When Goal Setting Doesn't Work, Try This

I’ve been feeling like a hypocrite. A lot of people have read my New Year’s goal setting article, in which I describe using an “eff yeah” list to celebrate your most meaningful or fulfilling moments in 2016 and using that list to build meaningful goals for 2017.

It can be a really empowering process, but this year I’ve been stuck on step two. I’ve used the eff yeah list strategy before, and it’s been an exceedingly powerful tool for me and for clients. But as I did it this year, it felt like I didn’t know what I wanted.

For example: on my eff yeah list, a lot of my favorite moments were providing keynotes or facilitating retreats for large groups. Initially, I thought I wanted to do more speaking engagements. But when I did the math, I’d led an event at an average pace of once every two weeks in 2016, and half of those required significant travel. I’m not convinced more speaking engagements or travel is realistic, particularly considering what I call the consulting dead zone – most companies aren’t hiring consultants between Thanksgiving and January (plus all of Mardi Gras season here in New Orleans). Is smooshing more events and travel into the year really what I want?

Grappling with my hypocrisy for not using my own goal setting strategy has given me cause to reflect about our culture’s urgent desire to change some aspect of our lives every January. Using the start of the new year to assess and consider how you can challenge yourself and improve is fantastic. On the flip side, feeling obligated to find something to change or work on when nothing comes up organically can be exhausting and self-defeating – the opposite of how I want to start the year.

When you’ve been encouraged to be a “success driven woman”, it can feel like you’re rewarded for change, even when stasis might be healthier. When was the last time you said, “Wow, you’ve been in your job for 2 years now. Congrats!” (Automatic LinkedIn anniversary messages don’t count.) We tend to celebrate the new job, the new client, the new whatever, while undervaluing continuity. 

For example: on my eff yeah list, a lot of my favorite moments were providing keynotes or facilitating retreats for large groups. Initially, I thought I wanted to do more speaking engagements. But when I did the math, I’d led an event at an average pace of once every two weeks in 2016, and half of those required significant travel. I’m not convinced more speaking engagements or travel is realistic, particularly considering what I call the consulting dead zone – most companies aren’t hiring consultants between Thanksgiving and January (plus all of Mardi Gras season here in New Orleans). Is smooshing more events and travel into the year really what I want?

Grappling with my hypocrisy for not using my own goal setting strategy has given me cause to reflect about our culture’s urgent desire to change some aspect of our lives every January. Using the start of the new year to assess and consider how you can challenge yourself and improve is fantastic. On the flip side, feeling obligated to find something to change or work on when nothing comes up organically can be exhausting and self-defeating – the opposite of how I want to start the year.

When you’ve been encouraged to be a “success driven woman”, it can feel like you’re rewarded for change, even when stasis might be healthier. When was the last time you said, “Wow, you’ve been in your job for 2 years now. Congrats!” (Automatic LinkedIn anniversary messages don’t count.) We tend to celebrate the new job, the new client, the new whatever, while undervaluing continuity.

Driver vs. Seeker Mode

The book Life Entrepreneurs offers a framework for both personal and entrepreneurial leadership development. In it, there’s discussion of how having both drive and direction allows people to lead an entrepreneurial life. When your drive and direction are both high, you’re in ‘Driver’ mode. If you’re feeling a high level of drive and lower direction, you may be in ‘Seeker’ mode.

After hearing my current tension with goal setting, a friend suggested I’m in a Seeker phase, but she pointed out that a lot of the tension I’m feeling is because I’m accustomed to being in Driver mode. She’s not wrong. Since I was a kid, I’ve had a strong internal motivation that’s at times been so intense it’s counterproductive. Looking at my 2016 and seeing that my life already had a lot of the qualities I wanted was a powerful exercise, but it left me uncertain about what to DO next.

I’ve decided to follow my own damn advice and set goals that I actually want, rather than what I feel like I should want. I’m challenging myself with an intention for this year, which is to BE – to recognize that I’m in Seeker mode and that being open to new direction means slowing down and paying attention to where I am right now.

Instead of starting 2017 trying to find something I want to change in my life, I’m focusing on what’s working well.

It may not be sexy, and it certainly isn’t on any of the top 10 lists for New Year’s resolutions, but I’m confident it’s what I need right now. And if I decide I want to continue to grow my business, being present with what’s going on is what will ultimately make that happen in a sustainable and healthy way.