"My definition of success is to look back at the end of your life and say, 'I used my time on earth well.'" – Jeff Hoffman
Humans have a need to assign meaning to certain dates and events. For example, Jan. 1 feels different from most other days, even though it's really just another day. Much of the Western world goes about setting resolutions, and some take the extra step to form their resolutions into goals. In a business, this might include updating the strategic plan or committing to a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) that will inspire and engage the team.
Then, predictably, you get busy. Life happens. Business happens. Goals fade into good intentions – if you don't have a system to keep them at the forefront of your mind and business.
In December, I spent three days with a client's executive team making the most robust strategic plan they'd ever had. The whole team felt great about it. Then, within the first two weeks of January, one executive left the company, another needed extended time off for personal reasons, and the CEO got stuck out of town due to unexpected travel restrictions.
While the instinct was for the remaining executives to go into preservation mode, pausing any future-focused initiatives that weren't urgent or didn't have a customer impact, they didn't. They made the difficult choice to stay the course on their plans, continuing to put resources toward what is most important for long-term business growth, not just meeting the urgent demands.
Take time to actually think about your thoughts.
You know those moments when you're having a conversation with a friend, listening to a podcast, or even just getting a few minutes of quiet time in the car or shower, and you have a thought. Perhaps it was a quote, a snippet of something someone said, or a blinding flash of the obvious that seemingly came from nowhere, but it sticks with you.
It could be a passing thought, but instead you choose to dwell on it, be it for minutes or days, and it shifts your perspective. It impacts how you think about a particular situation and might even prompt you to take an action that you otherwise wouldn't have taken.
I call this a "driving thought," because it's a subtle nudge that drives a different perspective or behavior. If you capture these ideas and formulate them into an annual theme, it's a powerful way to keep the focus on your goals as you go through the year – especially at moments when you have every excuse to let daily demands take priority over the future.
After all, as a leader, it's your thoughts that drive the organization.
Choose your driving thoughts.
While I love business books and inspirational quotes as much as the next growth junkie, I've found that the 'aha' moments can disappear as quickly as they come. Selecting a few as my driving thoughts for the year is a way to keep the inspiration alive.
Here are some driving thoughts I've used to help me focus on my goals over the past few years:
- "Definiteness of purpose is the starting point of all achievement." – W. Clement Stone
- Put money where it grows, not where it shows.
- Seek satisfaction, not pleasure.
After a couple years of creating my own list of driving thoughts, I started asking my clients to do the same. Here are a few examples they shared with me:
- Big doors swing on little hinges.
- The grass is greener where I choose to water it.
- I didn't come this far to only come this far.
Keep the 'aha' moments alive.
As you can see, many of these driving thoughts are quotes or simple sayings we've heard somewhere that we can adopt as our own focus. Whether it comes from a movie, book, podcast or conversation is irrelevant. What is relevant is how these thoughts or sayings pertain to you and your goals – personal, professional or both – for the coming year.
When it comes time to write my goals for the year, I usually pick three to five driving thoughts that I know will guide me in pursuit of my goals, and I write them at the top of the page. Then I set a recurring reminder on my phone to review my goals weekly, along with individual recurring tasks for each driving thought, so one or two will pop up at random each day.
Every time I see a reminder, it provides a five-second mental reset. This helps me keep myself accountable to my annual goals all year round, and it has even helped to shape the way I make decisions, and which opportunities I take or decline throughout the year.
From there, I take the goals I've written down, as well as my list of driving thoughts, and formulate an annual theme.
Set the theme.
Now that you have goals and driving thoughts to guide you, try condensing them down to an overarching theme that can be your mantra for the year. Oftentimes, for me, the annual theme is simply a single word or short phrase.
Your theme is unique to you and your goals or priorities at the time, and it needs to answer the question "What do I want this year to be about?" Another way to ask yourself this question is, "When this year is over and I'm celebrating all the progress I made, what will be the best word or phrase to summarize what it was like for me?"
Again, I'll give you a few examples, both from my own themes over the past several years and some that my clients have shared with me:
- Create space
- Celebrate progress
- Say yes to adventure
Three years ago, I set the theme of "create space" for myself. This was one of the most challenging and helpful themes I have ever chosen, because it meant I had to let go of good things to make room for even better things.
Now, this is one of those ideas that sounded fantastic on paper. However, when the time came to say no to good opportunities, reality set in, and creating space wasn't as simple as it sounded. At times, I started to second-guess myself, overanalyze my goals, or even question my own sanity, but my theme served as a powerful reminder that I was working toward something greater.
In hindsight, I can see that the theme of "create space" was a real gift, because it helped me to focus on where I was going and to manage my emotions when it came to critical decision points. This is what makes the whole process of identifying your goals, driving thoughts and annual theme worthwhile.
What driving thoughts do you want to shape your decisions and your behaviors throughout 2021? What theme do you want this year to be about? The beautiful thing about this is that, regardless of any external factors, you get to decide what you want 2021 to be about for you. When it's over, I hope you can look back with satisfaction, knowing you lived it well.