Life during a global pandemic looks different for everyone, but a quick scroll on Instagram can often convince you that zen can be found in the perfectly loaf of banana bread. With hobbies being chased and passion projects being rediscovered, it can be all too easy to question your commitment to your goals, both personal and professional. However, it is also crucial to take into account the fact that we aren’t living in the same world that we did before, and productivity can look different when the future feels suspended. We asked mental health experts how to reconfigure the goal-setting process to adapt to our new reality and here’s what we learned.Why it’s important for goal-setting to change during the pandemic
“A lot has been spoken about physical exhaustion, but emotional exhaustion is just as valid,” says Lucy Spicer, a London-based psychological coach. At a time when life feels in limbo, it is essential to account for the emotional toll it can take and to avoid holding yourself to the same goals and standards that you did in the pre-pandemic world. While some have been utilising the time to rediscover forgotten hobbies, others might find it difficult to get out of the bed in the morning. “It’s no surprise that the additional pressure of striving towards the goals we have set for ourselves can sometimes feel overwhelming and you might find it difficult to access the same levels of motivation that you did in the pre-pandemic life,” she explains.
The notion is seconded by clinical psychologist Radhika Bapat who advises against setting any long-term goals when things are so in flux. “The sooner we accept that we live in extraordinary circumstances where the rules that applied before may not be relevant anymore, the easier we will make it for ourselves. Long-term goal-setting requires us to be able to estimate risks and make calculated decisions but in a crisis, like a global pandemic, this is not possible. As a result, we can only focus on staying afloat and making short-term goals for the present,” she says.How to set achievable goals during the pandemic
In the face of an ever-changing future, it is important to re-evaluate goals and release the pressure by breaking the goals down. Spicer recommends employing the principles of motivational interviewing, founded by William Miller and Stephen Rollnick, which is commonly used in coaching and therapy practices to help clients identify their goals. “Goals generally guide a client to find their own internal motivation to change a behaviour. You can be your own coach by getting your journal out and drawing on motivational interviewing questions when setting your own goals,” she says. Ahead, she shares some easy prompts that can be used by those looking to set practical goals:How would you like things in your life to be different?What changes would this require you to make?Are these realistic in the current global situation?On a scale of 0-10, how ready do you feel to make these changes?What goal is most important for you to focus on right now?What would achieving this goal mean to you? What difference would it make?How can you break this goal down into manageable steps?What other barriers might get in the way of you achieving this goal?How can you overcome these barriers and keep yourself accountable to achieving your goal?
In order to set truly achievable goals, Spicer believes that it is essential to be honest about what we can and cannot control. “It is important to create flexibility around what we want to achieve and the timeframe in which we want to achieve it. For instance, a professional goal for many might be to move up the career ladder and get to a managerial position in the coming years, but the pandemic has created job uncertainty. Rather than flooding yourself with fears of losing your job, you can regain control by releasing the pressure on the ‘when’ and redirecting your focus onto what you can do now in the shorter term to build on your leadership skills,” she says. By breaking down the main goal into monthly targets—such as doing an extra course on the side or networking with other team leaders—it can help make progress towards achieving an overall goal.How to ensure that you follow through on your goals
It is all too easy to set a goal when fuelled with motivation and commitment but to find your resolve weakening when things don’t go according to plan. Accountability, then, becomes key to ensure that you actually follow through on the goals that you have set for yourself. To ensure that you stay on track for the goals that you have decided, Spicer recommends allocating time for routine check-ins with yourself. “If you find that you have lost motivation, it doesn’t mean that you have failed. Remind yourself of your ‘why’, explore what isn’t working and analyse what has worked well in the past. It might also be essential to break your goals down even further to ensure that you’re building a path to success,” she advises.