Goal setting is a perennial favorite topic of mine. Even in the context of massage and bodywork, we still have goals - the treatment plan has an outcome, which is the goal the client and I are working toward with each session. I don't go in "blindly". I have an outcome that we want to achieve, I set a time-frame, and I design each session to achieve that, or adjust if we are not headed in the right direction or at the appropriate speed.
In the context of COVID-19 and a global pandemic, however, setting goals can seem like a wasted effort. More than one friend has commented on my social media asking what the point of having goals would be in a time when everything is so uncertain and so in flux.
This is actually a very good question.
Why SHOULD we be setting goals right now? Is it really worth it to spend time on goal-setting if we are in isolation because of a virus
Interesting, the answer is made less obvious by the attitude we have toward goals, particularly in the west and ESPECIALLY in America. We tend to only view goals as longer term outcomes and not embrace the micro-level process. What I mean is that we tend to look at goals only as long term plans (i.e. the next 1-5 years, or even beyond) and not much else.
Viewed this way, it is understandable why one would want to forgo goal setting during a pandemic. We don't even have clear messaging for the next month, let alone a 5-year plan.
My argument for goals is that PROCESS goals are a huge part of the equation and should be of primary importance in any goal setting intervention. As I've droned on about ad nauseam, process goals are critical in that they have more of an element of control to them than performance or outcome goals, which often are dependent on too many variables that are external to the individual setting the goals.
Americans love to have the outcome goal ("finish a marathon") but tend to not emphasize the daily process goals that will bring them step-by-step to that goal ("Get 7 hours of sleep a night"; "adhere to diet plan 90% of the time"; "complete 10 minutes of imagery training daily"...you get the point).
Many times when I have a coaching intervention with a client, their outcome or performance goals - usually something 6 or more months away - are usually sound. Unfortunately, that seems to be the end of the road when it comes to goal achievement in that domain. Interestingly, I could argue that a preponderance of "coaches" with "programs" facilitates this goal-setting laziness, but I don't want to get off-track. The point is that we love outcomes (read: WINNING), but aren't too crazy about the stuff that happens in between that (read: WORK).
If you haven't already, you need to have a paradigm shift and embraced the fact that simple processes are actually goals. Repeated and maintained, this is how we establish habits and disciplines. Goals do not need to be flowery or complex. In fact, I'd argue that simple goals are what add up to extraordinary outcomes.
There are plenty of other good reasons for process goals and, especially now, I believe they are more crucial than ever to staying sane during this time and coming out of this in top form.
For starters, lets look at routine formation - Let's be honest: Our routines are screwed if not non-existent. This is a new world for many of us and establishing new routines and order is critical to staying on track and combating anxiety. We can leverage process goals to set up new routines.
"I will wake up at 8AM on weekdays and do 30-minutes of exercise"
"I will meditate for 20 minutes each day at lunch"
"I will get 8 hours of sleep"
These are all simple process goals that give you more control than an outcome goal. In these cases, you did or you didn't do it. If you did not achieve the goal, you have metrics and can troubleshoot. Missing one day of mediation ,for example, will not throw off your entire lifetime achievement destiny. In fact, correcting something small on the journey could contribute greatly to overall success.
Along these lines, process goals are great, measurable ways to track "wins" and develop gratitude, particularly when the world is coming apart around us. Many of us, myself included, are struggling to find anything good in the current situation. We are out of work, losing businesses, losing loved ones, unsure financially, and fearful for the future. Having a small set of process goals can give us all something positive to focus on in the middle of all of the circumstance around us that we have no control over. I don't speak for anyone else, but it personally relieves my anxiety to achieve my daily goal of doing a workout, or writing an article like this.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that process goals will help to keep you on track, establish new norms, and let you feel like you have control in some areas of your life when everything else seems uncertain. Although there IS a good argument for maintaining your long-term outcome and performance goals and simply tweaking them a bit, I can completely understand why people may feel reluctant. If this is you, guess what: that's totally cool! Simply look at some simple daily goals you can turn into a dynamic process, and use those to propel you forward one day at a time until the future is a bit more clear and focused.