How to Make Plans and Set Goals in a Time of Uncertainty

After the unforeseen events that occurred in 2020 — which fundamentally changed our lives forever — it would be understandable if you’re feeling a little apprehensive at the thought of setting goals and making plans for the coming months. Given how quickly things changed in the previous year, there’s definitely a “what’s the point” feeling about goal setting.

But, if you are keen to lay down a few plans for the next little while, you definitely should. Not everyone thrives off intention lists but if you are one of those people who usually plan their life extensively, we’ve got you covered. Thanks to the expertise of Dr. Kieran Kennedy, a medical doctor and psychiatry resident, there is a way to approach this, especially for those who are feeling lost with their current direction.

“I’ve heard 2020 has made some people reluctant to make goals for 2021, and if you’ve experienced a bit of this lately then that’s definitely to be expected and OK,” Dr Kennedy told The Latch. “It’s likely we’ll find that 2021 continues to be an incredibly challenging year where things are different and uncertain still.

“This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have resolutions or goals of course, but it does mean we might need to adjust things. Moving through uncertainty and some of the short-term changes that 2021 might still have in store for us means making goals is potentially even more important than before. Goals offer us something to tether to; points we can work toward, feel grounded in and have a sense of renewed control.”

When working out what you want to achieve this year, Dr Kennedy recommends starting with short-term goals that are aligned with your everyday life. With international travel still up in the air and many people unable to work towards larger objectives, try to think of things that are more in reach at the moment.

“Try making goals with shorter, more regular time frames to avoid uncertainty throwing things off,” Dr Kennedy said. “Bringing things closer to home can help here too — focusing our goals and progress toward personal and even internal resolutions (like health, our work or family life) can buffer the hit more common goals have taken during the pandemic.

“Keep in mind that goals related to improving our physical fitness, mental health or relationships are powerful ones. There’s the added benefit of these being things we can action and work on regardless of what’s happening around us. Plus, they’ll make our foundations that make stronger to get us through another COVID-normal (or not so normal) year.”

The enormity of the previous year might also be putting you off intention setting. Uncertainty is a feeling many people have had to adapt to in recent months and unfortunately, we still don’t know what the next little while will bring. Dr Kennedy recommends acknowledging these emotions — it’s OK if goal setting seems frivolous to you right now. But, pouring some time and energy into your future might be something that proves to be helpful during this time.

“If you’ve felt overwhelmed, spun out or anxious about what’s been and what’s coming, then you’re not alone,” Dr Kennedy said. “With the incredible amount of change and uncertainty going on at the moment, it’s normal and expected to feel a whole range of difficult emotions.

“Acknowledging this, and how you’re feeling right now, is a good place to start unloading some of that pressure. Talking about it always helps, as it’s more than likely that your mates and family will have felt similar. Uncertainty can be countered by doing little things each day to give our mind a greater sense of purpose and control — now is the time to get trigger happy with those weekly schedules. Plan out your week and write it down. Including regular exercise, catch-ups and even logging work projects and personal goals can help us take back a sense of control and certainty when the world around us feels so off-kilter.”

When it comes to setting his own intentions, Dr Kennedy breaks them down into categories like ‘work’, ‘social’, ‘physical’ and ‘mental’. This way he is able to hit all the important boxes in his life and, as he mentioned, when things feel out of control, regaining a little in your own life and direction can be empowering.

“I’m a big fan of goals and resolutions and like to tackle them in different areas,” he said. “We’re often pulled into only making goals in ‘big ticket’ areas that society tells us we should be chasing — travel, money, status or power. I still like to make sure I’m progressing my career and work goals, but I try making a point of setting goals that are also about my health and personal development too.

“For goals and resolutions to stick, research shows they need to come from an internal (self-derived) motivation and offer a compelling view to motivate us. I thus write down not just the goal, but the WHY behind the goal as well. This can help ground us in why we actually want to spend our time and energy on something and helps remind me whether I’m doing something because it aligns with me or external pressures/expectations.

“Finally, a great tip is writing goals down and storing them somewhere where they’re at easy access — read them over regularly and plan out checkpoints to see how you’re doing. A goal that’s regularly viewed and reviewed is one that’s far more likely to actually go ahead.”

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