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You Are Not Your ‘To-Do’ List: 7 Ways to Set Inspiring Goals and Stick to Them in 2021

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions (and let’s face it, we’re in February anyway). But I do believe in new beginnings.

Unfortunately, 2021 didn’t give us this psychological opportunity. With further lockdown restrictions, WFH culture, homeschooling, and planning for a myriad of possible outcomes, it feels more like a continuation of 2020.

So this year I wanted to talk about how we can set goals that create positive change in this new environment, so we can stick to them not just for the month, or the year, but forever.

The Problem with Goals

There are two opposing problems with setting goals. One is that they are not inspiring enough and two they are not simple or SMART enough.

Also, setting meaningful goals requires us to slow down to give our mind space to think through the issues rather than continue on the treadmill of busyness we often get trapped on. Often we rely on one coping strategy or one strength to get us through tough times. But according to my therapist, this is only effective 80% of the time.

What is the one way you repeatedly try to solve your problems?

How is this working out for you now?

Chronic Stress

Creating change during a pandemic adds another layer of complexity. There is fear of uncertainty, health anxiety, our safety is called into question, there’s fewer ways to find experiences like holidays and face-to-face interactions, and all of this now has become chronic. And chronic stress has a detrimental effect on our health.

Throw in social media messages such as if you don’t come out of this quarantine with a new skill … you lacked discipline and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Society putting extra pressure on what you should be achieving right now, versus what your true goals are, comparing ourselves to others, or taking as gospel what our friends, colleagues, parents want from us leads to setting goals that belong to someone else.

True, our brains like acute stress to get motivated, but they don’t like it to persist. It’s a bell curve. It affects motivation, mental agility and even physical health.

After the year we’ve faced, it is an achievement in itself to have made it through to the other side. You don’t have to do anything more right now than take care of yourself and the people around you.

And if you started a side hustle, learnt a new language - that’s fantastic! Let’s find a way to acknowledge and celebrate our achievements - big and small.

Here are my 7 tips for setting your inspiring and SMART goals:

1. Make Your Well-being Top of Your Priorities

Whatever your circumstances - make your well-being and health a priority. Prioritising sleep, exercise, drinking water and eating a well balanced diet is anything but basic. Once you take care of your body, everything will feel easier and lighter. Do you need to learn the hard way that health is the most important thing?

2. Allow Yourself to Hope

The pandemic (or whatever the state you are experiencing) will not last forever. It’s good news if you are having a tough time.

It’s ok to imagine days where things are easier, lighter. It’s ok to enjoy yourself in tough times too. Give yourself the permission.

And if that’s too hard right now - just start small. Create experiences at home that can lift your mood and add a little extra joy to your days - light that candle, put on that music, plan fancy breakfast Fridays, have that shower in the middle of the day. Have something to look forward to at the end of the day / week.

Better yet make these small gestures into a Ritual not a Routine. By elevating your day-to-day activities you can make something dull and mundane have more purpose and meaning, which is much more motivating.

Plan that holiday if you want, you don’t even need to buy tickets or actually go there. Studies show that people are happier by anticipating the holiday than they are after the holiday.

3. Prioritise Your Day - You Only Have 24 Hours

Actually you have way less. But do you know how many?

When you take away 7-8 hours sleep (I highly recommend you don’t skip this), running errands, grocery shopping, booking appointments for yourself, your kids and other responsibilities - what are you left with?

Now you know the exact number, what are the things you enjoy doing most? Lighting than candle we talked about earlier? Peloton biking? Writing? An elaborate skincare routine? Spending time with your family?

Schedule those into your day FIRST.

I dare you not to feel more energised, motivated and fulfilled with your week. When you plan enjoyable activities and rewards into your day, your performance will improve in other areas as you will have something to look forward to.

Now take your week, month, even a year and schedule those in.

4. Remind Yourself of Your Values and Dreams

Clarity and self-awareness are valuable as they are in short supply, especially when your mind is cluttered, you’re on autopilot and don’t have your ‘basics’ taken care of (health, enough rest, things to look forward to).

It can be a daunting task to remember what we get inspired by, what brings us joy when we don’t experience it on a daily basis. Once you can carve out some time for yourself to think take out a pen and paper and remind yourself:

  • What are your dreams?

  • How do you want to live your life? - write it down as though it already happened and in as much detail. Better yet, write it down every single morning - it worked for Rachel Hollis the author of a book called "Girl Stop Apologizing".

  • What matters most to you now? Saving the planet? Starting a business? Family? Fulfilling work? Less work? More rest? More play?

  • What can you best teach the world?

  • Who will benefit from it?

  • How will it change them?

5. SMART Goals & Power of Habits

Part of the problem of translating our big dreams into bite-sized actionable steps is not having a reward that is in the here and now. Who cares if you want to make millions by the time you are (enter your age in 10 years time here)? That’s why it’s helpful to plan the daily rewards as set out earlier.

The other problem is that we are not good at making the small steps simple and actionable. That’s why you need SMART goals - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Based.

What will you do? When will you do it? How often? Who needs to know?

So if your goal is to be “fitter this year”, your SMART goal for this week could be “run 10 minutes 3 times a week, starting this Friday at 6pm after work and every other day after. I will ask my partner to stay with the kids so I can fully be committed to the run”.

How motivated are you to do this on a scale of 1-10? If you scored less than 8, make the goal smaller, easier to start and maintain.

And then add this to your calendar like you did with the joyful list.

I often talk about the Kaizen principle. It’s the small steps we take each day that amount to what we achieve over a year, 10, 20 years.

“What You Do Every Day Matters More Than What You Do Once In a While.”

Gretchen Rubin

What are the habits you want to create?

6. Create a ‘Will Not Do” List - It’s ok to Say ‘No’

"Sometimes our stop doing list needs to be bigger than our to do list"

Patti Digh

Success is often about what you 'will not' do than what you 'will do'.

It can feel incredibly empowering to decide NOT to do something. When you know exactly how many hours in the day you have for your dreams, goals and activities that bring you joy and fulfilment, you realise that it’s just as important to say ‘No’.

In Bruce Tulgan’s recent book ‘The Art of Being Indispensable at Work’ he talks about the power of ‘Yes’ and playing the long-game. Our reputation gets damaged by overcommitment. We start things that we don’t fully finish.

"Yes is where all the action is, you better not waste your ‘Yes’."

Bruce Tulgan

So write down what you will not do.

This can be a very difficult task especially for perfectionists and those with high responsibility taking tendencies, but pluck up the courage and make that ‘will not do’ list.

7. Work with a Coach

And if you need an extra helping hand, you can work with a coach. There are so many incredible coaches out there.

A good coach can help you clarify your values, gain better self-awareness, create meaningful goals and keep you focused and on track.

What you are looking for in the next stage of your career? How do you want to develop in 2021? Have you worked out your career map?

The pandemic may have raised more questions than given answers. Maybe you are a little stuck or really overwhelmed. Maybe you are overcommitting or have become demotivated.

Or maybe this has given you a push to really focus on your career and you’ve discovered new strengths but unsure how to make the most of them.

This month, I am offering the first 3 executives who reach out, a free Coaching Session.

Get in touch if you'd like to be one of them?

(If you are experiencing unrelenting stress, grieving a loved one or even the loss of your previous life, I urge you to seek counselling. Most mental health professionals are offering telehealth sessions, so they are more easily accessible than ever before.)


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