Disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic have inspired plenty of inward analysis, reassessment, and revisitation of long-held goals — for individuals and companies alike. And, prompted by the global crisis, organizations have been pivoting toward emerging business models on a large scale. A PwC survey of CEOs found that the pandemic triggered new interest in digitizing operations to allow for virtual work and building an employee-oriented workforce with an emphasis on health, safety, wellness, and flexibility.
Meanwhile, at home, we’ve moved, changed jobs (and industries), and even launched new businesses. In 2020, 4.4 million new businesses were started, up 24% from the year before, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
But revisiting goals and making even small changes toward new ones can be a fraught exercise for organizations and individuals that spurs a host of emotions: There’s excitement and anticipation about new possibilities, along with self-doubt and maybe even shame that previous goals haven’t been achieved. Not taking a leap, even a small one, however, comes with risks, too.
“You become failure conscious, and you judge yourself as a failure,” explained Paul J Hunter, clinical hypnotherapist, life coach, and Director of Ireland-based Cork Hypnosis Clinic. “You start to think of future challenges as potential failures.”
But don’t let fear of failure stop you from taking a look at past aspirations and seeing if it’s time to adjust your strategy or change course altogether. Read on to learn how to decide when to revisit your goals — and how to do it effectively.
When to Revisit Goals
Goal-setting requires intentional thinking and awareness about your current trajectory. Here’s how to decide when it’s time to revisit or revise your goals.
1. Figure out the “why.”
Heather Hansen, author of The Elegant Warrior: How to Win Life’s Trials Without Losing Yourself and founder of professional training and coaching firm Advocate to Win, recommends a three-step process for her clients to determine why they’ve set a particular goal in the first place and decide if it’s time to refocus. Take advantage of her process with these simple steps.
- Know that whatever you do (or don’t do), you’re making a choice. We must be constantly mindful of how our choices are moving us toward a goal or away from it, said Hansen. “Often we make choices out of habit or routine. You have to intentionally revisit your goals and make your choices to maximize them,” she said.
When organizations fail to cultivate their own culture, for example, they end up with a default version, Hansen pointed out. If they don’t formalize the kind of culture they want, then the default culture is the one they are choosing even if it’s not the best one for their business.
Or, at home, when you choose to go to happy hour instead of finishing an online certification course required for the promotion you’re eyeing, you’re choosing to not move forward with your goal in that particular moment.
It’s okay to make choices that move you away from your goals, Hansen noted. And there’s no need to beat yourself up. “But you have to know you’re making a choice,” she said. If your choices keep steering you away from your stated objectives, it might be time to revisit your goals.
- Determine if your decisions are based on your desires — or coming from a place of fear. A lot of things can drive change: our potential, but also our fear and ego, noted Hansen. “During COVID, many people had time to allow their potential and, what I call...their ‘best selves,’ to choose. But others have allowed fear to choose,” she said. “You always want your best self to be revisiting and choosing new goals.”
To understand which part of you is in charge when you’re making a decision — particularly around something like goal-setting, which could have a long-term impact on your life — you need to tune into your body. Using a feelings wheel, a chart with core emotions such as ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ in the center and more complex feelings as it expands, can help people identify their emotions and understand how they’re affecting them, said Hansen. For instance, the mere thought of revisiting a long-held — but still unachieved — goal might leave you overwhelmed. But by referring to a feelings wheel, you can move out of overwhelm and clarify specifically how you feel in that moment. You may learn that emotions such as anger and frustration are really masking your true feelings of disappointment and sadness — and then you can take the appropriate actions to move forward from there. “A decision made from fear feels different than a decision made out of...potential,” Hansen said.
- Make a list of pros and cons. Hansen recommended creating a list of reasons for and against certain goals — whether it’s across a company or related to a personal pivot. “You’ll never know if you made the ‘right choice,’” she said. “But if you list your reasons on all sides of a choice and choose the reasons you like best, you’ll rarely regret it.”
2. Check for pink flags.
Pink flags signal that danger is just ahead and that it might be time to refocus. But often, “we ignore the pink flags until it’s a danger zone and it’s a red flag,” cautioned Mandi Graziano, sales coach and author of Sales Tales: The Hustle, Humor, and Lessons from a Life in Sales. “[You might ignore subtle cues] until you have a pit in your stomach or you can’t sleep or you’re consumed with it.”
