“Setting goals is the first step to turning the invisible into the visible.”
"If you don't know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else."
Lawrence J. Peter
A very happy new year! I hope you all had a wonderful break if you took one and a very good start to the new year so far. Perhaps you set a few new year’s resolutions and plan to do a few things differently this year? There’s been a backlash against new year’s resolutions in recent years which I think is entirely unfair and largely based on the fact that many of us don’t follow through with our resolutions. And that’s not good news for our world. Am I saying that humanity is lazy? Not necessarily but we’re definitely unfocused. And we’re clearly not living up to our potential.
We are all very busy and important doing our things with “full plates” and “overwhelming workloads” (seriously how familiar are those phrases?). But we are not strategic enough, focused enough, prioritizing enough and that leaves us . . . well, floundering a little. And that comes down to, at least in my opinion, a lack of goal setting. You could say that we are hard workers but very lazy goal setters and that doesn’t serve us well as a community of folks trying to make change. So, in this blog I’m going to explain why we need to set new year’s resolutions and how we should go about doing it.
But first, why is this relevant for our work on Loss and Damage and what might our North Star, the collective objective we work towards this year, look like? Well, there are a few of them. We must mobilize finance at the scale of the needs to address loss and damage in all parts of the world with a focus on the most vulnerable on the frontlines of climate change in vulnerable developing countries. But beyond that our North Star could be that every human on the planet has the tools they need to thrive, not just to survive, in the midst of climate change. To achieve that we might set sub-goals such as ensuring that Loss and Damage is integrated into the new collective goal on climate finance as well as the full operationalization of both the fund on Loss and Damage and the Santiago Network. These goals are milestones in the work towards achieving our collective North Star.
A case for New Year’s resolutions
Despite the backlash, there are still a lot of folks still singing the praises of new year’s resolutions. In an article in the Forbes published on New Year’s Eve last year, sociologist Tracy Brower gives four reasons why we should still make new year’s resolutions even if we don’t keep them:
1. The power of setting intentions: Setting intentions creates space for us to be honest about where we are now and where we want to get to. This helps set the “direction of travel” for our lives and allows us to move forward with a clear goal or goals and (ideally) a plan for how to get there. This supports both mental and emotional health according to Brower. Taking this a step further, having collective new year’s resolutions that we work towards together helps us keep mentally and emotionally healthier as a community and collaboration provides an in-build support system.
2. Inspiring hope and fostering engagement: Setting new year’s resolutions provides a platform for dreaming, to be hopeful and optimistic about the future. This enables us to focus on what we want in our lives. As I wrote in a previous blog, focusing on what we want is an essential element in achieving it. We must focus and refocus our reticular activating systems on the positive aspects of what we see around us in order to manifest positive things in our lives. Having a positive outlook on the future also helps motivate others around us. This is critical for us in our work on Loss and Damage as our work can be challenging. As we move towards our North Star we inspire and motivate each other; and one of the ways we do this is through collaboration.
3. Cultivating responsibility and accountability: Setting new year’s resolutions and being honest about why we want to achieve them helps us take responsibility for not just ourselves but also for our impact on others. For example, if one of our new year’s resolutions is to communicate and coordinate better than others, this helps us take responsibility for the positive impact that will have on our colleagues. Our work on Loss and Damage also has a focus on the most vulnerable and if we see our work as an obligation to support those on the frontlines of climate change this helps us stay on course.
4. Inspiring others: Setting new year’s resolutions and making strides towards achieving them inspires others to do the same and starts a movement of people moving in a positive direction, even if they might have slightly different goals. This is critical for our work on Loss and Damage and is something we do every day in our work under the Loss and Damage Collaboration.
In summary, even if we don’t achieve all our new year’s resolutions this year, it’s still worth setting for our own mental and physical health as individuals and as a collective and to help define our “direction of travel”. As Bruce Lee said:
"A goal is not always meant to be reached; it often serves simply as something to aim at."
Setting goals set us on a course towards a North Star of our own choosing. The practice of planning for the future and working towards our own North Stars cultivates a positive mindset, makes us healthier human beings and inspires others along the way and as Les Brown said:
"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."
In summary, we’re better off setting new year’s resolutions in our work on Loss and Damage than not. I hope that’s clear by now. More on how we can go about setting our new year’s resolutions later, but first, we must believe that achieving our goals is possible and that’s where cultivating a collective, limitless mindset comes in.
