Why Not Achieving Your Goals Doesn’t Make You A Failure

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
— unknown (popularly attributed to Albert Einstein)

Action lies at the heart of the coaching.

If you want something to change in your life, it’s not enough just to recognise and understand the problem. You have to do something differently if you want to see a different result.

And yet, so many of us are scared to commit to an action or a goal in case we fail.

I get it.

It’s actually a completely normal, rational and logical response. Our brains hate the unknown. The unknown is unpredictable and full of potential threats and dangers and things that can kill us.

Just like those old-world maps...

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Our brains want us to stay in the cave, in the warm and the comfort and be safe.

But we don’t grow in safety. Life happens at the edges of our comfort zone.

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We have to take risks and try new things if we want to create a different life for ourselves.

 

Wanting to create something new does not mean that you are somehow lacking or not enough exactly as you are. You are whole and complete and imperfectly perfect. You don’t need to change a single thing.

Unless you want to.

What if we weren’t scared of failing? But instead were afraid of succeeding?

Marianne Williamson has a beautiful take on this:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.

I was terrified when I left the RAF. It’s all I had known for my adult life - my entire life, really, thanks to growing up in a military family. But I was far more scared of suffocating and stagnating than I was of the unknown on the other side. I was terrified of staying comfortable and regretting it.

We cannot allow fear of failing to stop us spreading our wings.

There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask, “What if I fall?”
Oh, but my darling,
What if you fly?
— Erin Hanson

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?


Now, for the practical bit on how to create goals that aren’t so scary. And I’m talking about everyday goals - not dreams. Dreams should be huge, scary-assed amazing things!

  • Get specific. “I want to get outside more” is not helpful. How much is more? How will you know you’ve done enough? And that is a critical question for anyone (like me) with perfectionist tendencies. Because it will be enough unless you specify how much. An example for a client just this week: moving from “I want to walk more” to “I’m going to go for a 30-minute walk everyday at 3pm” - this would have been even better had we specified where.
  • Be under-ambitious. I like everything to be perfect. Well maybe not perfect but pretty damn close. That means that I often end up not doing anything. I don’t write as much as I would like to because I don’t know how to make it perfect. I’m never going to help anyone or change the world with perfect yet non-existent work. So I’m aiming for done. 60% work that is in the world is far more likely to make a difference than A* work that never even made it out of my head.
  • Get a minimum baseline. I often talk to clients about doing just one press-up [insert other activities here]. You can always do just one. But if you set yourself the goal of doing 50, chances are there will be lots of mornings where you don’t do any. Setting your baseline too high risks this kind of all-or-nothing thinking: well, I can’t run 10km today so there’s no point me running at all. Sound familiar? Set yourself a realistic minimum baseline; by realistic, I mean something you can do even your lowest energy day when you’re hungover or sick. There’ll be a lot of days where you do way more than that but on the days you don’t, you will still do something. And that’s how you...
  • Make it part of your identity. A goal or a new behaviour needs to become part of you. You want to be able to say “I’m the kind of person who….”. So in the early days of trying a new habit, the goal isn’t necessarily to be more healthy by drinking 2 litres of water, it’s to be able say “I’m the kind of person who…”.
  • Schedule it. You have to make space for your goal. Get in the diary. Get it in the diary before anything else. It’s non-negotiable. Start showing up for yourself and your priorities. You’ll start to build trust with yourself, that sense that you have your own back when it comes to things that are important to you.
  • Give yourself less time. This sounds counterintuitive but Parkinson’s Law states "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion". You’ll be amazed at how much you can achieve if you give yourself an hour and only an hour (like this blog post!).
  • Treat it like an experiment. The fear of failing at a goal comes when we set it up as something that is either achieved (good) or not (bad). But what if we treated it like an experiment. You have an assumption, a hypothesis, that doing this action is going to have a certain effect. Normally, that effect is ultimately to make you feel good. So let’s test that! Don a white lab coat….okay, you don’t need the lab coat but you do need to personify your favourite scientist. Try phrasing your goal as “I wonder what happens if I do X…”. Then record and monitor what happens and see what you learn. Days when you don’t achieve your goal become the perfect opportunity to learn - why didn’t it happen?
  • Set yourself a challenge. Some of you may have been following my 18 in 2018. One of the challenges I set myself this year is to run 1000 miles. I don’t know if I’ll make it - I’m about 100 miles behind where I should be at this stage. But the point isn’t to run 1000 miles. It’s to keep running regularly - to make it a regular habit rather than my usual 3 months on 3 months off pattern. I’m achieving my goal even if I don’t hit 1000 miles. I am not a terrible, lazy person if I only run 900 miles, if I only run 600 miles this year. That’s a lot more miles than 0 miles.