We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.
- JK Rowling
Are you having a COVID-life crisis? Here’s how to use this transition time to reflect and set effective goals
The idea of a mid-life crisis isn’t news to anyone, even the idea of a quarter-life crisis is gaining acceptance in popular psychology. These both describe periods in our life where we face major transitions that coincide with deep insecurities about our identity, our self-confidence and the direction or quality of our lives. But do we need to be facing down a birthday to have a crisis?
The last few months have had an extraordinary impact on our way of life, for people of all ages. There have been moments of joy and connection, but also tremendous upheaval and stress, which may have led to a crisis of identity and direction for many of us. This COVID-life crisis may not have resulted in a shiny new red sports car in your drive-way, or a solo backpacking trip around India, but it may have occasioned an unpredicted pivot in your career direction, or even something as simple as a new (perhaps self-inflicted) hairstyle. These changes, no matter how small, can be unsettling and may need to be mentally reconciled with new future goals.
So before you get carried away searching the internet for the latest goal-setting apps or filling your calendar with reminders, the first step to effective goal-setting is taking the time to get to know yourself. Reflection can be an incredibly effective mental exercise to help one create clear and rational goals, and improve performance across all your future ambitions. It’s an opportunity to look back on previous experiences, events or achievements and explore them from a fresh angle. This is a conscious exercise that needs focussed consideration to be effective.
So how do you reflect effectively?
The first thing to grasp is that describing the events is only a starting point. Begin by thinking about just one experience you’ve been through as a result of the pandemic- something that would not have occurred otherwise. What happened, who else was involved, where did the experience take place, why were you there? You might notice that these questions follow a who what when where why style, and you might be able to think of other similarly relevant questions that address when, or variations of the who or why, depending on the experience you’re reflecting on.
The next step goes further and requires you to explore your feelings surrounding the experience. How did you react? Were you excited about its outcome? Were your feelings afterwards the same as they were before it happened? How did the involvement of others affect the experience? By looking back on your feelings surrounding the event, you may begin to think of ways that you would do it differently if faced with the same circumstances again. This may mean changing opinions, perceptions or goals that upset or discouraged you, or improving even further the things that eased or excited you.
The objective, however, is not just to point out what went wrong, but to consider what you found most enjoyable throughout the journey, and how you can develop and improve your actions and reactions in the future.
Regular reflection of the highs and lows, the moments of joy and the lessons you learn throughout your life, is actually an incredible stress management tool that will help to lessen the impact of the physical damage an overabundance of stress can have on your physical, mental and emotional health. And not only will it keep your memory sharp, but regular reflection can boost your comprehension and working memory capacity, as well as having a positive effect on your self-control, and your general emotional well-being and vitality.
So how does reflection improve your goal-setting?
With the knowledge you’ve gained about yourself, your values, your interests, and your temperament through this process you can structure a more informed action plan to guide your future goals post COVID-19. This kind of self-knowledge will not only guide you in your goal planning, but it can improve your decision making as well as your tolerance and understanding of others.
When you do start thinking of the new goals you’d like to reach, make sure you aren’t just writing a shopping list or wish list of everything about yourself you’d like to change or develop. By selecting just two or three key development areas you will be far more likely to succeed. These could be areas you identified in your reflection; they may align with a change in your career direction, or they may be shaped by your new sense of identity.
When it comes to taking action on your goals, remember that the ability to continually self-reflect upon the knowledge and experiences you gained will be a significant contributing factor to your performance and the number of goals you reach by this time next year.
Be guided by the self-knowledge you’ve gleaned from taking the time to get to know how your values, interests and temperament may have changed throughout the events surrounding COVID-19. Experiment with your routines and comfort zones to train your brain to develop beneficial habits, remembering to allow yourself the chance to fail and try again. Great growth comes from the inner strength and resiliency developed from facing challenging situations, as well as the empowerment of true self-knowledge and the ability to be kind to yourself.