For most things in life, you have to fail – and fail many times – before you achieve your goal. Sometimes it means sticking to your goal and trying many, many times. Occasionally it means trying something, and if it fails, switching gears to try it differently or try something new.
You may have heard the mantra “fail often and fail quickly” – the point being that you have to stretch yourself, expand your boundaries. Doing so will accomplish many things:
- You’ll try more things – if you aren’t afraid to fail, you’ll attempt more; if you fail quickly, you’ll have more total attempts which means more overall successes
- You’ll learn to stop wasting time on efforts that aren’t worth it – if that goal isn’t that important to you you’ll stop after the first time you fail; if it is important to you, you’ll keep trying
- You’ll learn from your mistakes (yes, that’s a cliché) – every time you fail, if you’re smart, you learn something that helps you either succeed the next time you try or gives you insight into a new and different goal that you value more
- When you do achieve, you’ll appreciate it more – succeeding after failure tastes much sweeter than the easy successes; though I’m not a fan of intentionally failing or anything, nor do I advocate taking the hard path just to “build character”
There are very few successes without failures. Take basketball great Michael Jordan. Do you know how many times he missed shots? He’s missed more shots than I’ve even attempted. A constant refrain from parents of elementary school basketball players is “I wish they were less afraid to just take some shots”. Lesson: life is a numbers game.
Does this mean you should bang your head against a wall and fail repeatedly in the delusional hope that you’ll eventually win? Of course not. You need so see measureable progress. The young Michael Jordan, even when failing and missing shots and losing games, was able to see his own progress. The pro Michael Jordan was able to make more shots than he missed and win more than he lost. Lesson: you need a way to measure progress, or lack thereof.
I’ve started several companies in my life. One recent effort involved selling someone else’s product in an industry/market I didn’t really understand. After several months, I still wasn’t making any money. And I was wasting my time because there were several other opportunities I had that were being neglected. I didn’t give up soon enough because I didn’t want to fail. After many more months, I finally through in the towel and the next thing I started was much more successful. Lesson: recognize failure and don’t let your ego interfere because success may be hidden behind a different rock.
Imagine a child learning to walk. He takes that first step, and immediately falls. Does he say “Wow, this is too tough. I think I’ll stick with crawling.”? No, he tries again. He really has no other option and doesn’t even consider giving up forever on his dream of walking. Lesson: for life’s most important goals, never ever give up.
What lessons do you have about failure that you are willing to share?
I've got my work cut out for me tomorrow. See, I have to lift more than I've ever lifted on two lifts (weightlifting) by tomorrow to meet my goals.
Maybe you don't lift weights. Regardless, this article should help you see why written goals are invaluable.
Over the summer, I set weight goals for 7 specific weight training lifts: squats, deadlifts, chinups, barbell rows, dips, bench press, and overhead/military press. The Big 7.
And tomorrow, I've got to make good on my self promises.
Goals = Self Promises
That's a good way to look at goals - they are promises you make to yourself.
In this case, I never told anyone I was going to set personal records.
But I did write them down.
6 Reasons To Always Write Down Your Goals
I know a few weeks ago I said that goals didn't HAVE to be written down. I simply mean that a goal is a goal, even if not written. But they SHOULD be written down. Here's why:
- The act of connecting pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard, in and of itself reinforces the goal.
- You can't cheat later - the written goal is the metric by which you judge success.
- You can easily refer to the written/printout goal; even daily or multiple times a day.
- Writing lets you work and rework the wording of the goal; word choice matters. For example, one tidbit I love from Tom Venuto: you want to burn fat, not lose weight. Losing weight means you might lose muscle too. And even losing fat isn't quite right, because if you lose your keys, what do you actually hope will happen? That you'll FIND them again! Do you really want to find your fat again? No! You want to burn it so that it is gone forever. Small word choices make a huge impact on your success and the best way to get the right words is to right them.
- By writing your goals down, you get the additional positive reinforcement of putting a check mark next to them when you achieve them. For some of us (yes, that's me) there is a bliss that comes from checking something off your list that makes it even more compelling to complete the goal.
- The physicality of the written paper allows you to force reminders - you can't escape the list taped to your computer, or on your car steering wheel, or wherever you post them to remind yourself.
So Do I Follow What I Preach?
For each lift, I set two goals: one by the end of August, the other by the end of the year. The exact amounts aren't important for this article, but keep in mind that I'm not a powerlifter - my lifting is more about physique than about being the biggest and strongest guy (see my site, http://worldiftnessnetwork.com for more info).
I wrote them down, with specific deadlines and with specific amounts. So they were objectively measurable.
I read them at least once a week through July and August.
I met all my August goals.
And I promptly patted myself on the back (yay me!), and then... the goal list...
got lost in my shuffle of papers.
For September, October, and November, I neither thought about nor looked at my list.
Until three weeks ago, when I found the list in the back of my workout log.
I have to admit, when I saw the list, I was not happy at all.