For businesses, a pink flag might start waving when that sought-after new client doesn’t pay a bill on time. Graziano recommended that executive teams list common pink flags based on past experiences so that directors and managers can be trained to look out for them.
For individuals, a pink flag might go up when they answer another call from their boss at 11PM on a Friday night, and their partner wonders why they don’t quit. “We have to really trust our gut and pay attention to pink flags before they become red flags,” Graziano stressed.
3. Consider the big picture.
Oftentimes, goals are set simply because of the path we’re on, and then we continue on autopilot. For example, expanding a business into a new region just makes sense because of a successful past move into another area. Or, that promotion is the next logical step up from your current role. But maybe, especially after COVID-related disruptions, there’s a better way to grow the business. And perhaps you’re not really interested in the promotion anymore.
This sounds simple but it can make a big difference — and save you the time, energy, and heartache of muscling forward with old goals before realizing you haven’t truly cared about them for years: Before you set a goal, ask yourself whether it’s tied to something that you actually want. “Do you want this goal or do you have it because someone else gave it to you or you feel you should have it?” Shannon Talbot, certified life coach and founder of Toronto-based Path to Presence Wellness Coaching, recommended that you ask yourself. Any time the word ‘should’ is used, it could be a sign that you’re not truly motivated to pursue that goal, she noted. Instead, holding onto that goal could be coming from a sense of obligation.
How to Revisit Goals
After you’ve done the necessary self-reflection and determined that you need to revise your goals, now it’s time to refocus and move forward. Here are eight expert tips to get you started.
1. Redefine failure.
When things don’t go as planned, don’t think of it as failure, advised Hunter — think of it as feedback. You can use a roadblock as an opportunity to reflect more deeply about why a shift to something new is necessary.
“It is human nature to get deflated if a target isn't reached, but in doing that, you could be missing some vital information,” Hunter said. “Treat it as feedback and analyze the information in order to find the nugget of wisdom that can help you going forward.”
2. Note the learnings.
As Hunter mentioned, obstacles come with plenty of lessons. Maybe you’ve gained knowledge in a once unfamiliar topic. Perhaps that newfound information launches you into a lateral move on your current path or the business into a new direction. Either way, it was an important exercise.
“The confidence you can get from jumping out of your comfort zone is priceless,” Graziano said. “The worst-case scenario is you’re a little smarter today than you were yesterday and you have more confidence and gumption.”
3. Reframe the goal.
If a goal doesn’t look feasible anymore, it might be time to reframe it, Talbot said. If you had your sights set on the title of vice president, for instance, but you haven’t been able to achieve it, Talbot recommended thinking about why you wanted that title in the first place. Was it to lead a large team of people? To take full advantage of your management skills? To get involved in client management? If so, consider if there are other ways to accomplish those things.
As you reframe your goal, Talbot advised, “focus less on the job and the industry and more on the experience you want and the qualities [you want to embody].”
4. Home in.
When things don’t go as planned, company leaders and individuals should ask these three questions as they move forward, Hunter recommended. The answers might reveal that a slight pivot may be all that’s required to continue on the same track or navigate toward a new one.
- Was the goal specific enough? Take another look at the original goal statement and ask if you would still use those same words to state it, he said. If not, assess what changes are necessary. For instance, perhaps your goal was, “Become a better public speaker,” but six months later you’ve come no closer to achieving it. When revisiting this goal, you can now choose to rephrase it more specifically, like, “Take one action per quarter to become a better public speaker, including signing up for a Toastmasters course, enrolling in an improv class, signing up for at least three opportunities to present at team meetings, and volunteering to host an event for the nonprofit organization I’m a member of.”
- Were the steps that were originally listed the right ones? If you set a step-by-step plan to achieve the goal, did one of those steps go awry when confronted with a hurdle? Maybe the problem isn’t the goal itself, but the path to get there, Hunter suggested. Ask yourself if, rather than scrapping the entire goal, you just need to modify one of the steps, or perhaps simply add or subtract a step.
