How to make this (and every) year your best ever, using standards, retroactive goals, and smart practices
Check out these three quick questions about your year in 2018:
1. Were you net/net energized or depleted by your work most of the time?
2. Did you do the best work of your career?
3. Did you get the results you most wanted to achieve?
If you answered “no” to any of the above, then welcome to the majority of us … read on!
Now, about what happened in 2018 that may have disappointed you: About half of you would say what mainly got in the way was events or conditions beyond your control. The other half would say it was mostly or entirely up to you. (Each of us tends to be more inclined either to external or internal responsibility, while reality is often somewhere between the two). I challenge you external-responsibility people to be more like the internal folks about work satisfaction, doing your best, and achieving results. In these areas, you have the power to change your circumstances, mindset, or both despite events or conditions outside of you. Trust me on this. With that in mind, here we go.
First, set your work standards, if you don’t already have them
When I was deciding what to do next in my work life back in 2003, I set three standards for whatever I would choose: 1) I would only do work I found energizing rather than depleting on most days, 2) I would just do something that I would continue doing even if I won a lottery, and 3) I would wake up most days thinking, “I can’t believe I get paid to do this.” Friends and family were puzzled. From their viewpoints, I was “giving up” a divisional COO job at great financial services and technology company like Charles Schwab as the then-youngest member of the senior leadership team. I was told by many, “Only the lucky ones get to do work they love.” I rejected that view, and I am glad I did. While the road hasn’t been easy, for the last decade plus, my work life has consistently met those very standards.
It doesn’t need to be a matter of luck. It’s about setting and aiming for a specific and straightforward set of work standards that are unique to you. Use them to filter opportunities and changes in your professional life. Don’t stop short of achieving them. If you haven’t created a simple set of standards, then 2019 is your time to do that, and keep at it until they are clear and they become your reality. If you don’t do this, then being in the best situation for you to be at your best and achieve meaningful results will indeed have to come from sheer luck.
Next, begin 2019 with the end in mind and set “retroactive” goals
Try this thought experiment: Fast forward your mental calendar to this time next year and imagine you’ve had your best year ever in 2019. You’ve achieved everything you wanted to do! Congrats! Now picture that energized, satisfied future version of you who had that great 2019.
Through a mental miracle, that version of you time-travels “back” to visit the “present-you.” You can even set up an empty chair in front of you and imagine future-you sitting there. What would you want to know? What would you ask, and what would future-you say? What made their year so great? How did they do that? Record the questions you asked future-you, and the answers you imagined them giving you. Put your notes away for a day or two. Pull them out. What do you notice? How does that inform you?
Finally, identify the “so what/now what” from this exercise. To begin 2019 with the successful end of 2019 in mind, what does that success look like, and what will that require of you? Make a list of not more than three goals that reflect your highest priorities.
Incorporate key three 2018 takeaways and three leave-behinds in your 2019 plan
Make two lists to go with your goals:
a) What are your three most important takeaways from 2018—the things you learned, did well, loved, or appreciated, that you’d like to invite to the party and incorporate into 2019?
b) What are your three most essential leave-behinds from 2018—the things you’d like to tell, “thank you for your service, you are dismissed” from 2019?
Monitor/manage and debug self-defeating mindset glitches
Mindset glitches are your thoughts and ideas that deplete your own energy or cause you to be unhappy. It’s what you tell yourself (and how you say those things in your mind) that undermine what you hope to accomplish, devalue you, cause you to be overly critical, “less than” others, too perfect (unattainable), a “fraud,” or otherwise not what you want to be.
You need to carefully monitor and manage what you tell yourself about yourself and about what you’ve done and haven’t done. Highlight your patterns of thinking or self-talk that get in your way, including, for example, undermining, self-marginalizing, self-devaluing, or overly self-critical thinking. When you catch yourself being less than positive and supportive, correct it by giving those patterns the rest of the day off. As I say to some clients, “Just dismiss the itty-bitty-s*tty-committee in your head.” Practice it every day. These thoughts become less and less powerful as you gain more and more real-time ability to notice and dismiss them. Eventually, they fade away.
Finally, understand what you’re hanging on to: “Despite or Because of”
Sometimes my coaching clients say, “I’m successful because I’m a perfectionist, even if that gets me in trouble,” or “I’m successful because I tell my people what to do and how to do it, even if they whine about it at times.” We are successful because of some things and despite others. In these cases I challenge clients to consider the notion that they are successful because of their smarts, experience, drive, and focus, and despite these behaviors.
If you had to make a list of things others might consider to be negative, yet you would say they are part of your “because of” list rather than your “despite” list, then what would you move from one to the other? So how do you want to incorporate that into 2019?
Put it all together into goals and practices
Take the results of the five exercises above and turn them into a note on your phone or one-pager taped to the wall in front of you. Anything that you can look at every day of 2019. Not more than three goals at the top and the rest are practices. Share them with someone you trust and revise them if they have useful feedback or suggestions for you.
Read your goals every morning, and pick one practice to try every day.
I hope that you will be energized, do your best work, and achieve the results you find most rewarding in 2019, and every year after that. Keep this exercise in your pocket for future years too!
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