Does the idea of setting goals and fulfilling personal achievements in another unpredictable year seem absurd, asks Sharon Green.
For many of us, January was a month we spent reflecting on 2020 and thinking about how we might tackle another year as unpredictable as the last.
Even though I generally don’t participate in setting New Year’s resolutions, I have been thinking about what I might like to achieve this year, especially given 2020 was dismally quiet and not at all goal oriented.
With lockdowns lifted (for now) and the prospect of options and possibilities within reach, I have been contemplating whether it might be possible to set some goals like completing a major work project with the freedom to be creative rather than reactive, or perhaps an interstate trip to fill my desperate longing to travel again.
But I am also, in equal measure, reminded of the tumultuous ground on which making such plans could crumble overnight. Borders could close again. We could be confined to our homes again. We may not be able to interact with others in person again.
Plus, with delays in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine in Australia, to a declining economy, and the general sense of unease, there are lots of question marks.
So often, our goals for any given year are achievement-focused, specific, and measurable: aim for that pay rise or promotion, renovate the bathroom, take that trip abroad to Lake Bled, enrol in a course to upskill, read 15 new books, and so on.
And for Type A personalities like myself, our goal-oriented, rigidly organised, proactive and impatient nature doesn’t sit terribly well with not making plans or having nothing to strive for.
But if 2020 was a year that taught us anything, it’s that life can change in an instant and that nothing is in our control.
With that in mind, does the idea of setting goals and fulfilling personal achievements in another unpredictable year seem absurd?
Apparently not, according to psychologist Dr Amanda Tobe. We simply need to shift the way we approach goal-setting for a year like 2021.
“It’s not that goal-setting needs to go out the window, it’s just that we may need to change how we approach it, adjust our expectations for achieving our goals, and dig a little deeper to find meaningful goals for ourselves,” she said.
In fact, some studies have shown that setting goals can contribute to boosting your confidence, motivation, and self-esteem.
For a year like 2021, Dr Tobe suggests navigating goal-setting and plan-making by scaling back if you need to.
The past year has forced many of us to reset and rebuild, and it’s okay if we need to spend the coming year picking up the pieces and finding ways to cope with changed situations and environments.
As such, Dr Tobe recommends setting short-term goals, rather than fixating on a multi-year plan.
“It’s great to have a vision but in a pandemic, it is important to be agile, as forcing your own agenda can lead to a futile and disappointing experience,” she said.
“Instead, try breaking down longer-terms goals into quarterly or monthly goals. At the end of the month re-evaluate your goals and decide if you need to move the goalpost, stick with the same goal, or potentially lower it.”
For people like me, who are goal-oriented and achievement-focused, how do we identify with our sense of self if this may not be available to us for another year?
Dr Tobe suggests that for every goal you set, create a list of “controllables” and “uncontrollables”.
“To focus on the controllables, try setting what are called ‘activity goals’ for each goal that you’ve set. Activity goals are any metrics, tasks, or activities that are intended to help you reach your target and are generally more within your control.”
For the uncontrollable factors, being aware of them and accepting them if they happen is a great way to manage your own expectations during uncertain times. In short: plan for setbacks and be kind to yourself when they happen.
Looking ahead to a year like 2021, which may not contain all the usual achievements we’re often taught create ‘a good year’, I’ve been thinking: would it perhaps be more realistic, more achievable, to rather focus on personal growth?
Instead of making it a year of checking things off the to-do list, fulfilling huge milestones, or aiming for goals that are unrealistic during a tumultuous and financially unstable time, could it be the year to undertake self-growth?
We could take on the challenges as they come, accept unpredictable events as they unfold, and get comfortable with the stillness rather than constantly filling the void with the busyness of making plans and attaining goals.
If our ambitions lead us down the path of “who do I think I need to be?” and “what do I want to attain?” could growth be something that equips us with more resilience to tackle any inevitable challenges that may strike this year?
Dr Tobe agrees, saying while we can still plan projects, make lists, and set tentative dates for 2021, it’s the self-work that will equip us with the tools to navigate these uncertain times, allowing us to place the focus on the process rather than the outcomes.
“One of the surest ways to lose motivation in achieving a goal is when it doesn’t align with your heart’s desires. Sometimes we need to do soul work to gain clarity on the goals we want to set, and this soul work becomes a goal in and of itself,” Dr Tobe said.
“Also, choose fewer goals. One thing that unites us in this pandemic is the need to simplify our lives. We can’t do it all and we need to have self-awareness of what we need to say yes and no to,” she said.
If 2020 was the year of surviving, could 2021 be the year of learning and growing? Surely that’s a goal we can all benefit from working towards.
TELL US: Are you making plans and setting goals for the year ahead? How are you doing it? Share your story in the comments section below.