How Going “Goblin Mode” Can Be a Good Thing!

Goblins might seem better suited for Halloween than Hannukah or Christmas, but Oxford Dictionaries announced this week that “goblin mode” has been selected by an online vote as its word (or phrase) of the year, receiving over 300,000 votes – more than 93% of the total. “Goblin mode,” in case you’re not familiar with the phrase, means “a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.” The term, which dates back to 2009, rose in popularity this year as Covid lockdown restrictions eased in many countries and people ventured out of their homes more regularly. Oxford Dictionaries explain: “Seemingly, it captured the prevailing mood of individuals who rejected the idea of returning to ‘normal life’, or rebelled against the increasingly unattainable aesthetic standards and unsustainable lifestyles exhibited on social media.” Ben Zimmer, American linguist and lexicographer, said, “People are looking at social norms in new ways. It gives people the license to ditch social norms and embrace new ones.”

While the ideas of going “goblin mode” may seem like something it would be best to avoid in our work life, Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals (which we have quoted before, and could rightly be called Building Bridges Leadership’s “Book of the Year”) offers surprising support for the idea. “Much advice on getting things done implicitly promises that it’ll help you get everything important done,” Burkeman argues, “and struggling to get there will only make you busier.” So rather than attempt to do everything, fail, and view yourself as an ashamed failure who will only fail further, Burkeman’s advice is to “Decide in advance what to fail at.” Jon Acuff, author of Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, explains further: “[When you] decide in advance what things you’re going to bomb… you remove the sting of shame.” A messy bedroom or a unruly lawn are less troubling if you’ve decided in advance to fail at ‘bedroom tidiness’ or ‘lawn care.’ In fact, failing at them can bring you joy!

Even at work, both Burkeman and Acuff argue, there is scope to choose some areas to fail at on a cyclical basis. Failing in any work area on a permanent basis will probably not serve you, and may result in a change to your role (whether that’s by your choice or someone else’s!). But there may be areas you can consciously choose to do the bare minimum on for the next two months – with a clear end date in mind – in order to put more focus on a couple of key projects. Then, at the end of that cycle, you can consciously choose which areas need focus for the next season. And so on. Burkeman again: “To live this way is to replace the high-pressure quest for ‘work-life’ balance with a conscious form of imbalance, backed by your confidence that the roles in which you’re underperforming right now will get their moment in the spotlight soon.”

How can the idea of actively choosing to go “goblin mode” in some areas of your life be helpful this week as we enter the holiday season?

This Week’s Tip:

Consciously choose some areas of life (at work and/or in your personal life) to intentially let go of and even fail in over the coming weeks:

  1. Set a date for yourself to reevaluate those choices (ideally not before early January), and stick to it. Avoid the tempation to change course.
  2. Give yourself grace; instead enjoy the freedom of letting go. During the holiday season you may naturally many things go because of seasonal commitments that aren’t present other times of year. Focus on those – you’ll be able to come back to the things you let go soon enough.
  3. Start a pattern of deciding to fail that you can revisit in the new year. This can be a helpful practice year-round! This is a great time to try it, but come January, avoid the temptation to try to do everything again!

Try this out this week, and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group! We’d love to hear from you. As always, you can subscribe to our feed here, or sign up for our weekly newsletter to get these articles directly in your inbox.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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