Reassessing personal goals amidst the chaos of COVID-19

In times of great uncertainty, personal goals can suddenly come under extreme scrutiny for a number of reasons. What was once deemed critical may now seem irrelevant and what was once regarded as well off into the future now becomes prescient and urgent.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has caused alarm, concern and of course, uncertainty. People are rightly worried about the health of themselves and their loved ones, they are worried about their jobs and they are definitely worried about their finances. When you break it all down these form three of the most fundamental needs we have as individuals and it only takes one of them to falter and our lives can be thrown into chaos.

So what then become of our goals during such a time? I would argue, they are more relevant than ever. Understanding what is within our control in life (and therefore what actions we can take) is a fundamental way to overcome anxiety whilst giving us a positive focus. Uncertainty is one of the most crippling emotions for people. Whilst the enlightened few are able to embrace and harness the freedom uncertainty brings, for most of us it simply brings anxiety. Therefore, the key is to find the elements of certainty in life and focus on bringing about results in those areas. As the famous Serenity prayer states:

Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can; 
And wisdom to know the difference.

So it is we must focus on the things we can change. Let’s look at some typical goal examples.

Health. This is the big one. People’s fears about COVID-19 are justifiable. What then are the Health goals we can focus on during this period of time? There are a few key ones:

  • Diet
  • Exercise and
  • Mental well being.

Of course these are all interrelated but let’s break them down to see what we can focus on during this time. Let’s do a sample goal focusing on Diet.

Diet in some ways becomes easier because there is less chance to go out and eat junk food. (Although UberEats and the like are in full swing.) Therefore, we should focus mostly on what we are eating at home and how much. We also need to be thinking about building immunity. Therefore a goal for diet might be:

“Establish and maintain an optimum diet for the next three months.”

In some ways it is about developing a habit, but there are sufficient additional tasks to build it into a goal. The time period is aligned to what could potentially be lockdown during the pandemic, but this of course is up to the individual. Here are some task ideas:

  • Research ways to build immunity against viruses
  • Measure my vitals including Body Mass Index (BMI) at outset
  • Work out a meal plan based on research
  • Work out supplement purchase list
  • Create a shopping list based on the meal plan and supplement list (This could be a multi-task)
  • Give myself a special treat e.g. chocolate/snack (This could be a weekly recurring task)
  • Review diet plan each month and make changes (monthly recurring task)
  • Measure progress of vitals each month (monthly repeating task)

As you can you, the process of setting up a health goal, like any goal, is all about breaking down the process into simple steps. Refine the order of tasks to make it logical and add ones later as you think of them. Working through each day by or week by week will not only help you put the right measures in place for your health, it will also give you a sense of control and reduce anxiety as you know you are doing all you possibly can to look after yourself.

Job. For many who are at risk of losing work or have already lost work due to the economic impacts of COVID-19, this is perhaps the most daunting and, dare I say it, out of one’s control. At the risk of repeating myself the key is to focus on what is within our control.

Let’s break down a job seeker’s goal and we can make some assumptions as to what has or hasn’t been done yet.

“Find a new job within two months that pays me enough to cover my bills and unexpected expenses so that I can remain content during these difficult times.”

  • Research what documentation is required to apply for unemployment benefits (to cover income shortfall whilst searching for a job)
  • Gather the required documentation to apply for unemployment benefits
  • Apply for unemployment benefits
  • Update my CV/resume
  • Speak to former colleagues about obtaining references
  • Do an initial scan of jobs available online
  • Make sure my professional networks like LinkedIn are up to date
  • Apply for 10 jobs every week for 6 weeks (This could be a repeating task) Note: a general rule when desperate is to apply for the jobs you think you are not good enough for, the jobs you think you are and the jobs you are too good for. Casting the net wider in this situation is not only prudent, but it will help you understand your own value to organisations (you may have over or under estimated your abilities), give your practice at interviewing and give you a much better chance at success based on the law of averages
  • Notify my social circles of my current situation and ask them to spread the word (and your CV)
  • Look at companies who are hiring because of the COVID-19 crisis (This includes many supermarkets and distribution companies)

With anything like this in life it is important to have activity. Any activity is better than no activity. Get out of bed in the morning as if you were going to work. Get busy applying and aim for a high number of applications each day. Remember, these are all things within your control. Come up with new ideas on what to do, talk to people, research online. Make looking for a job your full time job! Then every evening, take a break. Give yourself some downtime. Stay in touch with loved ones. And be patient. As long as you doing all the things within your control, you are giving yourself the best opportunity.

Finally, let’s look at a Finance goal. This is perhaps the most daunting. But again, the process is simple. First we need to find a relevant goal to frame. If there is a lot of uncertainty around your job, let’s say you think you might lose it or you will be faced with reduced hours, the best approach is to reduce your monthly expenses.

“Reduce my monthly expenses by 30%”.

This might be a goal you set for a two month duration. There are a lot of bills that are on a monthly cycle, so by the time they are modified or cancelled, you realistically need up to two months to see the effect.

Note: The percentage reduction in expenses is something you will have to come up with. But I would say aim high. Furthermore, it’s potentially a completely separate goal, but you could look at selling some items you no longer need to build up a savings kitty for the potential rainy day as well.

Let’s break this down into tasks:

  • Review my bank and credit card statements to find all my recurring expenses
  • Enter all my expenses into a spreadsheet along with the cadence (weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quaterly)
  • Work out what each expense is in a common denominator. (For example if you are paid weekly then make sure you have a column that shows your monthly expenses broken down into a weekly amount (divide by 4.333). This will show you how much your weekly pay cheque needs to cover.)
  • Identify all non essential expenses. Now people’s definitions are going to vary here, but it’s worth mentioning the obvious candidates: Netflix, UberEats, clothes shopping, online shopping, Toll fees (can you take a longer route), online subsctiptions
  • Cancel all non essential expenses. (This is where we find out who’s serious and who’s not.)
  • Identify all expenses that have different tiered plans where your cost can be reduced: this might be a mobile (cell) phone plan, internet plan, health plan or sporting plan (Note: during COVID-19 sporting club plans might actually be able to be cancelled. However, if you wish to still support the club, then maybe lower your plan level.)
  • Reduce tiered plans previously identified
  • Identify ad hoc expenses
  • Review weekly grocery shopping list
  • Reduce the expensive items on your shopping list, make some short term sacrifices or buy cheaper brands to see what impact can be made
  • Put in place reminders to minimise or avoid the ad hoc expenses over the coming months
  • Review progress after one month. (This means going through all the previous steps after your next bills come through, updating your expense spreadsheet and measuring progress.)
  • Identify and enact any further changes required to expenses, both repeating and ad hoc.

The beauty of the above goal is that it gets you focusing on important aspects in your financial life, it is teaching you diligence and prudence and it is making you aware of just how much wastage is happening in your life. Only by focusing on every detail will you be able to achieve an outstanding result for your goal. The best part is it is all within your control.

Whatever goal(s) you decide to pursue during this time, remember to focus on what is in your control. The thing that surprises most people is it is actually quite a lot.