But, just for a moment, I’m going to pretend the internet isn’t full to the brim with negativity masquerading as profundity and get real about my 2K(17) resolutions.
Why Goals Are So Difficult
I have early memories of my parents (lovingly) drilling into my skull the importance of making and working toward goals as the path to success. I bet you’ve heard it your whole life.
And yet, despite their instruction, I’m really bad at goal-setting. Or should I say, I’m great at goal setting and not so great at goal accomplishing. I’m not the only one who’s terrible at it, either. However you define success, the truth is that everyone wants to be successful, and most everyone knows that goals are important.
So why the heck is it so hard?
I’ve narrowed the cause of my ineptitude down to a few possible sources:
- Not having an effective goal-setting strategy
- Failing to focus on follow through
- A lack of motivation to improve
All of these are significant, but the more I examine my life the easier it is to see the hands-down winner: demotivation. And at the root of that is anxiety and self-doubt—a.k.a. fear of failure.
The Motivational Reset
Yes, the fear of failure is a very real obstacle to success—not just in your career but in life more generally. Left unchecked, it’s catastrophic. Imagine a world where fear of failure reigns supreme—it’s not an exaggeration to say you’re imagining the end of the human race.
But there’s an urgent, tangible benefit to not setting goals that’s rarely talked about: you can’t lose if you don’t play. Of course, you can’t win either.
That’s the real reason we’re terrible at making goals and keeping them. How many times are we motivated by a warped sense of self-preservation, subconsciously letting the fear of failure usurp the things that really matter to us? What makes self-doubt such a strong force for demobilizing perfectly capable individuals?
Simply put, focus determines outcomes. No company, person, or strategy can ever succeed without the right level and center of focus.
You have two main options for where you will focus your time and energy: inward or outward. If you focus too much of your energy inward, you (and your business) will never be able to grow.
That’s the real problem with self-doubt: the balance of focus is all wrong. At times, fear of failure is really a pathological level of self-obsession masquerading as humility. And the poisonous feedback loop of self-doubt is only bolstered by our increasingly superficial online culture.
The potential damage caused by unfettered social media use in children and teens is well-documented, I don’t think many people have fully considered the lasting effects social media has had on business communications. Ironically, we often use “social” media less for socializing and more for obsessing over our online image.
What does all this have to do with New Year’s resolutions?
If you want to be effective, first check my focus. Maybe you need to set goals, but first you should take the time to reset your motivations.
My (Not So) New Motivation
To start 2017 off right, I’ve made a short “mission statement” for myself:
Be grateful. Be generous. Be kind. Be bold.
Look, there’s nothing new here. But there’s something classic. Like re-watching Casablanca—does it ever get old?
Spoiler alert: no, it doesn’t.
The key driving force behind this mission statement is simple: it starts with others. The goal is to always be outward-focused. The surprising upside is that life isn’t zero-sum—you don’t lose out by focusing outward. In the end, everyone wins.
These principles start in your personal life, but they extend to all areas of business and to society as a whole. In fact, giving more than you get might seem to create some kind of magnetism, but there’s nothing hokey about it. People simply enjoy working with those who are less inward-focused.
“You can’t measure all this fluffy nonsense!”
At least, that’s what I imagine some of you might be thinking. I get it. Luckily, ideas that start big and abstract don’t have to stay that way.
Don’t mistake my sincerity for sentimentality. I honestly believe that oftentimes I and many people need to start with defining a vision before determining goals. But that doesn’t mean ignoring the importance of taking actionable, measurable steps.
One Small Step—Over, and Over, and Over…
Plans are a dime a dozen, which is why I decided to start by adjusting my mindset—refocusing the purpose of my 2017 resolutions from self-improvement to others-improvement.
Starting with defining the motivation for change is key, because motivation is the biggest single predictor of success. But once you define your motivation, you’ve gotta get moving!
One way to ensure you stick to your goals is to practice what’s called micro-productivity. The process is simple:
- Set a big goal
- Break it down into micro-goals
- Schedule your micro goals and work at them daily
Memes aside, the process is really as simple as it sounds. By breaking big goals into tinier processes and focusing on the small, more easily attainable goals, you’re more likely to follow through (and less likely to make excuses).
Here is a breakdown of the values I’m focusing on in 2017 and how I’m applying micro-productivity to them.
Gratitude means being thankful for what we have, even in hard times. It’s easy to lose sight of what we have and only focus on what we lack. Being more grateful also makes us more patient and easy to get along with, and that’s a win for everyone in our life.
My micro-goal: I’ve started a daily gratitude list to help cultivate a focus on what I’m thankful for.
The proverbial saying goes, “ask and you shall receive.” But another is, “what you sow, you will reap.”
The world is full of people asking. The people who stand out are the generous, and the most giving people are often the most prosperous. And I’m not just talking monetary giving. Generosity means providing more value for everyone without expectation of return, whether that looks like offering your colleague help on their upcoming presentation, triple-checking your work on an installation, or going above and beyond in some other way.
There’s a big difference between empathy and compassion, and the world needs a whole lot more of the latter.
The goal of compassion is to make life better for others. It’s easy to forget, but it’s also easy to remind yourself every day that everyone you meet has similar goals, desires, and needs to you and your closest family and friends. And the surprising, magical benefit to treating others with kindness? They like you more! Who doesn’t love a win-win?
My micro-goal: I’m looking for at least one opportunity to do something kind daily. Whether that’s giving a smile or a complement to strangers, doing an errand or chore for someone I care about, or talking through a problem with my friend.
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You see, you can’t be consistently kind, or fair, or humane, or generous—not without courage.”
That’s why “be bold” is the most important part of my New Year’s resolution. Because while fear of failure can demotivate, it can also guide you to take bold action despite fear.
This is the part of my New Year’s resolution that’s led me to finish this blog post (which has become surprisingly personal) despite the nagging doubts I have that it will come across as insincere, or worse a waste of your time. In fact, those self-doubts are also what pushes me to finish it anyway and to give it my full attention and effort.
By changing my motivational focus, I’ve begun harnessing the power of the same fear that once threatened to cripple and demotivate me into oblivion.
My micro-goal: On top of writing this post, I’ve decided to cut out the time I used to spend binge-watching Netflix and use those minutes hours improve my skills as a marketer, musician, amateur web designer, and writer—and to actually put myself out there more.
How will you make 2017 different?
Are you totally happy with 2016? Nothing to improve on? No nagging self-doubt or fear of failure?
That’s awesome. Do a dance, you’re crushing it!
But if you’re like me, and your business, your career, or your personal life could use some TLC (and not the 90s pop group), I encourage you to join me in examining the root of the problem.
I realized that I didn’t need just another list of goals I couldn’t make myself follow through on. I needed to fix my focus first. I’m willing to be I’m not alone.
Even this post hasn’t really been about me… it’s all been leading up to this moment where I ask you to be good to your team, your coworkers, your partners, your clients, and yourself by examining your focus, not just your goals, as we move into the new year.
I sincerely hope that something in all this has resonated with you. If even one of you reading got something useful out of this post, then I’m stoked to be a part of it.
At Synergy CT, we’re looking forward to a bigger and better year in 2017—for us, yes, but first for you.
Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year!