Resetting Goal-Setting

Good Monday morning everyone,

Depending on where in the world you live, January 12th was no ordinary Friday. It was, as I was surprised to find, “Quitters Day”: the day by which most people (at least here in Britain) had already given up on their new year’s goals. Only 12 short days into the new year.

And this sad statistic got me to thinking about goals and goal-setting, and how much we get wrong when approaching the topic.

For so many cultural and historical reasons – everything from lingering Industrial-Era mindsets to glorified hustle cultures to overblown social media transformation stories… and much more besides – we are bombarded with noise and pressure to create massive “before” and “after” stories of our own, to overhaul our lives, to make splashy headline-grabbing changes. In one short year.

But the critical thing that often gets lost in all the conversations about goal-setting is the role of trade-offs: that fundamental reality of life – and law of physics! – that dictates that every unit of time, energy, willpower, and headspace that we devote to one thing, is by definition a unit of time, energy, willpower, and headspace that we cannot devote to something else. 

So when we set goals we have to also plan for the trade-offs that accompany those goals. We have to rebalance our resource “ledger” so we know which things we will stop doing or do less of, where will we cut back, where we will reallocate our resources, and where we will make room for the new goal we have set. 

And – this is maybe the hardest part – we have to set fewer goals while we’re at it.

Here are a few ideas about how to do just that:

1 – Limit how much you put on your “goal” plate for the year… – …to just THREE high-value things that, when accomplished, will allow you to look back on the year and say “This was a good year”.

Then, think of all the ways you might get tripped up, and make a plan for getting back on track.

For example, if you have kids, then summer holidays will interrupt even the most  disciplined schedule. So plan NOW for what you will do when your schedule changes. Can you hire some temporary child care? Can you enroll your kids in a day camp? Can you get friends or family members to help? 

There are always parts of your day/week/year when your standard operating procedures will get disrupted (holidays, work conferences, big events, etc), so look to your year ahead and plan how you will adapt your schedule around these disruptions so you can still make progress even when things go off piste.

2 – Make “no” your friend – Create space in your life and harness your time, energy, and resources for what you really care about by saying no more often, and create boundaries that will help you say no with ease and grace.

Do people ask you for a lot of free consultations or unpaid work? Limit yourself to doing 10 free taster sessions, for example, and say no to freebie requests after that. Find yourself volunteering to plan every event at work? Limit yourself to doing just one or two each year so you can still contribute without being taken for granted. Does your PTA always look to you to organize the bake sale? Limit yourself to just one volunteer activity for the school each year, and then say no to further requests.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, but you need to harness your time, energy, and mental resources by being protective of your yes’es and profuse with your no’s.

3 – Automate, Eliminate, or Delegate wherever possible – This one can be a whole book in itself (and I’ve put lots of exercises around this topic in my book), but fundamentally, every time you find yourself doing something that you’re not getting paid to do OR doing something that is not something that is contributing to your goals, STOP. Then think about whether you can automate, eliminate, or delegate the task. 

This is just as true at home (if you live with others) as it is at work. Not everything can be automated, eliminated, or delegated, of course, but a lot can be if you force yourself to find a way.

For example, you could schedule recurring grocery deliveries, eliminate unnecessary meetings, delegate some elements of the business development process. You could automate email responses to frequently asked questions, eliminate working with clients or suppliers who have become unnecessarily difficult over time, delegate cooking meals to a meal delivery service. The possibilities are endless – and don’t have to cost money – if you invest some time thinking about how to do less so you can accomplish more.

My friends, we overestimate how much we can do in one year and underestimate how much we can do in five. So don’t give up on 2024 just yet.

Re-set your goals. Re-set your approach to your goals. Or simply re-set your self-talk about your goals. But don’t give up before the year has started.

You can accomplish anything. But you can not accomplish everything. Or, to re-use an analogy I used recently: you can’t boil the ocean, but you CAN boil one cup at a time.

Here’s to boiling only three big, meaningful “cups” in 2024.

xx Rupal
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About Me
Rupal Patel logo
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Rupal is a born-and-bred New Yorker now living near London. Her high-octane career as a CIA officer turned serial entrepreneur has taken her from military briefing rooms in jungles and war zones to corporate boardrooms and international stages.

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