New normal; new goals

So here we go, week 3 of lock down and my second 2 blog offering. As previously, this is some thoughts based on my training and experience as an occupational therapist mixed in with reflections on my life at home with three kids and my husband in this weird new world that we’re all trying to get used to.

This week, I’m going to be thinking about how to set realistic goals and why its good to use practical experiences to judge our achievement of these goals.

This is in recognition that lots of us tend to judge our achievements based on the chunterings of our inner voice. You know the one, it’s the one that says:

you didn’t do that as well as you should have” or “you might have done that one thing, but what about this list of other stuff you ought to have done?” or, “you’re just not really very good at this are you”.

It’s pretty persuasive and can feel like an accurate judgement of you, but it’s generally not based on any evidence and is driven by emotions not facts.

I’m going to take a moment here to remind you that we’re living through change right now. Everyday life is different in a multitude of ways for most of us. So, why are we still trying to do everything we used to do to the same standards as we did before?

I do this; I want to do my job as well as I usually do; I want the kids to be as happy, engaged, and content as they usually are; I want the house to be as organised as it usually is, I want to be a good friend, daughter, sister. etc as I hope I usually am. None of this is currently happening to a level that I would consider normal.

As humans we learn from occupational experiences. The process of doing something, thinking about what it was like and then using that information to plan for next time we do that activity is integral to how we generate and work towards goals. When this works successfully (most of the time) this motivates us to carry on doing the things we need and want to do. It gets troublesome when either we can’t do the things that matter to us, or we can’t do them to the level that we expect of ourselves.

It’s this mismatch between what we feel we ought to be capable of (and in normal circumstances are capable of) and what we feel we are actually achieving that’s tripping a lot of us up at the moment. I feel like my brain hasn’t caught up with the situation; it’s still working on previous expectations and I have to consciously remind myself that those expectations simply aren’t that useful anymore.

I imagine I’m not alone in this. But, this doesn't mean there aren’t successes or achievements happening; it’s just that we need to consciously recognise that our goals need to be slightly different now and consequently, we need to look harder for the evidence that we’re each doing ok in our own particular set ups.

First, let me clarify that I am talking about the practical, day to day goals that make our lives run. Not the big, long term, future goals like career progression, self-actualisation or the achievement of a perfectly balanced work-home life (if such a thing even exists).

So, what are your everyday goals? As I said last time, our habits usually take care of this thinking; our routines automatically set our daily goals and assess our levels of achievement. Now we find ourselves in a new normal and this means that we need to consciously think about what our goals are in the here and now. And, don’t forget, if the goal changes, the measure by which we judge success also needs to change: it needs to be ‘fit for purpose’.

The key to feeling success in your new daily routine is to accurately work out what’s a realistic expectation of you, in this environment with the pressures and resources you’ve got going on right now.

Below are some examples of how I’ve tried to reorganise my thinking and set more realistic expectations of myself and crucially, the clear, practical things that will tell me when I’m successful.

I’ve split my thinking into the four main sections that I tend to prioritise in my life (yours might be different) with:

  • ‘before goals’ and ‘right now goals’ - to make me stop and recognise the different pressures and needs then and now

  • realistic ways to help me recognise when I’ve achieved my goals - that don't rely on emotion, guilt or 'should haves'

There’s also a template to use if it’s helpful. Sometimes it’s good to have some structure to help you think in an organised way.

If you can find the time and headspace to think about what’s realistic, what your changed priorities are and the level of expectation and evidence you’re looking for, it can help you give yourself a break; maybe even give yourself the pat on the back you deserve. Re-set your expectations, take the pressure off, get that feeling of achievement more often.

It’s key here to think about the actual, real-life result of achieving your goal; look for practical, tangible evidence of success. As always, small successes are important; notice them, celebrate them, reflect on them.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is:

  • small, practical goals are good for us; they help us feel grounded and in control

  • accurate assessment of ourselves is possible and important: one way to get there is to look more to the practical evidence and less to the emotionally loaded judgements of yourself

I hope this is helpful. Stay well and look after yourselves,


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