Blue Monday, the day of the year we realize a lot of our New Year’s resolutions already flew out the window. The day we come to the conclusion we are smoking like chimneys again, eating comfort food or decided getting picked on everyday by our awful boss isn’t as bad as making a career change. We have carved for days, trying to sculpt the new and improved version of ourselves, but the rock is too hard, the flesh too weak and progress nowhere to be seen. It’s a sad day for self improvement, but a good day for procrastination, because the new year is just around the 11 month corner. A new chance to take the next step.

We are all great at making ourselves promises, setting big goals that we have to achieve in order to be truly happy, but we forget 3 things when doing so:

  1. We are making our self improvement deal with the person that will also be the one trying to stop us from achieving it: You want to lose weight? – Your body is programmed to stop that from happening, so you will have to fight a system that doesn’t want to lose any kilo’s. You want to stop smoking? – Your body doesn’t want to, it likes the addictive substances and is hooked to it. You want to change careers? – Your brain isn’t a fan, because it is programmed to keep things as they are. Safe and without any unknown elements. Your mind will tell you it’s better to stay where you are. You are making a deal with the person that wants to grow, but at the same time wants to keep the status quo. It’s like signing a deal with a client that will guarantee business growth, but in the clauses it says, you will receive a huge financial bonus if you fail to deliver.
  2. We are setting our goals too high and too far away, so they seem unrealistic to begin with. For example it takes a strict diet and months, even years to lose a significant amount of weight (and keep it like that) or get the ripped fitness body that you saw on Instagram. You start eager and motivated with the right outfit, a kitchen full of veggies and a lifetime subscription to Gold’s Gym. Only to realize that 20 days later, your body hasn’t changed that much, it messes with your work schedule and that vegetables, nuts and seeds cost a freaking fortune. Your main goal is too far away, quickly seems unattainable and the empty space it leaves will quickly fill up with excuses.
  3. Your happiness isn’t determined by achieving your big goal, but by the moments of achievement and happiness that led you to it. We tell ourselves that we are only happy when we achieve our goal, but forget how important it is to allow ourselves to enjoy the journey and celebrate the smaller achievements along the way. When the end goal is still nowhere to be seen on the horizon, the smaller victories are what keep us going and eventually when you look back, the combination of all those small moments of gratification will shape the positive memory you have of the journey that got you where you wanted to be. We forget to enjoy the process, because we are so in love with the victory. We forget to set ourselves these smaller goals and if we do, we forget to acknowledge them and tap ourselves on the back.

Now the title says, “Why setting big goals will get you and your team depressed”, setting up this blog for a business oriented story and all I talked about is achieving New Year’s resolutions in our private lives. For good reason. The 3 elements that stop us from rocking it and getting confronted with ourselves on a Blue Monday are also the ones that hold back a lot of company teams that are working on change, innovation or digital transformation projects. We set ourselves big goals that are supported by inspiring visions, speeches and well thought of strategies, only to find ourselves lost in the woods months later, with people walking around grumpy and demotivated. Feeling like sailors stuck on a sailboat in the doldrums, while leadership desperately tries to keep up moral and make sure everybody is still doing their job.

Why this often happens when working on big impactful company projects is linked back to the 3 elements above: people want to change but also keep the status quo – goals are set too high too far – we don’t enjoy the process. How do you fix it? – Simple, just ACCEPT these 3 elements as true and ADDRESS them:

Don’t start before they trust you, themselves and the process.

Accept that most people don’t like change, even though they need it. And that fear for something means, they don’t trust it. How do you create trust? – By creating recognition. What we know, we trust. So before embarking on your journey, inform your team about what you want to achieve, why you think it is necessary, what the personal value will be for them and already let them experience this information as positive, before you start the big work. This moment is extremely important and often forgotten or worse, started when the project is well on its way. In this last case, you are expecting people to work on the project, while you are still trying to convince them it’s worth working on.

To make it concrete. If you want to digitally upgrade your whole company, start by showing and having your team experience in a fun and easy way how digital can positively impact their daily lives. How everybody can find value in it, no matter how old you are or what background you have. The moment they trust you, themselves, their phone, computer and evolution in society, you start your project together to change the entire business.

Set a big goal, but make sure it’s still realistic or divided in many smaller goals.

As was said before, set a goal that is too far away or too difficult to reach and people will quickly become demotivated. There is value in giving people big goals to work towards, but make sure the process becomes equal or even more interesting than achieving the goal itself. Running 42km is hard work and for a lot of people a tough thing to achieve, but by making them love running, teaching them about their body, how it improves their health, how you first work towards running 5km, then 10km and so on, makes the journey fun, gratifying and manageable. Just focussing on that number 42 and running like a mad man, will make you depressed.

To give you a tangible business example building further on the digital transformation. Your big goal is transforming the whole company, but that will take years. Set smaller goals, milestones, that are in reach. Let’s get everybody a smartphone. Make everybody use cloud storage instead of local storage, make them love and understand the power of data. Try to reduce paper by 30% by the end of the year. Simple goals that sometimes even seem irrelevant to the larger goal, but will give people gratification and the feeling they are actually making an impact. Start implementing big ERP systems, digitalize every way of their daily working and the journey will become long and hard and the end goal clouded with a chance of meatballs.

Milestones are moments of celebration not stressful deadlines.

Many leaders, team and project managers often set these smaller goals, but they become more deadlines for the team to deliver a certain element than a moment of achievement that is celebrated. Deadlines have to be met, structure and flow need to be maintained, but don’t ignore the power of achieving goals and taking a moment to celebrate. Doesn’t have to be a party or a team vacation, but a simple acknowledgement (also check video below: how to compliment your team) that a certain part has successfully been delivered and they are now one step closer to their big goal. Don’t let milestones just become deadlines that come and go and disappear in the seemingly never ending journey towards that big end goal, that most have already forgotten about.

People will only focus on the victory that will hopefully come, but once they are there, look back at the journey as something they never want to go through again. Choose your smaller goals carefully, even add ones that might not immediately impact the end goal, but are good for the overall spirit and make achieving them a big deal. Just like running your first 5k or having gone 2x a week to the gym for the last 3 months is a BIG DEAL. Even if your dream body or Boston marathon is still miles away. I’m writing big deal in capitals also for myself, seeing I noticed this part is something I have to remind myself off everyday. When I achieve a smaller goal myself, I sometimes tend to quickly brush it off as ‘We did it, now what’s next?!’, instead of taking a moment to realize what a big deal it actually is.

If we accept and respect these three elements, we will achieve any big goal in our personal and professional life. We will look back with a positive memory on the journey and the sum of the smaller goals that were celebrated will make our sense of achievement even bigger. It will make us see the journey as something we will want to do again and make future big goals motivating and achievable.

#standuptostandout #bluemonday