Two weeks into a new year is around the time our resolutions begin to show their staying power. Are you building the habits you aimed to? Are you feeling better for it?
For me, New Year’s resolutions tend … not to be very sticky. So I speak with empathy when I say: if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your aspirations for 2023, take a moment to hit pause and be kind to yourself.
In fields like the law and technology, rapidly evolving landscapes and shifting priorities are the name of the game. You need to adapt to the changing world around you, while executing on your responsibilities and, ideally, keeping up with ongoing learning.
This is why it’s especially important to set, and reset, developmental goals that are rooted in not just a perfect-world scenario, but a realistic and self-aware understanding of the scenario you’re living right now.
Here are some tips for getting back to basics and making space for self-compassion in your goal-setting.
#1: Set Your Sights on Compassion First
In 1957, Martin Luther King, Jr. told a crowd: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
No thoughtful plan for personal growth is complete without an eye toward what we can do for our neighbors. Participating in community building and supporting your peers is an essential way of not just living a full life, but identifying your skills and interests from a new angle. Volunteerism is invaluable for boosting confidence, providing a greater sense of purpose, and developing your social and communications skills, and there are other ways to spread the love, too.
In early 2020, as the pandemic was clearly settling in for the long haul, I decided to lean on gratitude. It was an isolating time, and as I dug deep to try and figure out what might help me endure it better, expressing thanks and reaching out to others more intentionally felt really important.
So, throughout the following year or so, I made a redoubled effort to say thank you to my colleagues (for large and small efforts) more often. I especially tried, when colleagues left for other opportunities, to reach out and share a memory about how they made an impact on me in the time we’d worked together.
These conversations helped reinforce positive relationships with peers, improved collaboration, and, of course, were just really positive and pleasant overall. But I also found that putting together my feedback and gratitude for others helped shed some light on my own working style and career path—which made it a surprisingly helpful development tool for me, too.
You learn a lot about yourself when you pause to think about what you appreciate in others, and what you can share with them!
#2: Build Habits that Honor the Real You
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to learn and relearn that I am just not a person who will dependably document my life in a bullet journal or start a load of laundry every single day. Despite many efforts to the contrary, it’s random sticky note reminders all over my desk and a bi-weekly battle with Mount Laundry for me.
If you catch yourself envying your neighbor’s ultra-tidy planner and determining you simply must begin keeping one just like it, pause and examine the real desire behind that ambition. Then, compare that desired result with your personal strengths—and adapt the goal accordingly.
Here’s an example. For me, the allure of bullet journaling reflects some priorities I want to be more intentional about in my day-to-day life:
- Thoughtful task and calendar organization.
- Delightful, small-scale artistic expression.
But each time I give that “BuJo” a try, I end up frozen by:
- The lack of available time in my daily routine for this task.
- My dissatisfaction when it doesn’t end up looking perfect.
That combination has left me with many beautiful journaling supplies and many empty pages.
(Sidenote: you don’t have to be an artist to successfully use a bullet journal. But because the aesthetic is part of its appeal for me, I want to spend a lot of time building and completing lovely spreads; when I don’t have that time to spend, a lot of unsatisfying untidiness and empty dates appear, which makes me want to give up on the whole enterprise. Vicious cycle.)
Some self-reflection has helped me refocus on my desired results—better task and calendar organization, and more opportunity for artistic expression—with habits that come more naturally to my busy working-mother-of-four lifestyle.
So, instead of sketching out an imaginative, handwritten calendar in a journal each day, week, or month, I meticulously, but simply, use a Google calendar that syncs to my husband’s Gmail account as well as my own. It isn’t pretty, but it’s extremely easy to keep track of family obligations and upcoming events with minimal time invested.
My own to-do lists and tasks, on the other hand, get the handwritten treatment. I just love the exercise of writing them out. So one simple notebook and a few pads of sticky notes sit on my desk, ready to go. I fill them with lists and reminders whenever the need strikes—and doodle all over them, when I need to get a little creativity flowing.
My point here is simple: don’t build habits for their own sake. Even if a given habit seems objectively good, your lived experience is very subjective and deserves to be respected. So start by stating your purpose, and be ready to pursue it from a different angle if your first idea doesn’t play out like you imagined.
#3: Establish Frequent Touchpoints—and Be Honest
Goals are not Roombas. There is no “set it and forget it” in your development.
Still: chin up! A strictly heads-down approach to the route you’ve outlined may restrict you from taking the detours, roundabouts, life rafts, and/or elevators that could make this a truly spectacular year for you in unexpected ways.
Make sure you check in with yourself frequently on how things are progressing and whether you’re pleased with the path so far. Building in small milestones may help; so could a bi-weekly or monthly calendar block to review your efforts and schedule near-term opportunities (use one to research relevant conferences or online courses; another could be spent revisiting a deliverable you completed six months ago to see how you might approach it differently now).
It's also a good idea to bring in a mentor or coach. It should go without saying that this person could be your manager but, in the hustle of daily work, we sometimes forget that a major component of our bosses’ jobs is helping us grow. Take advantage of that. They aren’t all delegation and direction.
Of course, another person could be great, too—a network connection from a previous job, or a subject matter expert you admire.
Whoever it is, schedule some time to chat; then, be up front about what goals you’re working toward. It also helps to make what you’re asking for really clear, so this conversation isn’t just hypothetical. For instance, you could say:
- "Can you be a sounding board for my ideas on how to move in this direction? I’ve done a lot of research but want to bring my plans back down to Earth."
- "Do you have any suggestions on where to get started? I admire your skills in this area and could use some coaching."
- "Are you willing to help hold me accountable for this throughout the year? I know I’ll need some structure to make it happen; maybe we could add it to our one-on-one agenda once a month."
And finally, keep your mind wide open and your eyes on the sky. Pay attention to what’s changing in your life, role, and industry, and how it affects your work. Pay attention to what brings you satisfaction on this march toward achieving your goals, what is less rewarding you thought, and what just bores you to tears. Give yourself permission to adjust course based on these insights.
Remember that January 1, while inspirational, isn’t the only time you can start fresh on something important to you. We can, and should, aim for personal growth all year long—and sometimes that means refocusing or resetting our priorities along the way.
Graphics for this post were created by Kael Rose.