Set Goals, But Stay Balanced in the New Year

In the new normal, here's some expert advice on how to re-focus and create a more peaceful mindset in 2021, while still achieving your goals
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As we leave 2020 behind, many of us are learning a new way of living and working as we create this new normal. One of the things I hear from my friends and colleagues is wanting to slow down and create a more peaceful state of mind.

Our mental health has been challenged in many ways this past year. I turned to Steven Lawson, the founder of Monk Manual, a productivity company focused on fixing productivity through the integration of peaceful being with purposeful doing. He shared some of his thoughts on how we can re-focus and create a more peaceful mindset in 2021.

Question: How do people make a shift from a monkey-mind to a more focused mind if this is all they know?

Steven Lawson: Culturally, we tend to praise speed. And while moving fast can have its benefits, it often comes at the cost of intentionality. As the father of modern management Peter Drucker once said, “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” 

Slowing down to speed up isn’t meant to be a cute catch phrase or empty idea; slowing down and reflection is a real understated and often underemphasized power. The first step toward a more focused mind is to slow down and allow the water of one’s mind to still so they can see their life, and their tasks in life, more clearly.

Has the pandemic, with so many people working from home, shifted how people approach goal setting?

The pandemic has created a new normal for many of us. All the routines, habits and systems that we spent years building have been increasingly difficult to maintain as we move from a situation where we have relative control over our environment, to one that is novel and often times chaotic. When the ground beneath your feet is stable, the next right step can seem clear, or at least at a minimum it can feel possible.

With such rapid change, many of us feel off balance, with the ground shifting fairly rapidly under our feet. In these circumstances, goal achievement is still possible, although the focal point may need to shift.

In times of great uncertainty, when outcomes seem farther away from our control, quantitative goals can seem less accessible. At the same time the shadow strength of this moment is the opportunity for us to practice and grow in our qualitative goals.

The challenges of Covid bring with them the opportunities to rediscover a sense of deeper purpose, balance, and resilience. That field of practice is always accessible to us, and becomes more apparent when our security feels more transitory

Is there any data or research that shows the best way to set and stick to goals?

While there are best practices around goal setting, I don’t think there is a “best practice.” We are all works in progress and what works for someone in one season will not necessarily be optimal in another. Life is a dynamic process and the important thing is to pay attention and to be ruthlessly honest with oneself. Is my current practice working? Is it actually producing the effects that I had hoped for?

With that said, I do believe there are some general themes that support achieving goals.

First, you have to actually want the end result of the goal. We sometimes feel as if we have a motivation problem, but it could just be the case that we actually don’t want the goal all that much.

The second is that we have to create a structure to enable the goal to occur. We have to create a clear outcome and then support this outcome with regular milestones and practices. Rome wasn’t built in a day as they say, and neither is any great life. It takes constancy and ongoing effort.

The third is time. I am of the opinion that the greatest threat to our goals is other goals. We are easily distracted and the thing that may get in the way of your top three goals may actually be goals 4, 5, and 6.

How should people approach the never-ending to-do-list?

I would recommend first of all that the focus shift from a to-do list, to an opportunity list. A to-do list makes one feel as if they are under the thumb of a cruel taskmaster, and often we play that role marvelously. Instead of approaching work this way — try to see everything as an opportunity. An opportunity to serve, to connect, to create, to grow.

Everything we do in a day holds the capacity to be something greater than just a task. When we learn to see the transcendent value in our work, that is when the magic happens.

Jeanette Pavini is an Emmy Award winning journalist specializing in consumer news and protection. She is the author of “The Joy of $aving: Money Lessons I Learned From My Italian-American Father & 20 Years as a Consumer Reporter.” Jeanette is a regular contributor to TheStreet. Her work includes reporting for CBS, MarketWatch, WSJ Sunday, and USA Today. Jeanette has contributed to “The Today Show “and a variety of other media outlets. You can follow her moneysaving tips on Facebook: Jeanette Pavini: The Joy of $aving Community. Find links to her social media and her book at, JeanettePavini.com.