During the pandemic, we may believe our “real” lives are on hold. You may not know when or if you will return to your physical office. You may be waiting on your boss to decide if she’ll allow permanent remote work. Or perhaps you feel demotivated after feeling distanced from your colleagues for nearly two years.
But as 2022 approaches, you should still make professional New Year’s Resolutions. According to a survey by Fidelity Investments, individuals who made resolutions for 2021 were more optimistic and successful in goal achievement than those who didn’t set these resolutions.
“Eighty-one percent of respondents who made resolutions say they will be better off financially in 2022, compared to 58% of those who didn’t make resolutions,” writes Stephanie Dhue.
Though the survey questions in this example were primarily financial in nature, resolution-setting is useful for professional goals, as well. But how can you avoid the trap of New Year’s Resolutions: failing to achieve your goals and then feeling guilty about your failure?
Here is our best advice for setting healthier, more possible resolutions for 2022.
Decide what you really want
One of the reasons we set goals is because we can become too caught up in our daily obligations. Now is the time to consider the big questions. Does your day-to-day job truly serve your professional mission? Are you spending most of your work hours working towards your goals or are you bogged down with useless tasks?
That’s why it’s so important to take stock of what you want in the new year. To do this, ask yourself the following questions:
- What are my core professional goals and values?
- How much of my time is spent in service to these goals and values?
- What negative habits or practices do I spend too much time doing?
- What positive habits or practices could I develop to better reach my intentions?
- What milestones can I set that guide me towards my goals?
Focus on themes rather than goals
One of the reasons so many people neglect their professional New Year’s resolutions is because they can feel restrictive. If you fail once, twice, or 10 times, you may end up feeling bad about yourself, like you can’t accomplish what you set out to do.
Instead of creating a goal, consider setting a theme, or a series of themes, for your year. Biomedical engineer Megan Poorman argues for the benefits of themes over goals.
“You don’t have to check a box; you don’t have to guilt trip yourself. There is no task to fail at, no rubric to measure yourself by, and no waiting for next year to try again. Having a theme for the year is almost like setting a mantra. It serves as a guiding principle when making decisions and reflecting on events,” she said.
A theme can be a single word or a phrase. Perhaps your theme for your year is “expertise.” In service to this goal, you may decide to join a professional organization or take a class. Or you decide you want to start lecturing and share your knowledge with others.
A simple theme like this one helps you focus on what you want without feeling bad when you neglect a specific or time-sensitive goal.
Create goals that you can control
One of the ways we make ourselves unhappy is worrying about things beyond our power. Sp, an issue with goal setting, especially in these uncertain times, is that we focus on people and circumstances we can’t control. For instance, if you’re worrying about if your efforts are enough to earn you the big promotion you want, you’re making yourself anxious about something you can’t control.
Instead, shift that goal from “getting a promotion” to “creating and developing projects that serve company needs.” This way, you are focused on what’s in your power, without concerning yourself with how others perceive you.
Use mental contrasting when setting goals
In creating resolutions, we may be overly ambitious or overly positive. Though we are often instructed to think positively, a better piece of advice is to think rationally.
In fact, if people think too positively, they are less likely to accomplish what they set out to do. NYU professor Gabriele Oettingen suggests that when people felt overly optimistic, they sent out fewer job applications and received fewer job offers.
So, when you are planning your goals for the year, you also want to be aware of the obstacles that will prevent you from achieving those goals – a method Oettingen describes as “mental contrasting.”
“It’s imagining the future, but then also what actually hinders you and what is it within me that stops me from fulfilling my wish. It’s a rational strategy, an imagery strategy,” she said.
In turn, this kind of thinking can help you prioritize what helps you reach your objectives, as well as eliminating the unproductive behaviors that keep you from what you want.
Unpredictability Doesn’t Mean Avoiding Professional New Year’s Resolutions
Rather than waiting for more consistency in your work life, now is a more important time than ever to set resolutions for yourself. Creating goals or themes that serve your personal mission ensure that you won’t be bogged down in the daily minutiae that doesn’t help you advance. What’s more, you should develop goals that you can control, and that don’t rely on external stability, to be achieved. The problem with resolutions is that they are often too negative, too positive, or too strict. Using these methods on our list helps you be more rational in your goal setting – and set yourself up better to achieve them.