27 September 2023

Set your ‘guiding light’: Escaping a workplace rut

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May Busch* suggests a few ways that people can ease themselves out of a workplace rut without having to turn their world upside down.

What’s this year going to be about for you?

It’s an important question because if you don’t actively plan for it, you’re likely to keep doing what you’ve always done.

In other words, you can easily get trapped into the rut of doing the same old thing in the same old way.

‘Planning’ and ‘being strategic’ sounds like hard work.

That’s why most of us put it off.

So instead of a full-fledged planning exercise, I’ve become a fan of something that only needs a light touch but delivers great potential impact.

That’s to set an intention.

Think of an intention as a guiding light or compass point to stay true to throughout the year.

It’s all too easy to let your past determine your future.

We humans are mostly risk averse.

The devil we know feels safer that venturing into new territory, even if things could be much better.

For example, one of my clients who is an executive wants to be an entrepreneur, but she’s reluctant to make a move.

“I’ve invested 20 years in my corporate career and moving to a start-up would mean leaving all that behind,” she says.

This line of reasoning would mean staying another year, at which point she’ll have worked 21 years in corporate and the same conversation would take place again.

In economics, those are considered ‘sunk costs’, which are costs you’ve already incurred — in this case, the 20 years in corporate.

However, sunk costs aren’t relevant when making decisions about the future.

If they were, you’d stay in your job forever.

You can see how easy it is for even a smart, talented person to get trapped in that kind of thinking.

When you set an intention for the year, you’re far less likely to get or feel stuck in your career and life.

When you live intentionally, you won’t get to the end of the year and have regrets.

Unlike planning, your intention for the year can come to you in a flash of insight when doing something routine, like walking your dog.

Or it could be something that comes up in a dream or through a conversation.

You just need to be open to it.

If it doesn’t come up for you organically, here’s a prompt that could make it easier to identify the intention you would most benefit from setting.

At a recent leadership program I’m co-hosting, we asked participants: “What are you excited about for the year ahead?”

As I listened to their answers, I came to realise the question was an invitation to express an intention for the year.

One said: “I’m looking forward to this being a year of change — positive change — and I’m going to embrace it.”

Stated as an intention, this could be The Year of Embracing Change.

Another: “I’m excited that my team has set up so many new possibilities for the year.” This is the intention to capture the possibilities for the year.

There’s no need to put pressure on yourself to choose the ‘right’ or ‘best’ intention.

What matters is that it resonates with and energises you.

It’s your intention and you can always change it later.

Now, how are you going to make your intentions a reality?

There are two strategies I’ve found helpful.

The first is to set up specific habits to support your intentions coming true.

For example, when my team and I set the intention at the start of last year, it was to make it The Year of Being Strategic.

We put that at the top of the meeting notes for our weekly meetings.

We also asked ourselves: “How does this fit with our strategy?” before taking on a new project.

As a result, we rejected a lot of things we would have taken on otherwise.

This helped us stay focused and strategic and we ended up having our best year ever.

The second strategy is to let your intention act as a focal point and reminder as you go through your day, week or month.

That means it’s okay if you slip up — just keep returning to your intention.

For example, one day I set an intention to be relaxed.

Then the day got a little stressful and so did I.

Let’s just say I was not relaxed!

Then I reminded myself of my intention and was able to do some calming breathing and return to a more relaxed state.

Whether it’s ‘The Year of Stability’ after a turbulent time, a time for taking risk after sitting in your comfort zone for a while, or something completely different, choose what feels right for you at this time.

*May Busch works with smart entrepreneurs and top managements to build their businesses. She can be contacted at [email protected].

This article first appeared at maybusch.com.

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