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Start 2023 on the Right Foot (and Achieve Your Goals)

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Focus and regulate your effort to reach the finish line.

By Gustavo Razzetti

January 5, 2023

Five ways to achieve your new year’s goals – motivation is not enough; you must become relentlessly focused

Welcome to 2023 – a new year full of dreams, hopes, and goals.

Cyclical beginnings, like the start of a new year, create a sense of renewed motivation and curiosity. Scientists call it the “Fresh Start Effect” – temporal landmarks relegate past imperfections to a previous period, induce people to focus on the big picture, and thus boost personal motivation.

However, a fresh start alone is not enough.

Despite our best intentions and motivations, most of us will fail to stick to our goals.

So, what’s the secret to avoiding another cycle of broken promises and frustration?

Motivation also helps but it's not enough without a system – not just willpower. Most people fail to regulate their effort ans run out of battery too early in the game. Keeping ourselves focused is vital, too. Those who try to accomplish too many things end up achieving nothing.

Here are five ways that help me stay relentlessly focused. I often use these principles with the teams I coach. I hope they help you achieve your goals in 2023, too.

1. Start with Your Values

Goal setting and visualization are not enough to change behavior.

Rather than focusing on what you want to achieve, think about who you want to become.

As Author Nir Eyal suggests, rather than setting goals, we should focus on reassessing our values for the coming year.

Clear values will help you know what to say “yes” and “no” to, improving how you spend your time and attention.

Focus on the big picture, not the tasks. Ravi Mehta, the co-founder of Outpace, said it best: “Goals are at the bottom of the stack, not at the top, because goals should come from the roadmap – not the other way around.”

Values delineate the roadmap of who you want to be.

Ask yourself: Which values will you hold in the next year?

Becoming a better version of yourself is more motivating than an endless list of goals. Focus on who you want to become, not what you want to do or achieve.

Try this exercise: reexamine your personal values.

2. Prioritize Your Goals

When everything is important, nothing really matters.

Most importantly, an abundance of choices can be overwhelming.

In The Paradox of Choice, Professor Barry Schwartz demonstrates that having more choices can lead to unhappiness, making it harder to cut through the noise and make a decision.

Having too many goals can be overwhelming, too. It adds unnecessary stress and confusion, making us feel frustrated. Focus is everything.

Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba, said it best: “If there are nine rabbits on the ground, if you want to catch one, just focus on one.”

Ask yourself: What's the most important thing I want to achieve, no matter what?

Too many goals will get you nowhere. The wrong tasks will suck your energy, leaving you depleted of what really matters. Stop pursuing irrelevant goals and focus on a few meaningful ones.

Choose your number one goal. Establish a clear priority: when push comes to shove, which goal will you protect at all costs, even over everything else?

Try this exercise: prioritize your goals for 2023.

3. Remove Self-Perceived Limitations

What we believe in often blocks our potential.

Our brain filters what we see, letting our beliefs shape our perception.

Most obstacles are often excuses we use to cope with failure. When something goes wrong, we quickly create a narrative using external elements to justify what happened. Thus, we miss a vital opportunity to reflect on what we can do better.

Research by neuroscientist Tali Sharot shows that our beliefs distort our perspectives.

How people react to ‘scientific evidence’ is not logical but based on the sides they take. Those who don’t believe in human-made climate change fail to change their beliefs in response to unexpected bad news (e.g. ”average temperatures will rise higher than expected”).

Whatever we believe limits our ability to accomplish our goals.

If you think you lack the right skills to accomplish your intentions – that you don’t have time, or that you’ll never succeed – then you will fail. Willpower alone won’t make you achieve your goals. However, bowing to obstacles will definitely harm your chances of success.

Ask yourself: “What's getting in the way?”

Become aware of how your beliefs hinder your chances of succcess.

Start by challenging your beliefs. Explore other lenses – turn your constraints into a superpower. Rather than using a lack of time or resources as an excuse, unleash solutions by reframing them into a question. “How might you achieve your goal without a budget or enough time?”

Use obstacles as triggers for possibilities, not limitations.

Try this exercise: shift your mindset from limiting to liberating.

4 Do Fewer Things, Better

Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

When setting goals and expectations, most people overemphasize the importance of effort. They often run out of steam by the end of the first quarter. The problem is not the goals, per se, but the belief that the more effort we put in, the more results we’ll get.

Motivation alone is not enough.

In Atomic Habits, James Clear shares a study that shows that intention trumps motivation.

