How to Set Goals Amid Chaos

UPDATED: May 22, 2024
PUBLISHED: December 8, 2020

Loss is all around us: loss of life, lost jobs, lost workspaces, lost school structures and routines. These aren’t just a logistical inconvenience; they’re a health risk. Prolonged, elevated levels of stress like so many of us have experienced this year can wreak havoc on brains and bodies, affecting everything from memory and cognition to digestive issues and high blood pressure.

When “seize the day” becomes “seize my scattered brain,” how do you find time, energy or motivation to set goals?

In times that feel out of control, our thoughts, emotions and even actions can become wildly unpredictable. The chaos of our environment mirrors in our lives. Many try to outrun the chaos by working harder, longer and faster. To-do lists compound into an insurmountable pile of meaningless busywork that makes our lives seem even more uncontrollable.

Ironically, one way to regain some semblance of control is to accept that we don’t have control over our environment. This simple surrendering mindset allows our problem-solving brains to shift to that which we can control: our response to what happens around us.

Here are some tips to get you in the right frame of mind so that you can still work toward your better future through goal-setting.

1. Explore your current state of mind.

Start by writing down every feeling that arises when you think about your current situation. If your business is in hard times because of the economic downturn, you might experience anger, sadness and helplessness. Write those feelings in big letters at the top of the page for a visual cue. Then set a timer for 15 minutes and write everything that comes to mind as quickly as you can. This practice, backed by research, allows us to acknowledge and work through our feelings in productive ways while finding a fresh perspective to move forward. Without a new perspective, we’re stuck in a cycle of negative, blaming thoughts that cripple us from adapting—a crucial element to entrepreneurship in any global climate.

2. Direct your altered perspective toward your goals.

The pandemic has brought global strife in every definition of the word. It also brings opportunity, should we choose to see it. Let’s say your early 2020 product launch was geared toward office community-building only to see many businesses switch to permanent work-from-home setups. Fear and panic would have you scrap the launch and try to recoup as much investment money as you can. A calm, grounded perspective allows you to develop ways to pivot—perhaps expanding the notion of “community” within the new COVID-normal landscape—something that could result in an even bigger product than you had before.

Also take the opportunity to humanize your goals. That is to say not everything on your 2021 goals list has to (or should) be tangible or profitable in nature. Ask yourself the following questions to get started:

What brings me joy? How can I increase the number of those moments?

What would I like less of in my life? How do I achieve it?

When do I feel least connected with myself and others? How do I mitigate those feelings?

3. Integrate targeted self-care into your routine.

Rather than adding the arbitrary goal of “self-care” into your routine, pursue the type of self-care that directly combats your issue. For many, chaos invites haste. Haste invites carelessness and stress. Targeted self-care could be slowing down and bringing intention to your day. Remove the notion of multitasking from your vocabulary. In its place, follow this simple recipe, attributed to Buddhist teachings:

Do one thing at a time.
Do it slowly and deliberately.
Do it completely.
Do less.
Put space between things.

We talked with three entrepreneurs who are experiencing many of the same fears, doubts and uncertainties that feel near-comically mainstream. Consider how they’re taking on the new year, and whether you can learn from their methods.

Monica Fullerton

Founder of Spouse-ly.
Las Vegas, Nevada

As a military spouse, I’ve built a high level of resilience, adaptability and flexibility into the goals I have set, primarily due to the nature of my husband’s job. As a mother to twins with a day job in corporate America and a startup founder, my time is not always my own. The arrival of COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of our lives. It also caused us to really question the viability of our marketplace, but our purpose-driven goals validated that our work was important and should be fulfilled.

Military spouses and veterans struggle to find traditional employment due to the transient nature of military life, and we know our marketplace serves a need beyond selling. We are providing deserving military families with the platform, tools and resources to generate income regardless of where the military takes them.

You are not alone. No matter what you aspire to do, there is probably someone who is or has been in your shoes before. Seek out a community of like-minded people in order to connect, grow, learn and find support.

  1. Take yourself back to why you even started on this journey in the first place. Remember those feelings of empowerment, impact and determination? Allow those to carry you to the next stage.
  2. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. What small, actionable goals can you set that moves the needle? Improvement and progress happen over time.
  3. Don’t complicate it. Simplify your goals into one sentence that are outcome-oriented.
  4. Give yourself grace. There is no crystal ball to tell us what’s on the other side of this hurdle. Allow yourself to learn as you go.

Simone Marsiglia

Founder and President of Gas Stations Services, Corp.
Miami, Florida

Goal-setting is vital for all business owners to measure success of course, but to me, it is most important in order to maintain motivation. As important as goal setting is, people often forget what comes after reaching a goal. One of my success secrets is to continue working as if I’ve never reached my goals, both personally and professionally. In working that way, I believe you can never become complacent.

One of my biggest goals was moving my business to the United States. [from Italy]. Moving my headquarters and my family to a new country came with both positive and negative emotions—an exciting new city and world of possibilities for my business, my wife and my daughter; and moving oceans away from our family while not being able to be as involved with my Italian colleagues.

More than ever, you need to be able to pivot quickly and be open to new ideas as things change on what feels like a daily basis, always remembering that success is a growth process. If a current goal is no longer viable or no longer makes sense due to the situation at hand, I remind myself and my team that it’s OK to be flexible if circumstances outside of our control have changed. You may have to reevaluate the key performance indicators or the timeline of a certain benchmark. As long as the end goal remains specific, measurable and relevant, there is no future scenario that should completely interrupt your goal-setting process.

Corrina Thurston

Professional wildlife artist, author and speaker.
Barre, Vermont

The future is always uncertain. Take it from someone who developed a chronic, debilitating illness at the age of 18 and spent the next six-plus years mostly bedridden: Your plans will be thrown for a loop and your goals will change. That’s OK. Don’t be upset or afraid or frustrated because your plans were just uprooted by something. Look around and see what opportunities are there and maneuver your business in that direction when needed. Don’t stay stuck to your plans or goals just because you’ve written them down.

A year ago, I never thought I’d be making masks with my artwork printed on them, and right now they’re my best-selling item. I couldn’t plan for a global pandemic, but as retailers shut down and people started tightening their belts when it came to artwork and related products, I needed to adjust to the situation, do more online, and have new products that are suddenly considered essential.

The future is never guaranteed and something will always come up. Make your goals and form a clear path to get there, but leave wiggle room for the unexpected. You can’t control everything, but you can control how you react and adapt to things. Be willing to let go of things that aren’t working and change them or pivot to something else depending on the circumstances. 

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Photo by Jacob Lund/