Like many other people, December and January are the months I probably spend most time thinking about what I would like the next 12 months to look like.  I’m naturally a goal-oriented person.  I always have in mind what I would like to do, when I would like to do it and an (often agile) plan for how I will get there.  My goals give me purpose and variety every year and they fill both my personal and professional life with highlights and interest.  I simply need things to look forward to and to work towards.  It helps keep me motivated, focused and determined. Without progress against my long term goals or a new set of short term goals each year I can fall into an uncomfortable state of drift.  I don’t enjoy the sense of time repetitively ticking on with nothing dynamic happening nor, (in my personal view) being achieved.  I have to feel like I am making progress in some way.

This year has started a little differently, with me starting 2022 with a bout of Covid-19.  I’m thankfully over it now but I was forced to stop for a few days and I lost count of how many people stressed the need for me to take absolute rest and slow down.  Stopping doesn't come easy to me (I still worked through it) but I managed it in my own way, slowing down at weekends and I reaped some hidden benefits. Yes, I took a little time out to switch off, only doing so much as binge watching some great programmes and observing how others were starting their year but it provided a window to reflect on my pace and how I have been focusing my efforts each year. Why am I always rushing to the next ambition, am I aiming for the right things and is it always a good thing to busy myself with ‘what’s next?’

Ambition shifts throughout a person’s life and may come and go through different times.  Ambitions will be different for each person and will cross both personal and professional lives.  Your goals might be progress in your career, a shift in mindset, better health & fitness or a much longed-for trip.   We may find we have more or less ambition than others or have more or less ambition from one year to the next. But when does ambition become too much and how can we ensure a positive healthy balance for ourselves?

If you haven't got the balance right, you’re likely to spot signs in yourself such as feeling very busy but with no sense of accomplishment or direction.  You may feel burnt out – constantly tired, have headaches or other signs of everything being just too much.  You might also find you’re less engaged with the now and only interested in outcomes rather than in the activity itself.  It’s important to listen to how you feel and ensure your ambitions and goals have balance.  Being present minded is also widely reported to be the key to staying healthy and happy, keeping you grounded and connected to everything around you right now.  

Here's some ideas that I have been thinking about, on what we can all do to ensure our approach to our ambitions and goals take a healthier approach: 

  • Map your goals against the various aspects of your life and your needs – whether this be professional, wellbeing, financial, relationships or spiritual. Consider if your energies are being focused in the right way for you right now.
  • Consider your personal and professional goals and how they sit alongside each other.  Do you need to scale them down or allow more time? Have you created goals that enable you to progress and achieve without requiring a sacrifice of body, heart, and soul.  Have you built in opportunity for self-care and rest?
  • Look for simple pleasures each day to help you focus more on the present. Take a stroll.  Sample some new food.  Visit somewhere different.  Allow yourself time to unwind so that you can rejuvenate and improve your productivity.
  • Re-focus your ambitions and goals – consider what would really give your life meaning?  What is essential and what is desirable?  It was Archbishop Oscar Romero, who suggested we might consider a different sort of ambition: “Aspire not to have more but to be more,” he said. 

Spending a few slower days at the start of this year, reflecting, rather than rushing to set some new goals has made me reconsider my approach to 2022.  I’ll be aiming for a year that is balanced, homed in on what’s really important right now and I'll be making more room for simple pleasures.  I hope you define a year that's right for you or you simply enjoy whatever it throws at you and that you have a great year ahead.