I am a closet non-fan of Marvel movies, comics, characters and universes. This means I have to pretend to get the memes and look crazy thrilled when one more movie about one of the 4783 characters is announced. It also means I sleep through the movies I am dragged to. Last weekend, despite my valiant efforts, Movie Night with the family was Shang-Chi.
And while I have hazy memories of some kick-ass fight sequences, I was awake for the moment when grandma says,
"If you aim at nothing, you hit nothing."
Respect and claps, grandma!
And it hit me. All the energy, anxiety, fog, hope, excitement, trepidation... it must all come together in a way that resonates and works for me so that I have something meaningful to aim at in 2022.
While planning for a whole new year is fraught with uncertainty- after all, we had grand plans for 2021 as well- this year, it must be done. The work landscape around us is shifting very fast.
The goal is to set a real goal
Business owners are finding that a period of abundant new opportunities is also fraught with people leaving and systems collapsing in a phenomenon we’ve come to label the Great Resignation. Employees are making significant decisions about their work life which will impact their future. Leaders within companies are looking at a sudden loss of control, even over processes that worked just fine before.
We can either go with the flow or try to stem it. There are no bad decisions here, but whatever we choose to do now is how we write the future.
This is why we’ve put together this rumination on goal setting, going beyond the SMART goals and the substantial goals, and the ones that the world tells us we must set. Today, we discuss realistic goals. Sustainable goals, even. We discuss the small battles we can win, and the larger ones we must prepare for.
Come along for the ride!
The flaw in the goal-setting plan
When it comes to life goals, it is easy to believe that we must shape ours to match those of our peers.
If we look back at the ten things we’d always hoped to achieve in life, it is likely that at least five of them were influenced by the world around us. Education, perhaps the one goal we all achieve without even thinking about it, is essentially a social construct.
This is a habit that we usually continue carrying into every performance appraisal and client meeting when we grow up. We want something, the other party wants something else, and we are willing to create space to accommodate these needs. This is largely a healthy pattern.
But sometimes, because we are falling behind on achieving a certain goal, we make more adjustments than we’d have liked. We give out a little bit of extra space in the hope that it will pay itself back many times over.
Experience tells us, and studies have also shown, that the unpleasant side effects of work such as burnout and anxiety are by-products of settling for something that fundamentally doesn’t make us happy.
Changing the narrative
Changing how we think about goals is not an overnight process. A few questions, however, can help us not lose the plot.
What do I really want the next year to look like?
It is likely that your priorities at work have shifted. Perhaps you prefer working remotely and would rather work with a company that understands this. A business owner may choose to expand the team or to cull certain functions.
And while we’d love for work and life to sit in separate baskets, they tend to overlap. A lot. When visualising the year ahead, we must also consider what our life outside of work could look like. A move to a different neighbourhood? A new travel arrangement? Moving in with the family?
How to start the process: Grab a blank piece of paper and draw or write openly about what you really want for 2022. This is just for you to look at, a proto-vision board of sorts.
Have my actions so far aligned with this objective?
Now, this can be a tough question for us to answer. It is an immediate trigger of all of the things we said we’d do, but didn’t. This is also where kindness is most important.
Sometimes, we try to increase the size and complexity of our goal to keep up with what we think we should be doing. However, life itself is a messy path and that means going backwards a few times. Using step 1 as a reference point will tell us what we should be changing in this area.
How to start the process: Pick what feels most exciting to you from step 1. Sit with it for a while to make sure that you really do like it. Then, list out three things you can do in the next two weeks to incorporate a new habit in that direction.
What can I do in three months to change that?
New years are notorious for starter’s enthusiasm. What we’re driven to do in January may not still stand in March. This is why long-term goals matter. Looking back at your good-to-haves for the year, there will certainly be aspects that cannot be considered in a day. A three-month goal is your chance to change that.
Perhaps in three months, you may fill a leadership position, or move to a new office space. You may choose to launch a new business entity, or create more content on social media.
How to start the process: Three months is a good amount of time to change things, but the prospect can be daunting as well. Once the three month goal is in place, it helps to break it up into a monthly and even a weekly plan. There are no hard rules here, and different timelines work for different people. The key is to break it into chunks that work for us.
Is this a change that I am happy about?
Perhaps the most important question and one that we don’t ask enough is this- will these changes positively contribute to our life in any way. The answers in this department also go back to our discussion on social conditioning. Are we working towards things that have historically made people happy, or are these things that we are truly passionate about achieving?
Both answers are okay, but awareness always helps. When we fall off the wagon (as we inevitably will because twelve months is a long time), knowing these answers can potentially help us keep going.
How to start the process: Analyse every goal for 2022 from a fulfillment standpoint. Will making this change make us better people, happier people? If it doesn’t, then the pursuit is probably not worth it.
What are three things I'm willing to cut down on to make this change happen?
Now, this is one area that we either don’t pay attention to or pay too much attention to. When we say ‘cut down something’, the temptation is to give up on things that immediately look sinful such as that Netflix binge. However, once we identify it, cutting down on something that isn’t helping us is far easier, and more sustainable.
In our experience, it has been a game called meeting-meeting. We tend to schedule or say yes to too many of them, and many more than usual post-pandemic. That’s something we can all work on.
Other time drains include picking up calls in the middle of deep work, the ‘this call could have been an email’ moments, not accounting for firefighting time when that’s part of the daily job, and so on. Cutting back on these is mildly harder because they involve other people as well, but also more rewarding because these aren’t things we wanted to do in the first place.
How to start the process: Build a no-judgment journal of every daily activity over a period of a week. The most common time drains at work will make themselves known.
Are mindset shifts always possible? Of course not, but there’s no better time to make them than when we have the whole world for company.
At this point in time, if a party animal were to become a quiet introvert, or a highly energetic leader were to become deeply contemplative instead, no one would be surprised. It’s up to us now to use this time, and its traits, to our advantage.