How to set goals in uncertain times

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goal setting in uncertain times

New Year’s Resolutions, Goals and Plans

Happy New Year to all of you!

Congratulations on making it to 2021, possibly the most anticipated and longed for year in history!

Although everything seems to be falling apart again, just one week into the new year: new variants of the coronavirus are spreading rapidly; yet another lockdown here in the UK and in other countries; the shocking events in the USA… It’s enough to make many of us just want to hibernate for the rest of the year.

There are pinpoints of light at the end of the tunnel, though, with vaccines finally being rolled out – slowly in many countries, swiftly and effectively in others. People are becoming more used to surviving this new, limited and limiting world we live in.

I know many of you had panicky, unexpected moves and repatriations to deal with last year. Some of you had emergency repatriation flights to cope with; getting out quickly with very little and leaving behind so much. And some of you are now living out of suitcases, couch-surfing with friends and family members, not sure what to do in future. Some of you ended up kind of trapped in your host country when borders closed or locked out of where you needed to be due to the same reason.

Pretty much all of us had to deal with working from home, coping with our partners working from home or even losing jobs altogether. And not forgetting home-educating our little darlings! How much do we respect teachers now?

I also know that some of you completed planned overseas relocations, which in the middle of a global pandemic is an astounding achievement, well done you!

Now we enter a New Year. Normally this time of year comes with high hopes, fresh plans and new goals… this year, however, they may already have been dashed.

The New Year traditionally, and naturally, focuses the mind on the year ahead. What changes do you want to make to your life? What do you want to look forward to? It’s time to turn over a new leaf, get rid of old ‘bad’ habits and create new, better ones. Enter the ‘New Year’s Resolutions’!

It’s a New Year ritual to make resolutions to launch yourself into all kinds of new exercise and diet regimes. We make pledges to stop doing this, and to start doing that; to stop drinking so much, to go to the gym every day at 5:00 a.m, to run a marathon, to start that diet – again – and so much more.

Well, stop! Don’t do it. Don’t make New Year’s resolutions.

But, surely making resolutions will help you feel virtuous and be an all-round better person? The whole New Year, New You thing? Doing all those things that you either think you should do, or other people are telling you to do, such as “Dry January”, “Veganuary” etc.

Well, no. Studies show that well over 80% of these resolutions fail. And they fail very soon after you make them – probably a couple of days ago this year! They’ll also fail swiftly if your resolutions aren’t what you really want to do and you’re just doing it for the sake of appearances. And then, of course, you’ll beat yourself up for failing, which isn’t a great way to start a new year. We don’t certainly do not need any extra stress and angst in 2021.

So, change what you call them: don’t make resolutions, make plans. Making plans and setting goals is a much better way to do it. The whole mindset of planning and goal setting is very different and has more chance of success.

What’s the difference between resolutions, goals and plans?

  • A resolution is an announcement of what you want to change.
  • A goal is a declaration of what you want to accomplish, to complete.
  • And a goal needs steps to reach it – these are the plans.

You may make a resolution to run a marathon. However, a resolution tends not to have an end date – a deadline, whereas a goal does. So, your goal may be to run a marathon by June, or next year. To attain your goal, you need to plan out your steps. Literally, in this case!

Having a view to how you want your New Year, New You to pan out is important. Why? Because looking ahead gives us much-needed, tangible things to look forward to, and looking forward to something offers us positivity. And positivity is vital right now. Putting plans in place to reach a goal will give you something to look forward to. And that is the key point here – to look forward, to look ahead, to plan ahead. Maybe not too far ahead though, as we now know all too well that plans can change in an instant, but goals, plans and little steps forward are a great way to stay positive.

Now, making plans isn’t going to be as easy this year as it would have been in the past. It will be hard to plan a holiday, for example, unless it’s within the same country that you’re currently in now. Make plans that stay within the rules of your country, are potentially achievable, and ones that won’t devastate you completely if they have to be cancelled at short notice.

So, what is the best way to make the most of your year ahead? How do you set goals and make plans when the world is making life generally unplannable?

Here are 10 tips to help you set goals in uncertain times that will increase your chances of success.

