After the sparkle and busyness of the Christmas holidays, early January is a time of awkward transition for many of us. Commuters travel to work past brightly-lit Christmas trees. Indulgences are still being felt, and with them come resolutions. Promises of change and something better. The celebrations are ending, replaced with determination.
Dwelling in possibility
In the words of Mary Chapin Carpenter, “I dwell in possibility on New Year’s Day”. At the beginning of the year, we feel everything is open to us. The year stretches ahead of us, full of hope and opportunity.
There is of course no reason we can’t create just as much opportunity in June as we can in January. We tend not to because we naturally live our lives by rhythms and patterns. The closing of one year and the beginning of another gives us pause for thought, as does the change in routine we tend to have for a week or two.
If we’re unhappy with something – and most years will bring pain as well as pleasure – then the change in the year seems the perfect opportunity to move on.
What do we do with possibility?
The traditional way to meet this endless possibility with resolutions. But as anyone who’s ever made them knows, the chances are, they’ll be broken by February, if not before. Our resolutions are all about how to make ourselves, our lives and our businesses, better.
We all want to be happier, healthier and more productive. We want to do less ‘bad’ stuff and more ‘good’ stuff. We begin the year full of resolve to be ‘better’. Walk into a gym in the first week of January and you’ll see people who won’t be there in the first week of February. Many people keep paying for the gym, but quickly stop going.
This happens because it’s hard for us to accept that we don’t really want to keep our resolution. It’s not enough on its own to make us change our behaviour. For the gym-goers, this means losing out twice: paying for a service that’s never used, and not being open to finding another form of exercise that will be enjoyed and stuck to.
When we promise ourselves that we’ll be better, do more and achieve more, we’re telling ourselves that we should not falter at all. There’s a feeling that if we can’t make it in January, we can’t make it at all. Then, on reaching February having broken our resolutions, the temptation is simply to wait another 11 months before making resolutions again.
In this way, resolutions narrow the possibilities we have on New Year’s Day. They are goals with shallow foundations. We make them because we feel we need to do something to iron out our perceived faults and improve ourselves. Instead of doing this, we could work on a vision for our lives that allows us to accept ourselves.
Make your goals part of your vision
Rather than setting goals for your year ahead in isolation, think about what your vision should be. Setting the vision provides clarity and allows you to prioritise your goals.
What changes will you make that will provide you and your family, friends and colleagues with genuine, heartfelt, positive change?
Don’t ask what your resolutions should be. Ask yourself what you can do to generate ideas, be more creative and innovate. Ask yourself how you can encourage others to do the same.
Resolutions don’t work because they take no account of the reality that things change constantly and we need to respond to change. This is something we know, but somehow, we choose to forget in January. The pressure that creates can be destructive, forcing us into rigidity. Resolutions say, you’re either a new you, or you’re a failure.
The ability to create a successful vision is a vital leadership tool. It gives you a clear view of your team or organisation at a point in the future, and with that view, a direction. It gives you the knowledge you need to get to where you want to be.
The role of goals
There will always be goals we want to achieve. Indeed, they’re usually a vital part of measuring achievement and performance. But for those goals to mean anything, they need to be tied to a vision of success. Use the opportunity January presents to set goals thoughtfully within the context of a vision. Allow yourself to do your best, even if your best isn’t always what you thought it would be.
At work, embrace the possibilities that exist for your organisation. Involve everyone in developing a vision for your team and beyond. Enjoy meaningful thinking, beyond the limits set by narrow goals. And don’t stop just because it’s February.
What is your experience of setting goals in January? How do your goals contribute to the development of your vision? Let’s have a conversation.