Programming your subconscious for a limitless mindset
First thing’s first: change is an inside job. Setting ambitious goals starts with programming our subconscious to believe that anything’s possible; because it is. Does meeting the needs at all levels and all parts of the world to ensure every human is thriving sound too ambitious? If so, that indicates a limited mindset. Don’t make me bust out my very limited knowledge of quantum physics on you, just trust me on this. I don’t believe in setting “realistic” goals – because what is or is not realistic is entirely subjective and determined by a person’s mindset. The danger is that in setting what are collectively accepted to “realistic” goals, we pander to the least common denominator, the most pessimistic views and the most limited mindsets. And as Michelangelo warned:
"The great danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark."
As I wrote above, we need to continually focus our reticular activating system on what we want to cultivate in the world. The late Wayne Dyer famously declared: “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” So we must first believe that every human can thrive despite global challenges like climate change; that mobilizing trillions is possible.
There is so much going on in our minds beyond the conscious mind. Freud used the metaphor of an iceberg to illustrate the extent to which our subconscious minds (he used the terms preconscious and unconscious minds) drive us. Our conscious minds are what you see above the surface but below the surface is so much more, the subconscious mind is running the show empowered by foundational beliefs about everything in the world. As Jen Sincero explains in her excellent book (seriously highly recommend this just for the writing alone but it will change your life if you let it) You Are a Badass:
Our subconscious mind is like a little kid who doesn’t know any better, and not coincidentally, receives most of its information when we’re little kids and don’t know any better (because our frontal lobes, the conscious part of our brains, haven’t fully formed yet) (Sincero, 2013).
In an article in Medium Özge Longwill maintains that our aspirations come from our conscious minds while our subconscious minds dictate how we achieve those aspirations. And while conscious minds change easily, subconscious minds do not - they are designed to run a program in the background that was installed in our formative years. Sincero explains:
1. Our subconscious mind contains the blueprint for our lives. It’s running the show based on the unfiltered information gathered when we were kids, otherwise known as our “beliefs”.
2. We are, for the most part, completely oblivious to these subconscious beliefs that run our lives.
3. When our conscious minds finally develop and show up for work, no matter how big and smart and highfalutin they grow to be, they’re still being controlled by the beliefs we’re carrying around in our subconscious minds (Sincero, 2020).
That said, we can diminish the influence of the subconscious mind through mindfulness Longwill argues. Keeping the conscious mind in the present moment reduces the impetus for the subconscious mind to take over. There are many ways to reprogram your subconscious mind and you can find some of those in this article in Forbes by Brianna Wiest.
The takeaway from all this is that we can achieve as much as we believe we can and as a community our collective beliefs dictate everything we do. How are we going to mobilize trillions if we don’t believe it’s possible?
Setting SMART goals
Before we get to how to set the right resolutions for us (or you in your own life) let’s first cover what doesn’t work. According to an article in the New York Times by Jen A. Miller on how to make and keep new year’s resolutions there are three primary reasons why they fail in the first place.
The first reason resolutions fail is because people choose goals not based on what they want to change, but rather what someone else or society at large is telling them to change. The second reason is if the resolutions are too vague and finally, the third reason why new year’s resolutions fail is because people don’t have a realistic plan for achieving them. So, given that, what does a realistic plan look like and how might that work for us as a community?
Well, Martin suggests that goals should be SMART goals – that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Anyone who has ever gotten serious with goal setting will have heard about SMART goals.
Specific: Our goals must be clear. Rather than saying we need finance for Loss and Damage, how much do we need? Rather than saying we need to operationalize a fund to channel finance for Loss and Damage to vulnerable developing countries, how should it be operationalized?
Measurable: It’s important to track progress and to log the progress towards achieving a goal. One way of doing that could be to set milestones. So, what do we need to see at COP 28 and working backwards, what do we need to see at SB 58 and working backwards from there, what do we need to do today and over the next six months? This helps “chunk” down our goals so they are more achievable but also ensures that we are accountable for measuring progress and ensuring we are moving forward towards our goals.
