Focus: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of True Immersion in Life, Work and Play (Part 3: How to Pour Your Energy Into What Matters)

This is part 3 of a 4-part series entitled Focus: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of True Immersion in Life, Work and Play. Stay up-to-date on when part 4 comes out by subscribing for free with or . Connect with me on and say hi.

In part 1, you’re naked. In part 2, your ass just got kicked. Now, in part 3, I throw you into the quicksand and you have to pour all your energy into getting yourself out. Who cares that you just got another 7 followers on Twitter or your e-mail is blinking with another 3 new messages? You’re sinking. Focus.

Rusty Mandarin, Finding the Bathroom and Dreams in Chinese

It was late August 2005. I just landed at the Beijing International Airport after a 12-hour direct flight from O’Hare.

My Mandarin was rusty, and though I am Chinese (half Taiwanese, half Cantonese), I was born and raised amongst McDonald’s-loving, football-and-baseball crazy, shopaholic and SUV-driving nation that is America.

Okay, not all Americans are like what I just described. Vast majority is, though. (Random fact: Did you know that on any given day in 1997, one in every seven Americans ate a meal at McDonald’s? Truth.)

I arrived for my 4-month-long journey that is the beauty of study abroad during college. But first things first. Where’s the bathroom?

After making my way to Beijing Foreign Studies University where I studied Chinese 4 and a half hours every morning, 5 days a week, plus 9-12 hours of private tutoring lessons from other Chinese college students, I left China in December 2005 with perfect tone, pitch, writing and reading skills. Sweet.

Heck, I was even dreaming in Chinese and singing Chinese karaoke songs with such heartfelt emotion it would make Sinatra proud.

Don’t Just Speak It, BE It

How did my language skill go from a 3 (on a scale of 1-10) to a 21? Easy. Focus.

Studying Chinese was what I did. Day and night. Day and night. Yes, I traveled around China, went to all the sites, climbed Great Wall twice, ate fried scorpion in Wangfujing Market, camped out in the mountains of Tibet, danced and clapped with Buddhist monks, etc. But with all of these experiences came an intentional focus on WHY I was there in the first place.

I not only just wanted to be able to speak Chinese more fluently, I wanted to really BE more Chinese.

Living there really made me cognizant of how American I really am.

And that’s why I’m heading to Taiwan (Republic of China, not the same as mainland China nor the same as Thailand, as many people have confused the two) at the end of the month for approximately 5 months, minimally. Immersion. Focus. Life. Experience.

How can you focus all your energies on what you really want to do? It can be from learning a language, to quitting your cubicle job you dislike, to starting a new business venture, to practicing a new form of martial arts. Possibilities abound. What doesn’t abound is your finite energy and attention.

So like a ray of direct sunlight magnified underneath a lens that can burn a hole straight through a piece of wood, so you must be too.

Laser focused that you’ll burn a sizzling hole right through anything that’s put in direct contact with you.

Part 3: How to Pour Your Energy Into What Matters

1. Eliminate what doesn’t matter. Do not tell me everything matters. You know that is not the truth. What is the truth is you do have some things which you care deeply about.

<– My friend Everett Bogue cares deeply about Yoga, for instance, so much so that he practices Yoga about 35 hours each week, and has recently become a Yoga teacher at Yoga to the People in San Francisco. (Read my interview with Everett here.)

<– Another friend of mine, Ashley Ambirge, totally loves wine and travel (preferably in conjunction) and will be the first to recommend others to experience life fully by traveling (and/or drinking wine, that one’s up to you). I’m off to visit Ash in Chile for a week right before I head to Taiwan. Amazing adventures will ensue, guaranteed!

I love writing. Always have. I don’t particularly enjoy or care for web coding, fashion design, landscaping or taking care of a pet rock or Chia pet. Though such activities can be important, they are not important to me. So they’re out.

2. Surround yourself with positive people that will support your endeavors and who you will support back. I speak about this topic quite often, and it’s because it matters. Don’t be afraid to ditch your old friends who only care about watching Monday night football and drinking 72-ounce cups of Mountain Dew with a family-sized bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.

Perhaps you used to be like that but not anymore. Now you’re a mindful, healthy person who’d rather take a walk outside than plant your behind on the couch for 4 hours straight and devour 3,200 calories.

I surround myself with my blogging peers, friends such as Ash, Everett, Colin, Matt, Dusti, Joel, Francine, Tammy, just to name a handful. Why? It’s because I care about what they are doing and they care about me. It’s not a one-way street.

Positive people are positive because they give back to others what they don’t expect to receive. They’ve learned to let go, focus on what matters and do it with a heart of gratitude.

