Make This Year Extraordinary

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Chances are, you’re been thinking about 2017.

Most of us do around this time of year. It’s a great time to hit the “refresh” key and get a clean start.

Especially if last year didn’t go as well as you hoped.

If you are an overachiever you might already have written your goals and you’re primed to get started. But before you charge off into another year  I’d like you to bear with a recovering overachiever while I share a few words of wisdom on how to make this year extraordinary.

Hi my name is Paul and I’m an overachiever.

I was born with what seems like a constant need for achievement. If a day passes by without some form of accomplishment I feel somewhat dissatisfied. I love checking things off my to do list.

I have this burning desire within that pushes me to to do more and achieve more. Even after I reach a goal, the fire within flickers for a moment, but very quickly re-ignites pushing me towards the next achievement.

I live in the same city where the Don Clifton PhD created the Strengths Finder Assessment to help people identify their talents then develop them into strengths to perform better, be more productive and be more engaged.

For decades, Gallap has studied how if people are in their “strengths zone” they are six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs. The Clifton Strength Finders approach encourages people to invest in their natural talents through practice, developing their skills and knowledge level.

However, I believe that any strength out of balance can become a weakness. Over the years as an recovering overachiever I’ve found it helpful to recognize the downside of my natural talents and manage them. Here are a couple of insights into what I’ve learned about setting goals for the new year.

So what’s wrong with setting goals?

I can think of two problems that have consistently plagued me year after year when I strategically planned out the new year and set a new fresh set of goals.

Blind Spots

I believe whole heartedly in the value of “soaring with our strengths” and creating a direction for our lives and organizations.  Nothing wrong with that but when we develop a singular focus on achievement we can develop blind spots.

Achievers might become so narrowly focused on the accomplishment of goals they ignore other people. People can become frustrating obstacles to fullfillment or merely stepping stones to consumate our personal performance.

Most of us have probably heard an sports announcer commenting on an athlete’s poor performance, “He’s trying force it and not let the game come to him” or “She’s trying to do it all by herself”. I can remember becoming so frustrated playing on a basketball team when we were losing. The harder I tried and the more I tried to control the outcome the worse the results. I forgot that their were four other players on the team that all wanted to win just as much as I did. I believed it was all up to me and if I just worked hard enough I could make it happen.

Lebron James reached his goal of bringing the NBA World Championship trophy home to Cleveland through making the other players around him better. Even though he was clearly the best player on the floor it was by assisting his teammates that the team overcame tremendous odds to win the championship.

We truly are better together.

Compulsions

Take a moment to look at our daily routimes as healthcare providers. In general, we are very, very busy people. We have boatloads of people on our schedules to take care of, numerous meetings to attend and countless hours in front of a computer documenting our work.

Our schedules are loaded with appointments, our days and weeks are filled with goals, plans and projects to accomplish. There is seldom a moment in which we do not have have something to do.

But as we move through life we often do not take the time to rest and consider if what we are doing is even worth doing. We simply comply with the many “must” and “oughts” that have been handed to us.

I think that compulsive is the best adjective to describe the ongoing and increasing demand for more.

Sometimes more is not more it’s less.

I found my need for ongoing affirmation from my peers and my lurking fear of failure created an strong urge to work more, have more and to try to accomplish more.

But the problem with overachievers we tend to move on to the next challenge without enjoying or acknowledge our successes. I found myself being discouraged when I didn’t reach my goals and somewhat unsatified when I did.

I looked for a better way. Doing less but better.

So what does that mean for you?

Over the many years that I’ve been setting goals I’ve found one ancient discipline that has helped me recognize my blind spots and temper my compulsions.

Solitude

Solitude has become a space where I can step off of the performance treadmill and escape the noise of this world. I’ve found the more demanding my schedule, the busier my life becomes the more I need space. Disciplining myself to regularly create space on my schedule to decompress, reflect and pray.

The more connected our culture and the noisier it becomes the more we need solitude. In solitude I detox from my compulsion for more: no cell phones, no friends, no music, no calendars to distract– just me.

Regular space provides the opportunity to deal with my blind spots and compulsions so that I’m in a better place to take action towards my goals. I seek to be recognized as someone who is balanced, gentle and compassionate not just someone who gets things done.

“Solitude is the furnace of transformation”

-Henri Nouwen

So what should we do next?

To avoid overachievers addiction, I suggest carving out a couple of hours at the beginning of the year to follow these simple steps for reflecting on your career that I learned from Geoffry McGowen in his book Essentialism.

Step 1: Look Back– Review last year, month by month. Write done the highlights for each month, both at work and home. Keep it simple.

Step 2: Look Inside–“Ask what is  really going on.  Why does this really matter? Do you see an recurrent themes? Learn from the past then leave it behind.

Step 3: Look Ahead–Ask “What would I do in my career if I could do anything?” Just brainstorm with no voice of criticism to hold you back. Just write out all the ideas that come to mind.

Step 4: Write down six goals you would like to accomplish this next year and put them in priority order.

Step 5: Cross off the bottom two. Once you’re back to the whirlwind of work you’ll benefit from having a short list of four goals for the year. One for each quarter.

Step 6: Make an action plan for this month of sub tasks that will help you reach your main goal for the quarter. Update it each month. Avoid the temptation to add more goals as you go along.

Step 7: Create space. Make an appointment with yourself monthly, weekly to look back, look inside and to look ahead.

Two or three hours spent wisely every month could easily improve the quality of your life over the 8,760 hours of the next year–and perhaps far beyond. After all, if we don’t design our lives, someone else will.

Who knows maybe this year will be extraordinary for you.

Paul Potter is a physical therapist and mentor who lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with his wife, who is also a therapist. They have four daughters. For more than 35 years he successfully managed his own private practice. He now shares his knowledge and experience through teaching and mentoring therapists who want to have their own practice. 

Write in the comment section or on social media what would make this year extraordinary for you?