Don’t Ditch All Your Goals As Stresses Mount

When leaders set goals, they make a big assumption: The future will unfold without massive disruptions. But sometimes a shock wave hits, like in March 2020, when a pandemic stymied everyone’s plans.


In times of major upheaval, the challenge becomes deciding whether to stick with your goals, adjust them on the fly, or abandon them and start afresh. Under the stress and uncertainty that accompany a crisis, knowing when to stay the course and how to navigate severe turbulence takes precedence.

“Self-compassion is really critical,” said Lisa Petsinis, a Toronto-based career and life coach. “It’s important to constantly reevaluate your situation given changing circumstances. You may need to put aside your goals, especially if they’re no longer realistic” amid the new reality.

Here are ways to rethink your goals when a crisis erupts.

Ask Three Questions When You Set Goals

In the panic that often ensues when events swirl out of control, stay grounded. Before you make a rash decision about recalibrating — or abandoning — personal or professional goals, ask yourself three questions: Are the goals still aligned with my vision? Are the goals still important? Why do I want to achieve the goals?

“Go back to the basics and always connect to the ‘why,’ ” Petsinis said.

Think Like A Sponge

Rather than let your emotions overtake you, think like a scientist. Don your researcher’s hat and dig for verifiable information that you can use to examine your goals.

“You need to collect data and be on top of as much information as you can,” said Damian Goldvarg, a Los Angeles-based executive coach. He urges leaders to read the latest news on how unfolding events affect their business and personal life so that they stay well-informed. Soak up knowledge on its own terms; don’t rush to judge it.

Set Goals: Engage In Scenario Planning

Corporate strategists map out how their organization can anticipate and adjust to different scenarios. The same process applies to reconsidering your goals when uncertainty takes hold.

“Look at different futures in considering the factors that might cause you to change your goals,” Goldvarg said. Envision various outcomes and then analyze whether your goals still make sense under each of those scenarios.

Stay Smart

Savvy goal-setters know to establish SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. The same formula works when goals are in play during a crisis.

“Research shows that SMART goals are more effective,” Goldvarg said. “So if you change goals as new situations arise, keep them SMART.”

Maintain Visibility

Regardless of whether you stick with your goal, revise it or move on, write down where you’re headed. Keep your written goal constantly in view.

“What sets super-successful people apart is they’re uber-focused on their vision,” said Jennifer Tarsney, managing director of the Advisor Advancement Institute at New York Life Investments. “They’re always bringing themselves back to their goals when life throws them a curveball.”

She suggests that leaders position their written goals in a highly visible place such as a bulletin board in their office or sticky note on their computer screen. Just seeing it throughout the day provides “a reminder when things get hairy,” she said.

Use A Mantra After You Set Goals

Trying to pursue a goal under adverse conditions requires force of will. Stress can chip away at your composure and discipline.

“Mental exhaustion can impede progress,” Tarsney said. “So you have to clear your mind, give yourself encouragement and focus on productive activity.”

How? Develop a mantra such as, “So what? Now what?” Asking “So what?” helps put stress-inducing events in perspective, and asking “Now what?” propels you to spring into action and beat back the obstacles you’re up against.


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