How the pandemic changed priorities and goal setting

The Great Resignation. The anti-work movement. Burnout. The past year has been one big life adjustment delivered compliments of the pandemic. While some of the changes people are making may have been a long time coming, many of us have experienced a shift in priorities.

“Statistics on loneliness and unhappiness are up over the last couple of decades, and I think that some of that stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of purpose,” says John Coleman, author of HBR Guide to Crafting Your Purpose. “We’ve got this mythology of purpose in popular culture that it’s a single thing that transforms your life, usually work.”

Misconceptions with purpose cause three problems, says Coleman. “First, I don’t think purpose is something you find,” he explains. “I think it’s largely something you build into your life. The second is that we actually have plural sources of purpose and meaning in our lives. And the third is that rather than finding something that transforms our whole life, we experience many sources of purpose in our lives, and they shift over time.”

Tapping into your renewed sense of purpose can help you better set goals for 2022.

Start with Self-Reflection

Setting goals requires self-understanding, says David Novak, former CEO of Yum Brands and author of the upcoming book Take Charge of You: How Self Coaching Can Transform Your Life and Career.

“You need to know who you are today to get where you want to go tomorrow,” he says. “I don’t think people do enough self-reflection and self-awareness. They go through life and let life happen to them versus stepping back, looking at where they’re at today, and defining who they want to become.”

Novak recommends looking at the things that take joy away from your life and identifying the things that build joy. Going through this analysis can help you identify the single biggest things you can do to improve your life. Then take that information and develop an action plan.

“A lot of times people procrastinate and don’t act upon what they have to do to achieve what they really want in life,” says Novak. “You need a high enough self-understanding to open yourself for the transformational insights that will get you to perform in a way that will give you more joy and happiness in your life.”

Set Goals in Several Areas of Your Life

It’s natural to focus on professional goals, but Coleman encourages people to look at their life comprehensively. “Your personal life is important, your deep relationships are important, and your hobbies are important,” he says. “These all impact your purpose.”

When setting goals for the new year, Coleman recommends choosing goals for your professional, personal, relational, spiritual, and extra-curricular life. Effective goal setting is important to building meaning and purpose in your life.

“Those goals have to incorporate broad enough thinking that they’re not just encouraging you to do the same thing you’ve done before,” says Coleman. “They should be holistic, encouraging you to become the type of person that you want to become and not just completing a job or a task.”

Make Your Goals Visible

At the beginning of the year, Novak does what he calls his “three-by-five exercise” to identify goals for the year. Using a three-by-five card, he writes down who he is today and then uses that information to make a plan for tomorrow.

For example, he wrote, “I’m an experienced coach.” Using self-reflection, he challenged himself to be even better by codifying his learnings, which led him to setting a goal to write his newest book. On another card he wrote, “I’m a passionate podcaster.” This reflection made him want to learn from other podcasters about how to be more insightful. He worked with a podcast expert, who helped him reformat his program, How Leaders Lead, to make it stronger.

Novak recommends using three-by-five cards to define who you are today and what you want to be tomorrow in a variety of areas, such as philanthropy, fitness, spirituality, and more. Then post your cards where you can see them daily.

“Your goals should be visible and easily accessible,” he says. “Many CEOs have their goals laminated on their desk. I had my goals laminated on my desk when I was running Yum. Then you can pull out your priorities when you’re making decisions. Visibility is very important.”

Decide if Your Pandemic Priorities Suit You Going Forward

Pandemic life often looked different from pre-pandemic life, and priorities changed. But you don’t have to maintain these new priorities in your goal setting for the future, says Kindra Hall, author of Choose Your Story, Change Your Life: Silence Your Inner Critic and Rewrite Your Life From the Inside Out.

“I loved being home with my family, but at the same time, I have work ambitions,” she says. “My priorities have shifted, but that doesn’t mean that my old priorities necessarily went away.”

Setting goals when your priorities conflict can be a challenge. “Ask yourself, ‘What makes me feel really good,\’” says Hall. “Those priorities you had during the pandemic may be right for someone else, but it’s okay if it’s not right for you going forward. Take ownership of your own stories on what your priorities are.”

Priorities and purpose shift and change over time. By letting go of the areas of your life that don’t feel fulfilling, you can make room for the things that help you tap into a greater purpose.