  1. Understand that planning means assuming certain events and timelines in the future. During these difficult times, the future is inherently unpredictable. Well, looking into the future is impossible anyway, but until the past year we usually had some kind of idea in our minds about how, for example, next September will look. Now we don’t even know what next month holds for us.
  2. Set short-term goals. Very short-term goals! Maybe a couple of weeks ahead, or a month, especially as life is changing so rapidly these days. If you have a significant goal in mind, consider the short-term goals as steps to get there. Let’s take the marathon running again, as an example. You need to do a lot of training – it’s a long-term, very focused goal for most people. And not necessarily something you would be able to fully focus on if your kids are at home 24/7, and you’re not actually allowed out of the house much. However, your first step could be researching how to train, what nutritional changes you’ll need to make, which running shoes are best for you, etc. Take baby steps. Start slowly, otherwise you’ll do more damage than good and then you won’t be able to run at all. Make the most of the time you have available.
  3. Expect, anticipate, and include interruptions to your goal’s time frame. This will help you make progress in the midst of uncertainty. At the very least, if you anticipate things changing suddenly, it will help you feel less pressurised. Back to the kids at school, not at school, self-isolating, home-schooling, whatever happens!
  4. Focus on what you can control. There’s much you won’t be able to control this coming year, so keep your goals on a level that means you have a chance to succeed. For example, learning a new language can be done from anywhere in the world, from home, even from your bed!
  5. Make your goal significant to you, and enjoyable. You don’t need to force yourself to do something you don’t really want to do. Life’s too short. If you’re aiming at changing certain things about your self or your life, please do it for yourself; to make you happy. Apart from that, enjoyment helps motivate you to work towards your goal.
  6. Longer term goals can still be set, just work a little differently. Planning the steps to a long-term goal seems impossible right now as we simply don’t know what life is going to throw our way. But don’t put these longer-term goals on hold if they’re really something you want to do. For example, if you want to move and live overseas, your short-term goals could be actions that help you pull that bigger goal move closer to reality. You can never do too much planning for this big life change.
  7. Be realistic. Instead of producing a long, over-ambitious wish list of goals like get fit, give up alcohol, write a book, start a degree, learn to bake bread, etc, etc. identify just two or three goals that you genuinely want to achieve. Is this the year that you’ll write that book that you’ve been thinking about for years? Yes. Why not go for it? Start with small chunks; just start writing out chapter headings, for example, and then write out an outline and then set aside time each day and just write. Being realistic will allow you to put all your energy into making this happen.
  8. Write down your goals and give them practical deadlines. The act of writing down your aims will help clarify them to yourself and prompt you to keep on track. Also keep a ‘victory log’ of every successful step that you take on the road to achieving your aim. Celebrate every step you successfully complete on the road to your goal. Achieving your goal will be a reward in itself, but make sure to celebrate every step you took to get there.
  9. Go public! Yes, tell other people your goals. It’s a strange dichotomy: most people are generally quite outspoken about their New Year’s resolutions and gleefully share their participation in things like ‘Dry January’. And then shrug and laugh wryly when they fail to keep their resolution. Yet people with a genuine goal are more likely to keep it quiet. Keeping your goal secret means that you don’t feel any pressure to actually do what you say you’re going to do, and therefore won’t feel embarrassed if you don’t achieve it. Nobody really expects resolutions to be kept, so there’s little shame. So, tell people your goals. It gives you accountability and encourages you to keep on track. You should have nothing to fear by letting others know how serious you are about changing and improving your life.
  10. Get support. This ties in with the point above, going public. Make sure you tell people who will support you. There’s no point telling someone who is likely to undermine you. You’ll usually know who they are! In most cases, this is crucial and can mean anything from making a pact with a friend to regularly attend exercise classes together or joining a weight loss group. With most things being online these days, find a group of like-minded people who can help support you on your road to success.

Whatever your 2021 looks like, you can make the most of it by having something, however small, to look forward to. So, set yourself some goals and celebrate your achievements. Remember, keep looking forward. That is the aim of this year. Try not to look back at how awful 2020 was, we don’t know if 2021 is going to be fantastic, awful or somewhere in between. We do know that it’s going to be up and down.

Remember, rename your resolutions as goals, and take one step at a time to give you the best chance of achieving them. This time next year you could be fulfilling your dream of having your book published or running 26 miles in one go. Or perhaps even living overseas for the first time.

Happy New Year, folks. Take care.

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