The group that was only driven by motivation underperformed all others - even the control group. However, the group that wrote down a plan stating precisely when and where they would exercise performed the best: 91% of members exercised at least once a week.

Resolve quickly weakens, as author Greg McKeown explains. Giving our maximum effort to achieve a goal leaves us tired and depleted too early in the game.

McKeown suggests optimal effort: instead of going all out, operate at your 85% capacity. While this might slow you sometimes, it will definitely make you feel less stressed, let you think more clearly, and give you enough energy to reach the finish line.

Ask yourself: are you busy or productive?

Operating at an 85% capacity is not lowering the bar but protecting yourself from burnout –  there’s still a long way to go.

Feeling overwhelmed by trying to achieve too many goals makes things worse. We start cutting personal time such as exercise, social relationships, eating healthier, or alone time.

Most of us tend to take a break when it’s too late, as Liz Fosslien explains in Big Feelings: How to Be Okay When Things Are Not Okay. Sometimes it’s hard to ask for a break, especially in organizations that promote an always-on culture. Fosslien recommends that managers make it safe for people to request time off and keep an eye out for burnout on their team.

Try this exercise: set your essential intent for this year – accomplish more by giving less effort.

5. Minimize Distractions

Whenever you say "yes" to a distraction, you also say "no" to your priorities.

Invest the most valuable asset – your time – wisely.

We waste a lot of time at work, according to a study by software company Atlassian:

  • 36 times checking email per hour
  • 16 minutes to refocus after an incoming email
  • 56 times we’re interrupted per day
  • 2 hours spent recovering from daily distractions

Day-to-day interruptions are not the only form of distraction: spending time doing meaningless things causes the same effect.

Uncharted, a business accelerator, suffered from a “can’t say ‘no’ culture.”

The organization used to think that saying “yes” to everything was the path to success. However, employees realized that they had to change the approach when it adopted a four-day week. Its CEO, Banks Benitez, encouraged people to deprioritize work by saying “no” more often.

The first switch was coaching people to challenge the importance of every task by asking second-order questions. In other words, for something to become a priority, something else needed to be deprioritized.

Ask yourself: to focus on what really matters, what should you STOP doing?

Before you consider tackling a task (or delegating it) ask whether the job is worth doing in the first place. There’s nothing worse than improving something that shouldn’t exist.

Start by removing one thing from your to-do list – a task, feature, or report – and see if anyone notices it. Sam Corcos, CEO of Levels, explains, “If you don’t get a lot of complaints, it’s a strong indicator that the feature wasn’t adding as much value as you thought.”

Finally, create boundaries to maximize your time.

the cost of interruption at work people are interrupted 56 times a day employees spend 3 minutes working before switching tasks and spend 2 hours recovering from distractions per day

Saying “no” to others might feel impolite. However, others will determine your priorities if you don’t protect your time. Consider what you gain when you reduce distractions: more time to practice your hobbies, do deep work, spend with your family, exercise, read, etc.

Promoting a culture where it’s okay to say “no” to distractions makes things easier, just like Uncharted did.

A “Meeting Doomsday” is a significant first step – encourage employees to conduct a meeting audit and get rid of unnecessary ones, just like Software firm Assana did last year. eCommerce platform Shopify recently followed suit canceling all recurring meetings that included more than two people.

Try this exercise: create a timeboxed calendar to become indistractable.

Recap and a Bonus Exercise

Let your values dictate your goals – not the other way around.

Achieving your goals is harder than you think but simpler than it sometimes feels. There’s no silver bullet; you have to focus on the system.

Focus is vital – learn to say “no” to distraction so you can say “yes” to what really matters to you.

If you choose not to tackle something, that’s okay. However, make sure to explain why.

Go all in but operate at optimal, not maximum, effort (85% capacity).

Instead of focusing on short-term goals with limited effect, expand your boundaries and uncover new possibilities that will have a more profound impact in 2023 and beyond.

Try this bonus reflection exercise by Farnan Street: “7 Questions to Reflect on the Past Year and Make the Next One UNSTOPPABLE.

Have a happy, curious, and successful 2023!

Article by Gustavo Razzetti, CEO of Fearless Culture

Gustavo facilitates courageous conversations that drive culture transformation. He is a sought-after speaker, culture consultant, and best-selling author of the book Remote, Not Distant.

Razzetti is also the creator of the Culture Design Canvas – a visual and practical method for intentionally designing workplace culture. His insights were featured in Psychology Today, The New York Times, Forbes, and BBC.

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