To be honest, I don’t know how to focus internally; it’s something I’m learning. My whole life, I’ve focused externally, and I’ve become extremely good at achieving external goals. I’ve learned how to show up every day, and how to parse the complex world into what data will most benefit my goal. I’ve learned to do this – happily – at the cost of my internal desires. Sacrificing the present for the future, I told myself.

Ironically, the book Getting Things Done is my answer to this problem. Its system is fairly simple. You capture all your thoughts into a notebook, then you decide which of those require some action in order for it to not be on your mind. A simple example, “I should call Dan.” I can’t find internal peace until I either call Dan or until I have the call scheduled in a system that will remind me to call Dan at a later date.

That’s the model. Take anything that’s bothering you or that you’re struggling with and put it in a system. It’s almost like an assistant to remind you, hey, a part of you desires this. I’ve called this western Buddhism because it pulls on both worlds: we can try and find internal peace and presence, meanwhile, we’re still driven forward by the duties of life.

We reduce internal chaos through external action.

And still, from the language I use it’s easy for me to slide back into obsessive external goal-seeking.

A mistake I fall into believing: I’m not yet an author but I’ll become one. I constantly weigh who I am verse my ideal self. Then I work my ass off to become my ideal self. Focusing on what I need to do to get there.

And knowing how big the gap is between me and real authors, I begin imagining where I need to go, and I set goals, goals to write a novel, and to become an author. Soon, I’m writing when I don’t want to write since I know authors write every day. By focusing external, I’ve become blind to my internal. Soon, unless I pause, I will brink on burning out, losing that passionate voice forever.

What’s further, after losing that passionate voice, I begin to tell myself, I’ve committed too much time to quit. And I go on seeking that ideal image.

When in reality, internally, I’m already an author. Clearly, there is something in me that has a drive for this and a passion for this. A voice in me telling me to write. A voice that if I wouldn’t follow, I would feel internal angst, guilt for not doing it, just as I feel guilt for not calling Dan.

So I need a system that doesn’t focus so much on external goals, but more on internal satisfaction and calmness. A system that helps me recognize my true self and accept that person in his entirety. A system that reminds me to slow down, to not get burned out, to not blindly seek, to seek. A system that helps me rightly honor and see all voices inside me.

The first step towards that is capturing all my thoughts. And the second step is understanding what that voice wants internally. And lastly, putting that into a system that you trust to remind you in the future, to honor that internal desire.