I am always amazed at the huge number of articles and videos that pop out at this time of the year – encouraging us all to set up impressive and amazing goals for the New Year ahead. I am sure many of you are inundated with WhatsApp messages and in reading all sorts of helpful articles and watching videos to be a ‘better’ man or women or child and to ‘make your dreams come true’ this upcoming new year. This past year has been an extremely challenging year for many of us, and the start of a new year offers us a chance to 'hit refresh' and start all over again.
While the traditional New Year resolutions (which is our 'hit refresh' button) can provide us with something to aim towards, they can also cause quite a bit of stress given that many of the messages imply the need to change and to be an improved version than our previous ‘old’ selves.
This constant call to start the New Year on the right foot can leave a lot of people feeling anxious and pressured into striving to achieve common goals (many of which will be recycled from previous years) that their hearts aren’t really set on achieving. And yet, we try to set the goals anyway because, well, everyone else does it so we might as well jump on the annual bandwagon.
Don’t get me wrong – plenty of people use the turn of each year to good effect for themselves. If you’re the kind of person who swears by New Year resolutions and sticks to them like glue, more power to you! But the past year has taught us so many lessons that maybe status quo has no more place in our "new normal" society.
This article is dedicated to those who feel swept along by the tide of expectation that comes with each New Year to be better than they were last year, and who might enjoy some alternative suggestions for the coming year. With that in mind, here are four questions that can be helpful to ask yourself and ones that will hopefully relieve the pressure of expectation that some of you feel. We all have our opinions of how life should be lived and how others can best live theirs. Ultimately, how we live our lives is down to us and it’s my hope that these questions will help you to get a better sense of where you are and how you want to be, on your own terms.
Heading in to 2020…
1. Do I really need to set new goals?
We like to think of the New Year as a new chapter, a fresh page that starts our story in a new or significant direction. While this helps some people to anchor themselves to a starting point, others simply see their lives as a continuum that unfolds and flows without any need for stops and starts.
Whatever view that’s most useful to take, that’s the one we should go with. What’s worth avoiding is feeling the need to start afresh because that’s what others seem to be doing. Do what works for you. If you want to set fresh goals, go ahead; if you feel happiest with the idea of life flowing in whatever direction you’ve already set, that’s great, too. There’s a reason why it’s called your life.
I also realised that some of my goals are super long term – like building and growing Leaderonomics into a global organisation (and many times I feel in spite of all my hard work and effort, we don't seem to show progress-- but we fight on!), and so I do not need to keep changing goals yearly. It’s the same goal for me at least for the next 4-5 years as we start expanding into new countries and regions. Do what works for you and your life! Goals do not need to conform to just one year. Can be months, years or decades. Let them be your goals, not yearly goals. In times of pandemic or distruptions, it may takes years to achieve a specific goal - keep chugging at them and deviate or create new ones just because they seem long and hard to reach.
2. What matters most to me?
Personally, I enjoy using the end of each year as a period of self-reflection that helps to re-affirm what I find meaningful, and also throw up some interesting and new ideas. Setting specific goals is great, but perhaps one of the reasons why New Year resolutions don’t stick is because we forget about the why behind what we want to do.
Consider the difference between “I plan to lose 10kg by April” and, “I want to be a healthier person so that I can join in with my children’s/friend’s activities.” The specific goal is helpful, and it’s enhanced by knowing the reason behind it: “I want to be healthier because it allows me to spend more time with my loved ones doing what we enjoy.” Of course, values can relate to any aspect of life, not just health and fitness. How do you want to be? What would you like to give more of to others (and to yourself)?
And do take the time to reflect and enjoy the process of reflection. I find that the week before the new year is a perfect time to reflect on life and the past year (or years) and to check in with yourself to see if what matters to you before, still matters to you now and going forward. Check your motives and re-write your goals or reinforce them (if it still matters). But taking this time, helps you be better motivated for the new year.
This past year, my reflection helped me realise how I (as CEO) had let my team down with my performance. The team did not fail -- I did. This realisation helped me create specific goals for the new year that help me incorporate the lessons that I learnt from my "failed" performance of last year.
3. What am I thankful for?
As the saying goes, ‘New Year, New Me’. How am I going to be better? What changes can I make? When can I learn that new skill? These are all wonderful pursuits that help us to grow…but how about we come at it from a different perspective: ‘New Year, Blessed Me’? We can get so caught up in the future that we often squeeze out the present moment. Time rolls on – how can I be better and smarter as soon as possible?! It’s no wonder many people feel anxious this time of year.
I find it useful to take some quiet time around mid-December to literally write down what I’ve been thankful for through the year. While I do include some business-related items (including being grateful for an incredible team in Malaysia, India and Thailand), I include a lot of personal blessings. This can be anything from remembering times with friends and loved ones no longer with us, to enjoying a dinner or cup of coffee with old school buddies or cherished family members.
I’ve often written, “I’m grateful to have enough in my life” as a reminder to be thankful for all the ‘small’ things in life that come together and enable me to go after so-called ‘bigger’ achievements. Being grateful also helps me to enjoy the new year better. (In fact, gratitude can be a huge winning strategy for us and you can read an article I wrote on it – https://leaderonomics.com/personal/the-gratitude-challenge)
4. What would happen if I stopped comparing myself to others so much?
This is a great self-reflection question, as it kicks our imagination into gear thinking about the life we could lead on our terms rather than what we feel is expected by others. Our minds are constantly on ‘more or less’ mode: Am I smarter or less intelligent than my colleague? Should I be earning more at my age? I should be farther along the road than I am. I’m probably less impressive because I drive this particular car to work. I should watch my weight/dress/appearance more.
It’s only human that we should have these kinds of concerns, but it becomes a problem when we focus on them so excessively that they get in the way of what we can really do that’s purposeful.
While it can be a challenge to lessen our comparisons, imagining what life could be like if we stopped comparing ourselves to others so much can show us glimpses of how life could be if we discarded the unnecessary attention we place on expectations we feel we need to live up to. From there, we can start taking steps towards leading a more authentic life that’s true to ourselves and leaves us feeling content.
Wishing you a super and blessed new year! I do hope and wish that you grow into a better leader, who will lead your family, your employees and everyone you come in contact with into a better world and place. Have a super year ahead!
Roshan Thiran is the Founder & CEO of Leaderonomics — a social enterprise working to transform lives through leadership development. Roshan and his team at Leaderonomics wish you a great new year ahead. Connect with Roshan on Facebook and Twitter for more insights into business, personal development, and leadership. You can also follow him and his weekly videos on LinkedIn.