Goal setting is something that everybody does. There are little goals and big goals. Smaller domestic goals could be something along the lines of cleaning the house and washing the clothing before the end of the day. For some people that is the extent of their goal setting. For others, especially the professional class, goals tend to be a little bit more complicated, they are longer-term and there is usually more than a single goal. There are volumes written and and armies of self-help gurus which all speak to the importance of, and skill development in, goal setting. I’m not going to write about that. I honestly don’t get people who struggle with goal setting because for me putting a bunch of stuff I want to do on some comprehensive list is the easy part. It’s when I can’t achieve the goal or try and fail, that’s when things get more interesting. That’s when you have to deal with failures and frustrations.
I have a ton of these failures and frustrations. A sample list as of the writing of this article includes a fish tank project that I wanted to put together for my kids that never got off the ground. I also have both indoor and outdoor home theater projects that are not started or remain half finished. There are other outdoor projects I have on my docket including an outdoor office near the river on my property. I figure my writing will be more inspired if I can work in the middle of nature.
I have many more frustrations at not achieving the goals I set for myself with the blog, podcast, and book. I had a goal of keeping my articles short, two pages max. I have learned that I have a really hard time being succinct because I like to dive deeply into my subject matter. I figured I could find an editor to help me, that didn’t work out so well. I wanted to become an expert at multi-person podcasting. I still have yet to record my first group podcast even though I have all the equipment needed. I expected to finish my book two years ago, and although much of it is done, It’s been over a year since I worked on it in earnest.
Usually when I reflect on all of the things that I have yet to complete my sense of frustration grows. I’m sure there are some personality types where an unfinished goal isn’t a bother. They can let the project sit unfinished for decades. I eventually force myself to deal with the outstanding goal or lack of progress on said goal as the case may be. There are really three different tactics that I use to manage the frustration and failure of not addressing or achieving a stated goal. I use the three R’s of Release, Re-Engage, and Re-Engineer
I think the first option is to release the goal, IE simply give up. I don’t feel like there’s any shame in it although I believe we are socialized to look down at giving up. This probably goes back to grammar school when a failure was considered a very bad thing. Failures in the real world have value in that they teach us what not to do. The key to success in giving up is to know when to do it.
As an example, when I was much younger, I was seriously into high fidelity car audio systems. One of the proudest moments of my semi adult youth was when a childhood friend, one who was a musician, heard the quality of my stereo for the first time and told me that it was the most amazing thing he had ever heard in his life. I have always had the goal of recapturing that experience in my current vehicles. So little by little I collected some higher-end, but not crazy expensive, car stereo equipment for my current ride with the goal of approximating what I had when I was younger. The amplifiers and speakers sat in my office for about a year-and-a-half and I eventually decided to sell it and give up on the goal. I gave up on my car stereo that I desperately wanted because it was never going to happen. I realized that for the final pieces of the project including the install I had to come up with a pretty hefty chunk of change. I could have done it but there were so many other things in my life that took priority I knew it wasn’t a realistic option for me.
How do you decide when to give up? That’s easy, you do it when the thing that’s keeping you from your goal isn’t going to go away, possibly ever. In my case, I knew I had to put my family’s quality of life needs well above being able to jam out on my 10-minute commute to work. Those needs are ongoing and there will always be something the family will need as the years go by and life happens.
The second option is to re-engage. This is especially helpful when that goal is not getting any progress but it’s still a viable goal. If you have multiple goals then you have to prioritize. After the prioritization happens and you know what is next on the list, then take a step in that direction
This is exactly the foundation behind Dave Ramsey’s baby steps for getting out of debt. It’s all about activities that make an emotional connection to the goal. For me reengaging my book meant figuring out a way to have time where that would be the only thing I focus on. Since I wanted to keep the blog and podcast moving along, I came up with this audacious goal to get two years ahead in articles. At the time of this writing I’m really close to that goal, in fact this article is part of the last ten I need to write before I can put down the blog for a year.
Goals should be somewhat flexible where they can be but often we don’t build flexibility into a goal we set for ourselves. Losing 50 lbs this year is a really good and specific goal, but if your body is only allowing you to lose one pound per month because of your specific biology then 50lbs isn’t going to happen, at least not this year. Changing that goal mid-stride to 10lbs is definitely reasonable. There should be no shame in it although there is always that sense of failure if you didn’t do what you originally set out to do. The best consolation for re-engineering a goal is to continually remind yourself that there is nothing wrong with accepting that it’s a simple case of biting off more than you can chew.
In my case, I have a couple that i’m re-engineering. I’m seriously considering changing my outdoor theater project from one inclusive a gigantic complex screen to one that is based around a simple pull up screen. The big screen and everything involved with that project was just was too much to pull off. Another case where I have already re-engineered the goal was my goal of wanting to be two years ahead in the blog before I took a blogging sabbatical to re-engage writing the book. At the time I decided to do that I was posting one article per week. After working on articles for twenty days strait during my big winter break I realized it would be another year or more of working before I hit two years ahead in articles. I was close to one year in the can and I knew I could hit that goal within six months of writing. So I re-engineered the goal by cutting my publishing need in half by posting an article every other week and doing the podcasting in the alternate weeks to keep the content publication stream steady. Voila, my one year became two! The re-engineering worked and I have a high probability of hitting my goal of two years in the can before summer begins, just not as I originally envisioned.
Success in Failure
Earlier I mentioned that failures have value in what they teach us not to do. To this point most private-sector business leaders will recommend failing often. As an aside, that’s a great inspirational leadership position from a motivational speaker or public facing CEO but it only works in organizations and industries that actually value trial and error. Typically big failures at work get someone fired.
That being said, no matter if it’s professional or personal, I would argue that you should consider your failure as a success, just not to your original goal. The travel business I owned was not a success as I envisioned it. I had always thought that I would be able to grow it to sustain myself and my family. That level of business never materialized. Looking back at the experience there were some tremendous successes unrelated to profits with that business. I was absolutely a success in keeping my liability low while learning how to operate the business. It was a huge success in learning an industry and understanding bootstrapping. Valuable lessons I took away from the experience include never selling someone else’s product, keeping an eye on industries that are being disrupted by tech and to focus on personal services as there is more money in that.
What do you choose?
I have a rule when I want to buy something that I happened upon while out and about but I have some emotional or cognitive dissonance when it comes to plunking down the cash for it. In these situations I use my ‘thinking about it tomorrow’ rule. When I see something, especially something I didn’t plan for that I want, and i’m still thinking about it the next day, then clearly I really wanted it and that is my OK to go get it. It’s the same with goals. If the goal is still nagging me every time I think about it then it’s going to get addressed through re-engagement or re-engineering. If it’s not nagging me, then releasing that goal is probably the best course of action. One thing I’m pretty sure of. I’m always thinking, especially about the things I wish to accomplish. So the next goal that i’m going to be forced to give up on, is my goal to have less goals, because that, unfortunately, isn’t ever going to go away.
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