Every year around this time, I begin my goal planning for the upcoming year. Last year I only had three goals. This year, I have eight. It’s a bit ambitious given that I didn’t manage to find more than 24 hours in a day. But… go big or stay home, right?
If you’ve never done goal planning, it’s a really good exercise. When you know what you want to achieve, it’s much easier to achieve it. Yes, I realize that seems self-explanatory but so many people don’t see the value and just ride through each year accepting whatever comes their way. In normal (non-pandemic times) this might work for some people. They see opportunities arise and take them as they come, or they don’t see opportunities arise and then just deal with that instead.
Here is why I like to set goals: We do not have control over what will happen in the upcoming year, but we do have control over how we respond to what is happening around us. It is through goal planning that we establish how we will manage our expectations and our mental health.
Imagine that you have a trip planned for next year. That trip is going to take you to a country you have always wanted to visit and you are very, very excited about this upcoming trip. But then the pandemic hits and you have to cancel your plans. How do you emotionally deal with the loss of your trip?
It is through goal planning that we establish how we will manage our expectations and our mental health.
If the only plan you had on your calendar was the trip, then the loss will hit you with full significance. There is no safety plan. There is no other wish to take your attention. But let’s take it one step further. Assume you also had a series of meetings booked that would take you out of the monotony of your day job and then those were also cancelled. Now what?
This is what happened to me in 2020 and then again in 2021. Sure, it’s possible life will resume as normal in 2022, but what if it doesn’t and I am once again at the mercy of a pandemic that wreaks havoc on my plans?
This is where goal setting, dusted with a heavy dose of perspective, comes in. Meetings and trips are just dates on your calendar, and when those events have been cancelled, each cancellation feels like a loss. But none of those cancelled events were goals. They were simply scheduled items that you couldn’t control.
Goals are not calendar events. Yes, there is definitely a scheduling component needed if you want to accomplish them, but when you control your goals, you also control the plans for them. That means when the pandemic tells you to stay home and cancel your plans, it’s emotionally less charged. You don’t cancel your trip to Europe, you reschedule it, much as you would a dentist appointment with a schedule conflict.
Consider all the things that felt like losses over the pandemic. Were they things you could control or were they things outside of your control? Probably there were a few from each category, but when you really tally up the losses that had the most impact, you probably felt the loss of things you couldn’t control more acutely than the things you could control.
Which brings me back to goal setting.
Every year I make a list of things I want to accomplish. That includes family goals, education goals, career goals, fun goals, and fitness and health goals. Last year, I came up with three goals that fit all these categories. (It made scheduling easy.) While the pandemic meant I had to be nimble in my approach to achieving my goals, because I always had full control, I never felt losses as a result of life’s changes.
“Loss mentality” and “scarcity mentality” lead to anxiety and frustration, which in turn open the door to more anxiety and more frustration. Pretty soon all you can feel is panic and rage, followed by an unhealthy coping skill: micromanaging. From there, the cycle starts again, but the truly vicious part of the cycle is that the more time you spend in the cycle, the more “proof” you find that says you are right.
Some pundits will tell you the key to stepping out of the cycle is to take a deep breath, find a new focus. Maybe meditate a bit. Maybe that’s true. But in case you need a more action-oriented approach, I’d highly recommend some goal planning. Goal planning puts you in charge of the goals, the time lines, and the schedule.
If you are new to goal planning, the easiest way to approach it is to grab a piece of paper and make a list of things you want to accomplish. Pick a few that seem reasonable and then refine them into something measurable. For example, “lose weight” is a good goal, but how will you know when you achieved it? Instead make it specific like, “lost twenty pounds by June.”
This year I put my pen down and got fancy. I found an online mind map that is much prettier. I like the layout options that don’t require me to preplan how my mind map will look. But as a word of warning: don’t get caught up in the beauty of a perfect goal chart. Just create something. Perfection is the sworn enemy of goal-setting.
Will goal-setting change your life and solve all your problems? Well, I can’t make that claim. But will it give you better coping skills and a better perspective on things you can change? Yes. Absolutely.
It’s the end of 2021 and we are about to enter a fresh new year. Protect your mental health. Protect your mindset. Whatever you reach for, make it grand and make it your own.