Achievable: This one I find tricky because what is achievable is subjective and will vary. Someone with a limited mindset will have a far different assessment than someone with a limitless mindset. But as above, developing strategies with milestones to assess progress working backwards from our North Star will help us develop goals that are achievable – although developing goals is one thing and getting our hands dirty to do the work required to achieve them is quite another.
Relevant: Our goals must matter and we must be doing them for the right reasons. This one is easier, but it also requires some thinking to pull together all the relevant strands. For example, if we want to mobilize finance at the scale of the needs, what are all the policy fora, processes and discussions that we need to be engaging in and influencing? What other discussions do we need to be contributing to? Etc. So, setting a goal and then developing the strategy to achieve it (but more on that below).
Time-bound: We must develop timelines for achieving our goals which is relatively easy for us as we have policy milestones set in stone every year – but it also requires some brainstorming and strategic thinking (and again more on that below).
Getting strategic: Creating a plan for achieving our goals
As alluded to above, a critical component of achieving goals is developing a plan for achieving them. We will be more successful at achieving our goals if we have a written plan for sticking to them including tactics to employ when faced with challenges.
According to Amy Morin, in an article on keeping new year’s resolutions in Inc., setting ourselves up for success requires making bad habits inconvenient and good habits convenient. So, we need to make collaboration and developing collective strategic plans to achieve our goals convenient while making habits that don’t support that (working in silos, etc.), inconvenient. We’ve done that already with our Collaboration but the challenge for many if not most is they still have those “full plates” and “overwhelming workloads”. How to fit everything in? And still take care of ourselves? This is something we need to address as a community and as a world. Because being too busy to plan isn’t getting us anywhere and certainly isn’t serving those on the frontlines of climate change. If you need a few more ideas I highly recommend checking out Ray Dalio’s Principles for Success which are based on his acclaimed book (which I’ve read and recommend too but the videos are much quicker and easier to digest).
What does this all mean for us as a community?
We need to get better at goal setting and developing plans to achieve those goals. This requires developing a North Star that we’re working towards. Our mission as a Collaboration is that every human on the planet has the tools to thrive in the midst of global challenges like, but certainly not limited to, climate change. In order to do that, we will need to mobilize trillions. Now we have a fund on Loss and Damage established but it needs to be operationalized and resourced. So, working backwards, what do we need to see at COP 28, at SB 58 and so on until we get to today. What steps can we each take today to get us where we need to be 12 months from now? That will require collective planning, better prioritization and more strategic work in general. That’s not an easy task as many of us wear institutional hats that have entrenched ways of thinking and doing.
That said, we can circumvent some of those challenges by taking better advantage of platforms for coordination and by building on each others’ work with frequent communication about who's doing what and where. We hope that you will use the Collaboration as a vehicle to do just that. We have been doing a mapping of on-going work which we will continue to update. We plan to host a strategy meeting in late January or early February for us to develop a strategy towards COP 28 and beyond and we plan to use what we’ve already built together to support the entire community in achieving our collective milestones and goals as we work towards a North Star for the whole wide world. We look forward to working with you! One of my new year’s resolutions is to write a blog every month so you’ll be hearing from me a little often this year!
Bower, T. (2021). 4 Reason to Make New Year’s Resolutions (Even if You Don’t Keep Them) Forbes [online] Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/tracybrower/2021/12/31/4-reasons-to-make-new-years-resolutions-even-if-you-dont-keep-them/?sh=17c6219e66a1.
Longwell, O. (2019). Subconscious vs. Conscious Mind: Do you really know the difference Medium [online] Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/briannawiest/2018/09/12/13-ways-to-start-training-your-subconscious-mind-to-get-what-you-want/?sh=64b5dfcc7d69.
Martin, J.A. (2018). How to Make (And Keep) a New Year’s Resolution New York Times [online] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/guides/smarterliving/resolution-ideas.
Morin, A. (2019). 7 Tips to Make Sure You Actually Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions This Time Inc. [online] Available at: https://www.inc.com/amy-morin/7-tips-to-make-sure-you-actually-keep-your-new-years-resolution-this-time.html.
Sincero, J. (2013). You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life. Philadelphia: Running Press.
Erin Roberts is a climate policy researcher and founder of the Loss and Damage Collaboration. She is currently taking some time off to recharge and re-set but wishes everyone a very happy new year and looks forward to working with many of you this year with an even more diverse group of folks driving ambition on Loss and Damage.