3. Study and read up on what you are really fascinated by or want to get better at. Seth Godin has said that it’s no surprise that successful people read more. Want to be more successful? Read more.

You almost have to have an obsession over what you are deeply curious and fascinated about. Perfect example: by Tim Ferriss. He’s a mad man. But a genius at that.

Absolutely and without a doubt, I have grown so much in the past 2 years due to a 300% increase in my reading habits. I’ve always loved reading all my life but to read more than 1 book a week in 1 year’s time? Enormous growth.

What you read matters. Japanese manga, romance novels and People magazine will only add so much value (if any) to your life. Realize the difference.

Interested in quitting your day job and working for yourself? Here are some books I highly recommend:

Ashley Ambirge’s
Chris Guillebeau’s The Unconventional Guide to Working for Yourself
Chris Guillebeau’s Empire Building Kit
Everett Bogue’s
Tammy Strobel’s
Tim Ferriss’
Pam Slim’s
Jonathan Fields’

Want to learn how to network better?

Colin Wright’s

Finding it difficult to be productive?

Leo Babauta’s
Leo Babauta’s
Leo Babauta’s focus: a simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction
Everett Bogue’s Minimalist Workday

Interested in a minimalist lifestyle?

Leo Babauta’s
Leo Babauta’s
Everett Bogue’s
Francine Jay’s
Joshua Becker’s
Joshua Becker’s
Nina Yau’s (that’s me) The Radical Minimalist with free companion eBook Inspirations from The Radical Minimalist
Nina Yau’s (me again) Minimalist Freedom

Want to be able to travel the world or learn the art of travel?

Rolf Potts’
Chris Guillebeau’s Travel Ninja
Chris Guillebeau’s Frequent Flyer Master

Dislike the status quo and just want to be you?

Chris Guillebeau’s
Chris Guillebeau’s A Brief Guide to World Domination
Hugh MacLeod’s

In 2010 alone, I’ve read 76 books, poured over countless wonderful material that helped shape me and get me to a better place than I was a year ago, serving venti soy lattes to frazzled and stressed out customers at Starbucks.

Don’t think change and focus won’t be one without actually changing yourself, focusing on what matters. This is a shift from old behaviors to new ones. Change is hard but not impossible.

4. Invest in yourself. You know how financial planners always recommend you should invest in this or that and make sure your investments are diversified to maximize potential profits? Well, as your own life planner, you need to invest in yourself. Not just this and that, but 100% all the way: yourself.

You think you can get healthy and lose 15 pounds without breaking a sweat or changing eating habits? You’re in for a big surprise then. There are no quick fixes to any major life changes. No true short cuts. No get-rich-quick schemes.

If you want positive outcome and the ability to focus better, you need to invest in yourself by reading more books, spending more time on defining what you really want out of life, taking the time to grow yourself.

5. Go beyond your comfort zone and stretch yourself. You won’t experience growing pains if you’re not actually growing. And how does one grow?

By stepping outside what you deemed as comfortable, safe and secure and stretching those self-imposed limitations so they all break apart and fall to a thousand little pieces.

Why is this important to note? The masses are called the masses for a reason. Everyone’s there and it’s one big party. It’s lonely at the top.

Don’t dumb yourself down, lower your expectations and set your sights lower and ambitions not so high just so everyone else can keep to your pace and vice versa.

As Henry David Thoreau has said, you need to march to your own beat.

I cannot tell you how many times men and women have told me they are just happy to find someone agreeable to settle down with. Agreeable does not mean they are marriageable! Realize the difference. It can save much heartache (literally) for all involved.

6. Set your sights on something worth doing and never let it go. Some call these goals, milestones, mile markers, things they want to do/see/be on their bucket list, etc. Whatever you call it, pour your heart and soul into it and never let it go.

Don’t forsake yourself by attempting something worthwhile, realize it’s much more difficult than you think and then give up.

You can quit but don’t give up. Doesn’t make sense?

Quitting is when you realize what you are currently doing does not take you one step closer to where you need to be. An unhealthy relationship. An unhealthy job. An unhealthy environment. An unhealthy habit. Quit, Quit, Quit!

But don’t give up. Don’t give up on your dreams! Don’t give up on yourself, most especially.


In part 4 of this 4-part series, we’ll sit down with Leo Babauta, author of the new book focus and Top 25 blogger at Zen Habits, and have a chat with how even a busy author, husband and father of six stays focused in our distraction-heavy days.

This is going to be one fantastic interview, so stay up-to-date on when part 4 comes out by subscribing for free with or . And don’t forget to connect with me on !