Goal setting 2021: Where do I start?

Dec 15, 2020 | Coach's Questions

Usually at the end of the calendar year, we reflect on our successes and challenges and then set goals for the New Year.

After the year we’ve just had, many folks are finding it hard to even consider goal setting for 2021. I don’t know anyone who predicted a global pandemic when goal setting this time last year.

I appreciate the honesty of people who have shared their feelings about leaving 2020 and trying to reconcile setting goals when they’re feeling, well, pessimistic. I’m hearing things that, frankly, resonated with me and others on my team. Things such as:

Is it even worth my time setting goals for 2021 with all the continued uncertainty?

How do I begin setting goals when we can’t predict what’s next?

What do I do with the goals from last year that didn’t happen?

If there’s anything we’ve learned from 2020, it’s that being able to shift our perspectives during challenging times is key.

Yes, it’s been a very difficult year in many ways. But what’s been positive?

We’ve seen leaders adapt and change, shifting teams to working remotely or business operations to online systems. There have been plenty of people who have innovated, organized and rallied. Artists, musicians and actors shared their talent to buoy the spirits of people around the globe.

That got me thinking. During lockdown last spring, one of our blogs that really struck a chord with readers examined what does being productive mean during a pandemic. Many people were feeling pressure to be productive, to accomplish big things and do something more or different or significant and we theorized that perhaps productivity wasn’t actually the right measure.

It’s still important to set goals. It helps us to focus, work towards what matters to us and to prioritize.

But what if goal setting for 2021 isn’t about the typical personal bests and professional successes? Perhaps those aren’t the right sort of goals for heading from a year filled with uncertainty into another year that could be just as unpredictable.

  • What if, instead, our goals are about things like:
  • How we see the world
  • How we live life
  • How we show up to ourselves and others

These are things that matter and can be life-changing, whether Covid-19 is becoming a memory or we’re still in a crisis partway through 2021.

Maybe, just maybe, we as leaders and our team members will benefit from goal setting that gives us a positive mindset.

Psychologist and New York Times best-selling author Shawn Achor has done extensive research on mindset and is considered one of the leading experts on positive psychology for corporate education programs. He’s worked with over a third of the Fortune 100 companies and is highly sought-after as a speaker by organizations around the world.

In his TED talk (one of my favourites), Shawn says: “It’s not necessarily the reality that shapes us, it’s the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.”

He explains that while many of us believe that if we work harder, we’ll be successful and then we’ll be happy, science shows the opposite is true. The human brain actually works better and we achieve greater success when we’re feeling positive or happy.

Why? The feel-good hormone dopamine that our bodies release when we’re feeling positive doesn’t just make us feel happy. It’s a neurotransmitter that activates the learning centres of the brain. Positivity makes us work harder, smarter and faster.

It’s true: Scientific research confirms there is a happiness advantage. Our brains perform much better — 35% better for those of you who like stats — when positive than when negative, neutral or stressed.

When the brain’s level of positivity is high, we:

  • Are more productive, creative and resilient
  • Have more energy
  • See intelligence rise and accuracy improve

When an organization or team of people improve their positivity, business outcomes that improve include:

  • Employee retention rates (less turnover)
  • Lower burnout rates
  • Improved sales
  • Higher productivity

And the good news is — you can learn to be positive even if you’re feeling pretty pessimistic.

So if goal-setting for 2021 that improves your mindset appeals to you, there are a few things you can do to train your brain to be more positive. These include:

Cultivating gratitude: It might seem difficult or maybe even impossible, but we can develop an attitude of gratitude even when facing uncertainty. Jotting down three new things you’re grateful for each day for 21 days in a row will rewire your brain. Taking just a couple of minutes daily will teach your brain to search for positives before negatives. The result? A more optimistic and happy mindset, which is more successful. And they don’t need to be BIG things — just 3 things you are grateful for.

Keep a gratitude journal: Writing lets us work through things, clarify our thoughts and learn. We’ve said for years that journaling is an important leadership habit. Consciously writing about one of your three positive things lets your brain relive the experience (cue the dopamine!). So jot down your three things and then write a bit about one of them. Why are you grateful for it or them?

Pay it forward: Give other people something positive to think about! Be intentionally kind when you can. This could be acknowledging someone’s hard work, expressing gratitude with a thank you note or treating someone to a meal. Put positivity out into your circles at home, work and community and you’ll reap what you sow.

Make time for mindfulness: Regular readers may remember when we blogged about the benefits of being mindful amid all the busy demands of life. Our brains benefit from rest and meditation; that’s scientifically proven. Try meditating to reduce stress and improve your focus. That link to our mindfulness blog includes a lot of tips and suggestions to help you start.

Get moving: Exercising improves your mood and reduces anxiety. Incorporate regular exercise into your routine to boost your happiness advantage. Start small — maybe a walk around the block to start the day.

Coach’s Questions:

How have your thoughts about goal setting for 2021 shifted? What can you do today to ensure your brain is positive and not negative, neutral or stressed? What goals make you feel more optimistic about 2021? Who else would benefit from this?