Set goals for a life worth living


The pandemic has put pressure on our high-performing, cultured society, and that pressure is exposing the cracks. More people than ever before are leaving their jobs, and 4 in 5 workers say they are more burnt out now than at the start of the pandemic.

Some causes of worker burnout are job-related, such as the blurring of boundaries with working from home. But the past two years have also derailed major plans, hobbies, and goals outside of work for most of us, and that has contributed to our overall resilience.

According to the World Happiness Report, one of the biggest stressors affecting mental health during the pandemic is the loss or restriction of activities we used to find fulfilling. Getting together with friends, running marathons, attending concerts, going out to eat, this kind of activity is fundamental to our development and yet we have had to give up many of them.

Two years into the pandemic, it may be time to refocus on goals that matter beyond the narrow confines of the workplace. What do you hope to accomplish in your life outside of work this year?

Why goals outside of work are important

It’s no news that when we relax off the clock, we are more refreshed when we return. This is especially true when we relax with creative activities. In one study, regardless of how study participants reported feeling on Friday, those who engaged in creative activities on the weekend reported feeling more rested on Monday morning.

That’s not why goals outside of work should matter, though.

The study above concludes by suggesting that workplaces that want more productive workers educate them about the benefits of non-work creative activities in their spare time.

However, and this is a key point,increasing our productivity should not be our motivation for setting goals outside of work. In doing so, productivity remains at the forefront as the ultimate social good.

In a 2018 survey conducted in Japan and Canada, researchers examined how our approach to leisure affects our intrinsic well-being and meaning in life. Although participants from both countries engaged in serious leisure activities, there were cultural differences in the extent to which these activities affected a participant’s well-being.

In Japan, where the cultural concept of ikigai, or a life worth living, is strong, researchers have observed a correlation between serious leisure and well-being. In Canada, where there is an achievement-oriented Western work culture, the correlation was minimal.

One thing the pandemic has shown us is that relaxing into a creative pursuit is not enough to achieve our work goals. We must prioritize a life worth living.

Set LOW goals

This year, try to set life goals for yourself outside of work (LOW). The acronym “LOW” does not mean that these activities are not important; rather, they are down-to-earth and fundamental. BAS goals go against the toxic productivity culture that puts “higher, bigger, faster and more efficient” on a pedestal.

LOW Creative Goals: You can set LOW goals for yourself to learn a new skill or hobby, explore one of your interests, or satisfy your curiosity. For example, visiting a new museum each month or enrolling in a craft workshop.

Feeding LOW goals: Maybe you want to explore LOW goals around personal nutrition, like studying philosophy, getting more involved in your spiritual community, starting a meditation practice, or limiting screen time.

WEAK family goals: Deepen the connection with those you love by setting LOW goals. Consider taking a martial arts or cooking class together to learn a new skill. Or, set a LOW goal to go hiking together once a week, or complete a project together.

For leaders and managers: A growing body of research demonstrates that leaders and managers need to show genuine concern and curiosity about the lives of employees and direct reports outside of work. Ask your teammates, employees, or direct reports to set a BAS goal for each quarter. Ask them why this LOW goal is important, then do what every uplifting leader and manager should do in this time: listen and take care of yourself. In doing so, you recalibrate the place of work in the lives of your employees: it is only a part of their life, not the center of their being or their well-being.

Ask yourself:

  • What activities outside of work give you pure pleasure without consideration of reward or recognition?
  • Where have you always wanted to satisfy your curiosity?
  • Who in your life do you want to deepen your relationship with?
  • What hobbies or activities used to bring you joy, but are no longer a priority?

Live a meaningful life

Now more than ever, we need doses of wonder and a skill set to keep up with wonder in order to live more fulfilling lives.

Join me on January 25 for Stand in Wonder, a free online training and conversation to help you discover strategies for feeling lit instead of burnt out in 2022. Hope to see you there.

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