How to set good goals in trying and tiring times
We’re entering “post”-COVID life. Transitions are a good time to set goals. Goals are important for our sense of wellbeing and increase our capacity to live productive lives. How do we set good goals when life is uncertain and we’re feeling weary?
Why set goals now
Social distancing restrictions are lifting. We’re now entering into a new phase of “post”-COVID living. Whatever that will look like is anyone’s guess! Transitions are a good time to set goals.
A counsellor friend of mine tells me that goals are important for our sense of wellbeing and increase our capacity to live a productive life.
She also said that what will challenge any goal setting we do right now is how weary we all feel.
The challenge of goal setting in uncertain times #1
I wasn’t expecting to feel as weary as I do. My work hours have been reduced by 20%, I no longer commute, I do less socially…I honestly don’t know where all my time and energy goes. What did I do yesterday for work? I wrote that article someone was waiting for, I attended a zoom call, and I sent maybe 10 emails – hardly a full day’s work! Or did I do that the day before? The days do blur. Nine weeks into social isolation I feel short-changed on time and energy. I know that because the spot on my dining room wall – the spot I see every day as I sit at my makeshift desk – that spot is still there. Taunting me.
My counsellor friend says that rather than having grand, lofty goals, as we transition to “post”-COVID life, the solution is to have small, daily achievable ones. What a relief! I’ve failed with two “iso-projects”. One was writing a second version of my book and the other was doing some volunteer work. Neither of which materialised. It’s good to be able to write a line under those failures. Spot on the wall, I’m now looking at you!
The challenge of goal setting in uncertain times #2
Something else I’ve learned is that in times of uncertainty, our brains tend to hyper-focus on goals we have set for ourselves. Our definition of success then becomes narrower. So narrow that we can finish a day thinking it was a waste and that tomorrow will be THE DAY of unrestrained, glorious productivity.
Here’s my brain dump of what a day of unrestrained, glorious productivity and outstanding success would look like:
- Everything on my work to-do list ticked off
- Dinner would be home-cooked with 5 serves of vegies
- Someone would get back to me to offer me a coaching opportunity
- I’d have run for 28 minutes
- I didn’t over-indulge in chocolate at 3pm
- Definitely no spot on the dining room wall
This is the kind of list I get when my brain isn’t very flexible in the face of uncertainty. I add to the list without thinking. I compare myself to the people who have embraced their “iso-projects”, who appear to me as having DAYS of glorious, unrestrained productivity. Plus I have my own strong internal drivers around a need for success. So I make a list, assuming my time, energy, willpower and opportunities are abundant – nay, infinite. My list could do with a little more humility (I’m not in control) and kindness.
The positives of having values-driven goals
Something else I’ve been challenged with is the place of values on my list. “Values” are what matter to us in the grand scheme of life. They are a much better measure of success because they connect more closely with what we really care about. And so when we achieve them, we feel more fulfilled and that feeling lasts longer.
I stopped and thought about what matters to me in the grand scheme of life:
- Relationships are very important to me
- It’s important to me that I feel like I am making a difference
- It’s important to me to be able to express my creativity
So if I was to come up with value-driven goals that are small, daily, achievable, flexible and kind:
- Did I ask someone how they are, and really try to listen to their answer?
- Was I able to do something useful for others?
- Was a small part of something I did creative in some way?
It’s 3pm now and there’s the very real possibility I’ll be able to tick these off by the end of the day. It’s a list that’s not being driven by a ridiculous healthy-eating goal, a compulsive need to clean, conquering an impossible to-do list, seizing opportunities that haven’t materialised. My definition of a good day has just been recast with a much wider net.
There’s still that to-do-list, sitting by my laptop, glaring at me. If I come up with goals that are small, daily, achievable, flexible, kind and values-driven, it’s not an excuse for laziness. I can still work diligently through my to-do-list. It’s just that I’m not holding that against myself as a measure of success.
I think this helps too when there is pressure from work colleagues (after all, we’re not the only ones experiencing uncertainty at the moment!). If I’m not thoughtful, I can react to this pressure and make the measure of success the work they want from me. Part of being flexible in my thinking is coming up with my own list. It doesn’t mean I’m unresponsive to those around me. I can hear their concerns and even take them on board. The question is: what am I using as my measure of success?
What is getting me through today
Small, daily, achievable, flexible and kind goals – tick! However as a follower of Jesus, there is something else I have access to that makes all the difference in the world.
One of my favourite passages in the Bible says this:
Even young people become worn out and get tired.
Even the best of them trip and fall.
31 But those who trust in the Lord
will receive new strength.
They will fly as high as eagles.
They will run and not get tired.
They will walk and not grow weak. [Isaiah 40:30-31]
There is that saying: “A problem shared is a problem halved”. I find that to be true. There is comfort when someone else suggests a solution that I couldn’t see. There is comfort simply in the sharing of the problem – I am no longer alone.
When I’m feeling as weary as I am now, God does give me strength when I ask for it. The strength comes in the form of a changed perspective. I know that with God I am not alone. I know the one who is in control, even when I’m not, and cares about my interests. I know what really matters in life because the Creator of life has told me. I know that whatever happens in this life, I have a completely satisfying eternal future waiting. This does make a difference.
This is not a replacement for sleep, downtime, exercise, healthy eating and holidays. These things do affect my perspective. I know I’m not in a good head space if I haven’t had enough sleep the night before! It’s just that as a follower of Jesus there is another dimension to my life – my relationship with God – that I can tap into. So I feel even more fortified for whatever I need to undertake in the day.
Someone once asked me if how I thought of God was simply the projection of my own needs. It was a really good question – had I just fashioned a God in my own image, to give me security and significance? I thought carefully. What I would want to say is that just because the God of the Bible does meet my needs, it doesn’t mean this is a projection of my own wishes. The other way of reading it is that this is evidence of a Creator God who made me and knows what I need and is willing to provide it.
If I had a choice between strength from God or a good night’s sleep – I’d pick the strength from God for sure! There have been times when I’ve had a good night’s sleep but I’m still not in a good head space. A changed perspective does help me to run and not grow tired in the sense that it is the best thing for my weariness. But it is not the only thing. I do need my sleep. I’m only human after all.
By Stephanie Bakari.
 “Becoming more mature in the face of challenges. How can this season be an opportunity for developing goals that have substance?”, Jenny Brown,, http://www.jennybrown.info/podcast/becoming-more-mature-in-the-face-of-challenges/
 “Flexibility will see us through: How to stop setting impossible measures for success.” Kathleen Smith, May 13 2020 https://kathleensmith.net/2020/05/14/flexibility-will-see-us-through/
 How To Live a Meaningful Life (Hint: It's About Values), Jade Wu, 29 May 20, https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/mental-health/meaningful-life-values