In the times before CoVid-19 we all had our goals, routines and “To-do” lists that seemed so important. But all that has changed hasn’t it? Before the pandemic, my list for April included getting my first colonoscopy (yes, I’m getting to that age!). Thankfully, this has slid off my priority list. What also changed is small things are now complicated. I used to go to the grocery store with relative ease–a quick stop on the way home from work. Now, the ordeal involves carefully thought out supply lists, store maps, and kitting myself out in a haz-mat suit. How times have changed! (sigh)
Goal-setting must change too. It’s easy to slide into apathy or avoidance in our haste to allay our anxiety. But researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky says happiness comes from pursuing goals and not achieving them. If so, sheltering in place may be hazardous to our happiness’ health. Rather than escapism, we need approach-oriented, pleasure-inducing, micro-goals that reflect where we are now. If, for no other reason than it increases serotonin, a feel-good natural hormone associated with happiness.
We’ve experienced a collective schock adjusting to life in a pandemic. We don’t need a challenge because we are already facing challenges. We need to start where we are now when deciding which goals to pursue For example, in a virtual interview on Seth Meyers’ show, Amy Poehler shared how she is teaching her children to sign (as in American Sign Language) anew letter every day. This is a simple, actionable, pleasure-inducing goal. Bravo, Amy! Amy is incredibly ambitious, and, under different conditions she would certainly set more ambitious goals. But she is starting where she is now.
So take small, active steps toward your goals, even when you have lingering doubts. The actions in and of themselves lead to joy and satisfaction…which drown out the doubts. Pursuing new, pleasurable activities produces a steady influx of positive feelings. Make contact with an old friend, learn a word in another language–these activities result in an upward spiral, bringing about more happiness, and subsequently more success.
To ensure you create a vision that is most likely to tap your happiness, look to science. Lyubomirsky’s research (see below for complete list) points to goal characteristics most associated with happiness. They are: make them approach-oriented (rather than avoidant-oriented), unique to you, reflect where you are now (instead of where you used to be or where you think you should be), and are broken down into micro-goals (baby steps). Also, it’s important you pursue them with commitment, kindness toward yourself and celebration.
My new goal for the month is to find the perfect white T-shirt (online shopping is a safe social distancing activity!). I will celebrate by dressing up for my next Zoom conference…
at least from the waist up!
What’s your new goal?
Not all Goals are Created Equal: 7 Tips on Creating Goals for your Happiness’ Health*
–Approach-oriented: Make approach-oriented rather than avoidant goals.
–Make it for you: Ideally your goals are uniquely, authentic to you, harmonious, and activity-based.
–Baby steps: break your dream or vision down into lower-level, concrete subgoals.
–Start where you are: Life is already a struggle for many. We don’t need new challenge, we need pleasure. Formulate your activity goals accordingly.
–Commit: By committing to take action steps toward a specific end we take charge of our destiny (a.k.a. ‘Bossing-up’)
–Celebrate: Consciously reward yourself for achieving any milestones.
–Be kind to yourself: People may feel resistance to goal-setting because they are afraid of failing and therefore suffering the self-criticism that will follow. Turn this around by committing acts of kindness toward yourself…acknowledge yourself, list your accomplishments, remember the many people who love you and believe in you.
*from Sonja Lyubomirsky’s “The How of Happiness”)