What is your biggest obstacle to achieving your goals in 2021?
Your biggest obstacle is not a lack of time or bad timing. It’s not age, ability, or finances. And it’s not even the coronavirus. Believe it or not, research says it’s you.1 In fact, most of us falter when it comes to achieving our goals or resolutions, even when we have the best intentions.2 And that’s far more likely to happen during times of uncertainty.3 When faced with uncertainty, we tend to stagnate, avoid long-term plans, and push pause on our big goals. We become paralyzed by uncertainty. Sometimes, we simply give up on setting goals entirely.4
And, yet, yearly goals help give us a sense of control and keep us grounded in unpredictable times. Goals can help us cope with uncertainty and motivate us to keep trying to improve our lives.5 So, how do you overcome uncertainty paralysis? How do you set goals when everything feels so up in the air?
With a handful of simple, powerful principles that can help you set the right goals and expectations.
If you can harness these principles, you’ll be able to choose better goals and discover new paths to progress — even during the most chaotic times.
5 Ways to Illuminate the Path to Progress When Tomorrow Is Uncertain
#1: Check in with Your Priorities
A lot has changed since this time last year. If that includes your circumstances or needs, chances are your priorities have evolved too. So take some time to reflect on your situation and how your priorities may look different this year. And remember, it’s OK if they’ve changed significantly since 2020. Refreshing your priorities can help you set goals that support them. It can also help you stay focused on ways to enjoy, improve, or preserve some of the most precious aspects of your life.
#2: Emphasize Process, Not Outcomes
Traditionally, goals are driven by milestones or finish lines. And that can be a trap. It can cause us to anchor our sense of value to whether we achieve the outcome we want6 — and put us in a tailspin when we don’t.7 Instead of tying goals to outcomes, root them in a process. Focus on the input and what you can do, not the output or external signals of “success” or “failure.” With process goals, it can be easier to track progress and keep a positive mindset along the way. And that can motivate you to continue working toward your goals — even when things feel up in the air.8
#3: Set Themes, Not Goals
A theme is a guiding principle for action and decision making. It’s less specific than a goal, and it’s not framed around failure or success. Instead, it’s like a beacon or inspiration rather than a finish line. It offers focus and drive without restrictions or deadlines. Themes can be anything you value: relationships, healthy living, gratitude, or financial stability. They act as a “North Star” in uncertain times, illuminating the way forward without judgment or pressure.9 So, if goals feel too big right now, choose a theme. Commit to being mindful of your theme in your actions and choices. And think about small changes you can make to start incorporating that theme in your life.
#4: Focus on What You Can Control
We can’t control everything the future brings, but we can control the goals we set for ourselves. And the best goals will be those we have control over. They should be goals that push us and make us reach, yet are still within our grasp. They should be reasonable and realistic.10 When they aren’t, it’s a recipe for stress and failure. It can create more barriers and challenges. And it can make us feel defeated or incapable simply because we aimed our sights on the wrong goals. We can avoid that by not hinging goals on external factors. So, consider goals that you have full control over, like ones involving your behaviors, choices, or perspective. Prioritize the ones that are personally meaningful or bring you joy. It’ll be easier to stay motivated in stressful and uncertain times if your goals bring you happiness.11
#5: Commit to Working on Your Goals Every Day
Most goals aren’t achieved or missed in a single instant. They’re usually accomplished or forsaken over time, after we’ve put effort in — or we’ve chosen not to — time and again. That means that we have a chance every day to work on our goals. And the more we embrace those opportunities, the more progress we will make. So, don’t wait until you have time for your goals. Time never just falls into our laps. There’s always something ready to take it up. Dedicate time every day to working toward your goals. Ideally, set a specific time when you’ll be energized and focused. Make it part of your routine, and find a good way to make yourself accountable. Carving out time for your goals is the only way to be sure you have the time to make them happen.
When we can embrace uncertainty and the possibilities it brings, we can learn more about ourselves and make meaningful progress, no matter how unpredictable things are.❞
Progress Is Possible with the Right Mindset
Uncertainty is an inescapable part of life. And after a chaotic year, it may seem like things are more unpredictable than ever. But with the right mindset, we can make better decisions about our goals and stay motivated to keep working toward them.11 When we can embrace uncertainty and the possibilities it brings, we can learn more about ourselves and make meaningful progress, no matter how unpredictable things are.12 Discovering possibilities in uncertainty and setting goals are some of the most important things we do as financial advisors. We know how much things can change in a year. And we’ve seen how prudent plans and goals can lead to sound decisions that keep people on track to meet their long-term objectives.
Now’s a great time to check in and see if your goals still work or if it’s time to shift gears. If your goals have significantly changed, let us know and we can schedule some time to discuss whether your portfolio should change too.
Sources & Disclosures
1 – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-blame-game/201701/new-years-resolutions-become-dissolutions
2 – https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2015-12-29/why-80-percent-of-new-years-resolutions-fail
3 – https://hbr.org/2020/04/dont-let-uncertainty-paralyze-you
4 – https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/17/coronavirus-psychology-of-uncertainty-not-knowing-whats-next.html
5 – https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/seven_ways_to_cope_with_uncertainty
6 – https://inside.ewu.edu/calelearning/psychological-skills/goal-setting/
7 – https://www.verywellmind.com/negative-thinking-patterns-and-beliefs-2584084
8 – https://bigthink.com/videos/amy-cuddy-on-success-through-incremental-challenges
9 – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/wander-woman/201701/set-your-theme-the-year-you-set-your-goals
10 – https://www.goalsontrack.com/blog/2017/06/02/set-goals-you-can-control/
11 – https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-power-of-embracing-uncertainty/
12 – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-flux/201912/5-tips-help-you-live-uncertainty
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