a superpower.

How to Identify What to Avoid

In the beginning, what you need to avoid may not be so obvious. As you develop better routines, focus, and efficiency, you develop an increased awareness of what stops you from making progress and attaining your goals.

Start with the obvious things, mainly… “time-wasters.” Television, getting sucked into gossip, social media. Anything that sucks up a chunk of what would otherwise be productive time.

Also, think about things and situations that have a negative impact on your mental state. Does eating poorly negatively impact your energy? Does hanging out with someone that constantly complains drain you? Are your own negative thoughts something to be avoided?

What I Avoid

I avoid things that trigger what I need to avoid. I have stopped leaving my email open throughout the day. I do so because I know that by responding to the “ding” of a new email causes me to lose focus and may even lead to me browsing the web as I click through an interesting article or coupon offer. That momentary “ding” can result in my losing twenty minutes or more of focused priority time.

Avoiding television has also had a compound effect on me. I don’t waste that time in front of the TV and instead spend it working, reading, or spending time with my family. Not sitting on the couch also helps me avoid mindless snacking. And finally, I’m not training my brain to “check out” and instead engaging in things that improve my current situation.

One of the specific things I avoid is the news. I am aware of the broad strokes but never get into watching morning or evening news, listening to it on the radio, or read in-depth articles. Some people may look at this as irresponsible but, in the end, what does it matter? If I waste time consuming news that is mainly sensationalistic and negative instead of taking care of what is in my close sphere of influence… I see that as irresponsible. I need to protect my time and my mindset, the news doesn’t help me do either.

Finally, I avoid negative thoughts, negative people, and complaining. I run from all of it. It’s draining and has zero value. I’m not saying I don’t have negative thoughts. Some even have value. However, thoughts like feeling sorry for myself, of worry or failure, or blame… they have no place in my growth. When a person complains without a solution, there is no value. That mentality is toxic and infectious. Stay away.

Create an Alarm

No matter what you choose to avoid, once you write it down, create a small mental alarm to help identify when you go off track. It helps to think to yourself, “when I do this, I will stop and do this.” This begins to create a thought track for you. Once you find yourself ten minutes into a social media feed, for instance, you can say, “nope. I said I wouldn’t do this. I am going to do this.” It’s a simple process but it works because you already have the next step. There is no time to stop and wonder what to do next.

The Importance of Avoidance

By avoiding the things that will hurt your focus, you conserve your energy, lessen potential anxiety, and reduce the buildup of things that need to get done. Many times, we explain away time-wasting activity as “taking a mental break” when, in fact, it places increased stress on us. Rather than avoid our responsibilities and the activity that will take us toward our ideal selves, avoid the actions and situations that distract you from becoming your best self.