Suffice to say, 2020 was tough and many are anxious to leave it behind. But we also learned we are more flexible, resilient and creative than we ever thought. You may have grown in ways you did not expect and gained new insights that may not have revealed themselves in less turbulent times. As you think ahead to 2021, those crisis learnings can be applied to how you want to show up for yourself, your workplace and your loved ones moving forward.
It is tempting to set your top goal for 2021 as “Forget 2020.” Globally, we have shared a painful and life-changing experience that will leave scars for some time. We have also learned important lessons that are worth bringing forward into, what we hope, will be far better times.
“We cannot unsee our vulnerability, nor the fragility of our lives physically, emotionally, and economically,” Jacqueline Fincher, M.D., President of the American College of Physicians, wrote in her December message to colleagues on the front lines of the pandemic. We are permanently changed, she asserted, and that can actually be a good thing.
She urged her fellow physicians to cultivate the good from 2020 which, in many ways, has been an increased understanding of where suffering is greatest. Fincher specifically calls out renewed awareness of and opportunities to confront and correct systemic racism and to address weaknesses in our public health system.
That focus on others may be just the right thing to top your 2021 goals, according to Richard Ryan, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Rochester and expert on motivational research. Cofounder of self-determination theory (SDT), a framework that provides insights into human personality and motivation, Ryan asserts that willingly helping others satisfies our basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness.
“If you want to make a New Year’s resolution that really makes you happy, think about the ways in which you can contribute to the world,” he says in a University of Rochester publication. “The research shows it’s not just good for the world but also really good for you.”
In a study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
, Ryan and colleagues report that happiness increases as your focus of concern and care widens. “A broader scope of caring and concern for others predicts higher well-being,” he said.
Revisit, reset, renew
After such a difficult year, Ryan suggests creating goals that are kinder. But, to be meaningful, he cautions they must also revolve around something you are fully behind and care about. And that can require reflection. “It means allowing ourselves to tune into that inner signal in an open, non-defensive way and to consider the possibilities and the choices that you really have,” he says.
That can take some work after a year where almost nothing went as planned and, especially among emerging leaders, there is often a sense that life is on hold or your career stuck in neutral.
Executive coach, Patricia Carl, and author of Entrepreneurial You
, Dorie Clark, recently shared their advice for goal setting during crisis in Harvard Business Review
. “Setting goals and planning for the future is an essential aspect of our sense of well-being because it can help combat the sense of helplessness and loss of control you’re likely feeling in the current environment,” they advise.
Four questions to get back on track
Carl and Clark offer these questions to direct goal-setting efforts in turbulent times.
- What is most important to me in the near term? While the long-term is murky, focus on steps you can take now to move in the general direction you want to head. If you want to move into management but that’s not an option right now, build your leadership skills through professional development resources like WFF Connect.
- What can I control? Process goals may be the best place to invest time and energy right now because you have more influence over their outcome. For example, you can reach out to three people in January to expand your professional network. Again, WFF Connect and the online WFF directory is a great place to start.
- What actions can I take right now? Perhaps you had to cancel a special family vacation this year. While you may not be able to take a cruise or travel to Europe, you could plan a day trip to take in local sites or rent a house within driving distance to get away with your immediate household.
- How will I be accountable? At a time when it’s easy to feel disconnected, a community of support and accountability can help keep you on track toward goals. When you share a key goal with a trusted friend or colleague, you may feel more compelled to make progress so you can report it.
It is tempting to wish for a clean slate in 2021, but the hard-earned lessons of the past year are too valuable to let go. You are more resilient than you realized. There is power in remaining connected. Preparing optimistically for the future means creating realistic plans today. And, a broader scope of caring and concern for others is likely to increase your sense of well-being. Cheers to 2021!