- Are the goals collaborative? You may find there’s resistance to achieving a goal if not everybody’s on board. Did everyone buy into them, or was there dissent or a lack of enthusiasm? “These are signs you may not have communicated a goal well enough or maybe not everyone bought into the goal,” Hunter noted. “The aim is to get everyone on board.”
5. Start small.
As you revise goals and set new ones, grand gestures aren’t required up front, Graziano said. “Just start small,” she advised. “Make one small change.”
Starting small might mean expanding your knowledge in one area. Survey employees about where they’d like to see the business headed. Commit to reading a news article about the topic or the career shift you’re interested in once a week. Explore new certifications or degrees and research what people who gained these types of skills and credentials did with them.
6. Publicize your plans.
Amidst the busyness of everyday life, it’s all too easy to lose sight of your goals — so keeping them top of mind is essential. As a manager, pick one goal a month to highlight during team meetings, Graziano recommended. Share examples of team members taking action or getting creative to work toward accomplishing the goal. Acknowledge even small achievements by employees with notes or inexpensive gifts.
Make the goals visual, too, advised Graziano. Create infographics to hang in the company break room, post them on internal social media pages, or add pop-ups to your company portal so people see the company’s top goals — and maybe even the progress being made toward them — as soon as they sign in.
Graziano lists her own personal goals on index cards, which she displays on a bulletin board. “It’s ever-present; I look at it every day,” she said. “When you have something [always] in your face, it’s a reminder that this is a goal for yourself. This is something you want to achieve.”
7. Get the right support.
Naysayers who constantly question your motives and feed into your self-doubt can make revising and refocusing goals tough going. That’s why it’s crucial to have the right support system behind you. Here’s how to assemble your support team.
- Create a network. Rick Gillis, job search expert and author of Leveling the Paying Field: A Groundbreaking Approach to Achieving Fair Pay, recommended looking to professional groups for advice. Build connections via trade organizations, networking groups (which can be found online, in person, and on social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook), and career offices at your alma mater. For business owners and leaders, groups like SCORE, a national network of business mentors and local business incubators, which are designed to support early-stage startups, can help.
- Tell people what you need. If friends or loved ones aren’t fully on board with your plans, let them know that you need their encouragement and specifically what would be beneficial. “Tell them support is not planting doubts in your mind. It should be regular praise. It should be high-fives and it should be…helpful suggestions,” Hunter said. “You can train those people around you if you tell them that.”
- Be loud and clear. At the organizational level, naysayers also can be found among team members who might see a changed goal as a failure, or the dilution of the original intent behind it. That, warned Hunter, can be a demotivator, too. Communication is key to fend off this kind of reaction.
“The team lead has got to realize that there are human beings going to be impacted by the setting or revisiting of goals,” said Hunter. “So in the spirit of honest self-evaluation, if that team lead [doesn’t have] good communication skills, then that needs to be learned.”
8. Repeat as needed.
Things change, and circumstances arise that we never could have predicted — like the global pandemic. That’s why, for both organizations and individuals, reevaluating objectives should be an ongoing effort. Even if the goal remains after a reevaluation, refocusing your plans can ensure you’re on track and provide an opportunity to remind yourself why you set a particular aim in the first place.
Hunter recommended considering these two questions as you revise your current goals:
- Are they still important to me or the organization?
- Am I or the organization still prepared to take action every day toward achieving them?
Some organizations will revisit their goals monthly to ensure they’re on the right path forward. Others will take another look whenever necessary.
“Revisiting goals within an organization is an opportunity to deepen resolve and commitment,” said Hunter. “It's an opportunity to revive flagging enthusiasm. And it’s an opportunity to change the goal slightly if necessary.”
It can be difficult to make a U-turn or admit, despite your hard work, that things just didn’t work out as planned. Graziano likes to dole out pep talks to the people she works with as needed. When it’s time to reverse course, a pep talk for your team — or yourself — is never a bad idea, either.
“What’s the worst that can happen? It doesn’t go the way you expected it to go,” Graziano said. “But at least you tried. You owe it to yourself to at least explore if it’s worth trying.”
Revising goals can take time and effort, but the payoff is worth it. Using these steps to reassess and revisit your goals can help you get unstuck and set you on the right path again — headed in a direction that's even better than where you were originally going.