Forget About Setting Career Goals. Focus on This Instead.

16.56 Your Career Matters Text TreatmentThere is roughly a 60 percent chance that the New Year resolution you committed to back in January is no longer a thought in your mind. People use many different approaches to try and accomplish a goal with the hope that they will ultimately reach success. Most of us start with thinking of something we want to change in our lives and then set a specific and actionable goal — maybe write it down — and hope for the best. If you’re working on career growth and development, changing careers or preparing for a job search in the same career field, odds are setting goals will be a part of the conversation.

From my work as a career counselor, I’ve learned that a big part of the reason why many don’t achieve their goal(s) or lose interest quickly, is because they don’t spend quality time focusing their attention on creating a system that promotes behavior change.

Goals can provide direction and a focus for the short-term, but in order to make lasting progress, a well-designed system is a catalyst for everyday habits that will enable the positive change we want to see in our lives.

So what’s the difference between goals and systems?

If you’re a career changer, your goal is to get a new job in a different occupation. Your system is what you do every day to gain a better understanding of your current career values, interests and skills while also increasing occupation and company knowledge.

If you’d like a promotion, your goal is to get a job with more responsibility and pay. Your system is investing every day in honing and improving the skills your employer is looking for.

Systems thinking is similar to how athletes practice skills every day (sometimes twice a day) for the big game. Every person can benefit from looking at developing professional skills in this way.

A timeless leadership lesson from Aristotle is, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.” If quality change comes from habits developed through everyday actions, let’s review a few suggestions to help create better systems for career success.

  • Tip # 1: Cut back on social media and screen time. These activities can impact our quality of sleep and affect our ability to pay attention for long periods of time. Lack of sleep can lead to a lack of focus and greater frustration when trying to work toward your goals and evokes a feeling of vulnerability. Brené Brown, Founder and CEO at Brave Leaders Inc., describes in her book Daring Greatly a phenomenon called “numbing.” Brené describes numbing as any activity (TV, the internet, etc.) that we use to numb our feeling so we don’t experience vulnerability. This distracts us from better understanding career interests and values.
  • Tip # 2: De-clutter your mind. Cultivate present-minded thinking and learn to take responsibility for your emotions, behaviors, and actions. Become aware of where you’re dedicating your time and energy. Start to develop a habit of writing your thoughts on paper. Stephen Covey wrote The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which seeks to give tools to help prioritize and be more intentional with your thoughts.
  • Tip #3: Great things start small. According to a May 2011 Harvard Business Review article, “The Power of Small Wins” by Teresa Amabile, the effort of tracking small achievements every day enhances workers motivation and in turn boosts confidence while working toward larger successes. By celebrating small wins you’re beginning the process of changing your habits.

Nikki-Barnett-sizedNikki Barnett
Assistant Director of Alumni Career Services

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