What do you mean by focus in lifestyle design?

It’s important to have active intent in lifestyle design. Active intent refers to placing your focus on the goals you want to achieve and not deviating from those aims.

A story that best demonstrates the necessity of focus is one featuring Arjuna, the central hero of the Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata. A fantastic rendition of this story is recounted by prolific investor Mohnish Pabrai in his book ‘The Dhando Investor’:

Young princes like Arjuna were sent off to be educated and groomed by a learned guru deep in the woods. They went as young kids and returned as well-rounded capable leaders. The typical guru was a seasoned philosopher, a learned scholar, and an accomplished warrior—all rolled into one. Arjuna’s guru was simply the best of the best—the legendary Dronacharya (pronounced drone-ah-char-yuh).

Dronacharya was an accomplished warrior himself, and he had trained his royal students well in the art of archery. One day he decided to test their archery skills. Setting up a painted wooden fish on top of a tall pole, he then installed the pole at the center of a shallow pool of water. He told his students that he wanted them to look down at the reflection of the fish in the water and shoot the eye of the fish on the pole.

The first student rose and positioned himself. Dronacharya asked him what he saw. He said that he saw the ground, the water, the pole, and the fish. Dronacharya told him he was not ready and asked him to sit down. He then asked the next student to come forward. Once he was positioned, Dronacharya asked him what he saw. The student responded that he saw the water, the pole, and the reflection of the fish. Dronacharya told him he was not ready and asked him to sit down. He asked the princes to come forward one by one, asking them what they saw and then asking them to sit down. Finally, he asked Arjuna to come forward. Arjuna got positioned. Dronacharya asked him what he saw. Arjuna responded that he could only see the center of the eye of the fish. Dronacharya asked him to fire the arrow. Arjuna did as instructed and his arrow hit the fish right in the center of its eye.

After congratulating Arjuna, Dronacharya told the other students that they failed the pretest and hence were not ready to attempt hitting the target. Archery is all about being singularly focused on the target. If the archer can’t fixate on just the target, success is likely to be elusive. That was Dronacharya’s lesson for the day for his students.

Despite what contemporary culture makes you think, we can only focus on one thing at a time. Just one. Multitasking isn’t a thing (no really).

Ancient wisdom has understood this for Millenia. But much of modern society tries to pretend otherwise. It’s almost as if you’re made to feel weak if you’re not attempting to multitask.

Active intent embodies the principle of singular focus in life. At any moment, you pick one thing that matters and give it your undivided attention.

As the story of Arjuna shows, be careful with the myriad objects, stimulation and other types of noise that enter the background field of your attention when directing your focus towards a particular aim. They lure you away from what matters.

Unlike the story, we don’t always hit the bullseye with our first shot. Lifestyle design isn’t a journey of instant success.

But when your focus is singularly directed towards a desired outcome, you can’t help but get there eventually.

In my article on ‘How To Master Your Goals’, I wrote:

“Goals which are wishy-washy in nature and mere thoughts with no development are less likely to have a concerted effort towards maintaining the course in the direction of reaching ‘B’. This results in a weaker signal between ‘A’ (the intention) and ‘B’ (manifesting the goal in reality). This is the case no matter how easy or trivial a goal appears to be. With a weaker signal in the manifestation process, a law of averages would state that over time, a person is less likely to make their goals a reality despite the fact that the act of having goals is unavoidable. This means we might as well default to a position of improving the way we can manifest goals into reality for our utility as human beings.”

In the process of aiming for the bullseye, we could look at the background, the environment or other peripheral objects.

Or we could keep the signal of our attention focused laser-like on our aim. This keeps it pure—free from distortion and wavering. A path optimised on making our aim a reality. So simple yet so overlooked.

Focus Active Intent

Focus and selectivity

As another renowned investor Ray Dalio states:

While you can have virtually anything you want, you can’t have everything you want.

We can’t focus on multiple things at the same time. We also can’t pretend to focus properly if we have too many aims in our lives such that we never spend adequate time on any particular aim.

Aims that matter absorb our attention and in turn are consumed by our passion. Without adequate time dedicated towards it, an aim doesn’t matter, no matter how much we pretend otherwise.

We learn sooner or later that we need to be selective in pursuing a handful of macro objectives than spreading ourselves thin across too many.

Elon Musk might run a few giant companies. But they’re still a handful of things that consume all his time, not a hundred different small matters. Thomas Edison received 1,093 US patents in his lifetime. Yet all his patents are filed into eight categories, many were variations on existing inventions, and he employed thousands of assistants, engineers, machinists, and researchers that allowed him to focus on one invention at a time.

Selectivity concentrates our focus and energy in a way that can’t be achieved through any other means, freeing ourselves from the lacklustre outcomes of halfhearted pursuits.

Refrain from comparing yourself to others and understand that your path is unique and by virtue of this fact, cannot unfold the same way as that of others. There’ll be similarities and points where your path criss-crosses with someone else’s. But the length, angles and direction will differ, and that’s ok.

As I wrote in ‘What Nobody Tells You About Productivity Advice – Real Productivity For Lifestyle Design’:

“Lifestyle design is about involvement. Absolute and unbridled involvement. Doing things because they’re worthwhile in and of themselves.”

When it comes to your own life, ponder deeply to uncover what truly matters. Design requires alignment with the identity of the project before the actual creation process begins.

Maybe you’re someone who places a high sense of self-worth on the career you pursue. Maybe you’re someone who values family, friends and community spirit the most. Or maybe you’re a nomad who holds freedom and independence at the forefront of your mind.

Whatever your priorities are, make sure they remain as such. Make them the central focus of your life and design the rest of your lifestyle around these aims.

Focus Selectivity


All design requires concerted focus from the designer and lifestyle design is no different. Whatever our lifestyle goals, having active intent underpins achievement of those aims.

Focus is precious in a world that saps as much of it away from you in day-to-day life. The lure of multitasking is a hollow myth—we can only focus on one thing at a time. Despite the bombardment of stimuli in the Digital Age, our minds are in our control and we can choose where to place our singular focus.

Focus and selectivity go hand in hand. Sufficient focus means limiting the number of things you concentrate on so that your attention isn’t scattered. Vice versa, being selective will help you place enough time and effort on the aims that matter most.

We all traverse our own unique paths in life; comparison with others is pointless. Whether you’re a traveller, expat, nomad or other, regain control of your mind and focus on achieving your lifestyle goals.