Those goals looked scary.
I didn't WANT to meet those goals anymore. I didn't want to lift that much weight. It was so much more comfortable to just keep on my current lifting routine (which I was making progress on - in fact, I actually had set new personal records in all the lifts, just not high enough to reach the numbers I had targeted - what, was I on crack at the time I set those???)
Usually, you'll hear me talk about how important it is to review your written goals regularly. While that's a subject for it's own article, the basic idea is that the more important the goal, and the closer the deadline, the more you need to look at your piece of paper. Some people even tape copies of their most important goals to their toilet seat so that they must read them every day!
In this case, I have to be honest - these weren't that important of goals to me. My life, and the lives of those I care about, really aren't impacted by how much weight I can lift. Plus, last summer it seemed like the end of the year was a long way away...
So, I really hadn't looked at these goals for a while.
I took a deep breath and reminded myself that this is one of the reasons we write goals rather than just stating them.
The written word is far more permanent and doesn't allow your mind to forget or alter the original goals.
If I hadn't written them down, there's no way I would have met my August targets. Back then, the targets were fresh, urgent, exciting, achievable, and written. I easily met them all.
But now (three weeks ago) I was faced with a daunting task of having about 23 days to crush my records in 7 lifts.
I took out my lifting logs to assess the challenge.
Sometimes We Are Closer To Our Goals Than We Think
Turns out I had already met one of the amounts (deadlift). Whew. That left just 6 to go.
I was really close on 2 more. I ended up breaking those the next workout (bench press and chinups).
But the remaining 4 lifts were going to be hard.
So what do you do when your goal level is far from your current level? You set intermediate goals (or action steps).
One of these lifts was the squat. For those of you unfamiliar with lifting, this is where you load up a barbell with weight, hold it across your back, and bend your knees and hips until your hips go lower than your knees, and rise up again.
I needed to add 20 pounds to that lift. So I immediately changed my routines to lifting heavier, for fewer reps, and more rest. Then at the end of those workouts I did extra sets of what are called :partial reps" with super heavy weight. This is where you don't use the full range of motion, allowing you to get used to much higher weight. Then, before attempting the maximum lift, I made sure the muscles involved were rested at least 4 days.
Using this approach, I met my goals for squats and dips.
But as of this writing, I have not met my goals for barbell rows and overhead press.
And not to make excuses, but I hurt my wrist about a month ago that makes barbell rows very painful. This is a case where visualization is going to make a huge difference. Again, a topic for another article, but when you have to perform, visualization is critical. In this case, I need to prepare not only for the maximum lift but also to ignore the pain.
My training is done - now I need to perform. Tomorrow is the day.
I'll update this post in the comments section with the results!
One of the most effective ways of ensuring that you’ll meet your goal is to make it public. Tell someone. Or many someones.
This is one of what I call “external motivators”. They are outside of yourself. For most big goals, a mix of internal and external motivators helps to keep you on track and progressing.
Keep in mind, 99% of the people who know you probably don’t care too much about your goals. They are consumed with their own world and while they care about you as a person, the details about your goals and struggles usually go in one ear and out the other. Sharing your goals isn’t about them helping you. It’s about adding another carrot and stick to your own motivations: you’ll be even more proud when you accomplish your goal and you’ll be more embarrassed if you fail. So you will be much more motivated knowing that someone (or someones) are expecting you to accomplish your goal.
So who should you tell?
The answer of course varies based on the goal itself.
The first key is whether the goal itself is an external goal or an internal goal. External goals are essentially where the results are shared with others. Finishing a project at work. Building a playhouse for your kids. Hitting a sales target. These results aren’t private.
Internal goals are more private. For example, trying to think more positive thoughts every time your husband talks about his brother… Or shedding body fat is pretty personal unless you are a competitive bodybuilder.
To complicate matters, it’s obvious that most goals are in between.
Here are some guidelines about who to share your goals with:
- For internal goals,
- Make sure it’s someone you can trust entirely
- It should be someone you respect
- Make sure it’s someone who isn’t personally affected by the goal (for example, if you are trying to be nicer to an obnoxious co-worker, don’t tell them about your goal ; I can hear some of you saying that sharing the goal with the “beneficiary” will make you even more motivated but I disagree – it can backfire in a major way, especially if you fall short of your intended goal)
- For external goals,
- Tell the people who are affected by it
- The more external the goal, the more people you should tell.
- Except in rare cases, don’t tell people your goal expecting them to help you; remember, even to people who love you and you can trust, your goals are likely to be less important to them than they are to you; they don’t want to become your Goal Warden.
Challenge: So right now, pick one of your top 5 goals. Ask yourself if it’s an internal or an external goal. Then decide if telling someone would make you more motivated to achieve it. If not, pick a different goal. Once you have the right goal, list 3 people you could possibly tell. Write their names down. Tomorrow (after you’ve let it percolate in your subconscious a bit), choose one of those people and tell them. Good luck!