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Setting Goals for a Life Worth Living

Why—and how—to set meaningful goals outside work.

Key points

  • The pressures of the last two years have many people rethinking our hustle-culture society.
  • Setting goals outside of work can help us unwind and can have correlation with our sense of well-being.
  • Prioritizing life-outside-of-work (LOW) goals may have benefits for individuals, as well as managers and leaders.

The pandemic has put pressure on our high-achieving, hustle-culture society, and that pressure is exposing the cracks. More people than ever before are quitting their jobs, and 4 out of 5 workers say they’re more burned out now than at the beginning of the pandemic.

Some causes of worker burnout are job-related, such as the blurring of boundaries with work from home. But the past two years have also derailed major plans, hobbies, and goals outside of work for most of us, and that’s been a contributing factor in our overall resilience.

According to the World Happiness Report, one of the major stressors affecting mental health during the pandemic is the loss or restriction of activities we used to find fulfilling. Gathering with friends, running marathons, attending concerts, going out to eat—these kinds of activities are fundamental to our fulfillment and yet we’ve had to give up many of them.

Two years into the pandemic, perhaps it’s 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 matter

It’s not news that when we unwind off the clock, we’re more refreshed when we return. This is particularly true when we unwind with creative pursuits. In one study, regardless of how study participants reported feeling on Friday, those who engage in creative activities over the weekend reported feeling more refreshed come Monday morning.

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

The above study concludes by suggesting that workplaces that want more productive workers educate them on the benefits of non-work creative pursuits during their off-time.

Yet—and this is a key point—increasing our productivity shouldn’t be our motivation for setting goals outside of work. Doing so still foregrounds productivity 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 sense of meaning in life. Despite participants in both countries engaging in serious leisure activities, there were cultural differences in how strongly those activities affected a participant’s well-being.

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

One thing the pandemic has shown us is that unwinding with a creative pursuit in order to meet our work goals isn’t enough. We need to prioritize a life worth living itself.

Setting LOW goals

This year, try setting life-outside-of-work (LOW) goals. The acronym “LOW” isn’t meant to signify that these pursuits aren’t significant; rather, they’re down-to-earth and foundational. LOW goals are a counter to the toxic productivity culture that puts “higher, bigger, faster, and more efficient” on a pedestal.

Creative LOW goals: You might set LOW goals for learning a new skill or hobby, exploring one of your interests, or indulging your curiosity. For example, visiting a new museum every month or signing up for a craft workshop.

Nourishing LOW goals: Perhaps you want to explore LOW goals around personal nourishment, such as studying philosophy, becoming more involved in your spiritual community, starting a meditation practice, or limiting screen time.

Family LOW goals: Deepen the connection with those you love by setting LOW goals. Consider taking a martial arts or cooking class together in order 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: Increasing research demonstrates that leaders and managers must exhibit genuine care and curiosity for employees' and direct reports’ life outside of work. Ask your teammates, employees, or direct reports to set a LOW goal for each quarter. Ask them why that LOW goal matters, and then do what every elevating leader and manager must do in this era: genuinely listen and care. Your doing so recalibrates the place of work in your employees’ lives: It is only a part of their lives, not the center of their being or well-being.

Ask yourself:

  • What activities outside of work bring you pure pleasure without regard for reward or recognition?
  • Where have you always wanted to indulge your curiosity?
  • Who in your life do you want to deepen connections with?
  • What hobbies or pursuits used to bring you joy, but have fallen out of priority?

Living a life of meaning

Now more than ever, we need doses of wonder and a skill set for tracking wonder in order to lead more fulfilling lives.

Join me Jan. 25 for Stand in Wonder, a free online training and conversation to help you discover strategies to feel lit up instead of burned out in 2022. I hope to see you there.

References

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor (2022) "Job Openings and Labor Turnover." https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/jolts.pdf

"Future of Work Trends in 2022: The new era of humanity." Korn Ferry. https://www.kornferry.com/insights/featured-topics/future-of-work/2022-…

Banks, J., Fancourt, D. Xu, X. (2021) “Mental health and the COVID-19 pandemic." World Happiness Report. https://worldhappiness.report/ed/2021/mental-health-and-the-covid-19-pa…

Eschleman, K.J., Mathieu, B., Cooper, J. (2017) “Creating a Recovery Filled Weekend: The Moderating Effect of Occupation Type on the Relationship between Non-work Creative Activity and State of Feeling Recovered at Work,” Creativity Research Journal, 29:2, 97-107, DOI: 10.1080/10400419.2017.1302756

Kono, S., Ito, E., & Gui, J. (2018). “Empirical investigation of the relationship between serious leisure and meaning in life among Japanese and Euro-Canadians,” Leisure studies. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02614367.2018.1555674

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