I am so grateful to be picking my son up from the airport. We are going for a fantastic breakfast at the Parkway Diner right after, followed by some really good conversation while I drive us home. Like many families at this time of year, a hot topic of conversation that usually comes up is setting our goals. We may talk about how we want to improve current projects, what difficulties we may face while in pursuit of our goals, new or old, and some of the ways we plan to meet those challenges. Sometimes when we define just one possibility of success for ourselves and we’re not mindful of our emotions, a quick shot of excitement of a possible outcome can turn into grasping, nervousness, general uneasiness, or even fear at the possibility of not getting what we want.
I don’t pretend to know how all emotions behave in our bodies, but I do know that fear, shame, and anger are very limiting motivators. Like a simple sugar high, they can elevate performance and energy temporarily, but they also have the side effects of burning through our energy like fire through kindling. Other side effects include, but are not limited to: self- judgement, which inhibits your ability to appreciate any step of the process towards your goals; lack of follow-through, where the toxic stress caused by your uncomfortable emotions can result in you discarding a goal altogether. Totally discarding a goal, well, that can have its own wonderful side effects including shame, depression, and resignation.
Chasing after your goals can bring real enjoyment. Granted, good goal setting and achievement will require consistent and vigorous effort, resilience, and the acceptance of the growing pains that come along with any change. Positive, reinforcing emotions, such as excitement, joy, and a sense of pride in the smallest victories are requirements if you want to succeed for the long haul. Here are a couple tips I have found helpful in minimizing fear, maximizing appreciation for all of your ‘wins,’ and reinforcing your successes for yourself in the up-coming year.
Pyramid goal-setting allows for many wins on the way to your ultimate goals.
Reaching your goals and succeeding are amazing confidence builders, but if you really want to improve, it will only come through learning from the virtual library of knowledge your setbacks provide. That’s right. All the times you fail in the attempt are invaluable. The best way to fail successfully is to break up a goal into different parts, celebrate the parts you do well, then learn from the parts where you have difficulty. Here’s an example: you want to run a marathon for the first time this year. The greatest distance you’ve done thus far is a half marathon. You feel your times are good at this distance but don’t know what to expect for yourself running 26.2 miles. You look at some conversion chart on-line, and it tells you what you ‘should’ be able to run. You also know the time you would ‘like’ to run your marathon in. So, here’s your pyramid…
- Bottom level – You’ve never finished a marathon, and just getting through that distance would be a pretty amazing feat. You will work on time as you go.
- One level up – You believe that 4 hours is more than ample time to finish the distance, because you finish most of your half’s in an hour and 40 minutes.
- One more level up (it’s getting tight) – Three and a half hours would be an incredible time, and you would have to have everything dialed in.
- Tip of the pyramid – You run a 3 hours and 15 minutes or better. God would have to have his right hand on your shoulder (or carry you) part of the way, but you have been going to church on the regular, and if EVERYTHING goes perfectly… well… you believe it could be possible.
Focus on your ‘Action’ goals and allow your ‘Performance’ goals to take care of themselves.
- Action goals are goals you have control over. You have control over how much you practice, the quality of your practice, and your effort. These are your action goals. An example would be if you want to learn the kazoo, you set an action goal of practicing an hour a day, 5 days a week for a month. If you are familiar with S.M.A.R.T. goals, then you will recognize that this goal is specific (an hour a day, 5 days a week), measurable (you can just check off a calendar), achievable (unless you don’t have a kazoo… it shouldn’t be too hard to pick one up), realistic (make sure you have an hour a day), and time bound (you re-access in a month how you are doing).
- Performance goals you don’t have control over. Unfortunately, you don’t always have say over what happens after you follow through with your action goals. Let’s say your performance goal is that you want your local school band to choose you for their kazoo player. You followed through with your action goal, and you really have the kazoo down (you are amazing on the thing!). But there are seven other kazoo players (if you can believe that) who tried out for band, and after all your practice and hard work, you weren’t chosen. You may not have achieved your ultimate goal of playing in the band this year, but you improved your play dramatically, and built your confidence. You may not have reached your performance goal on this turn, but because of all the reinforcement you gained from the ‘wins’ achieved through action goals, you are much more likely to continue your quest for being the most formidable kazoo’ist’ in your school band.
And last but not least…
Make sure the goals you go after are yours. How do you know when a goal is not yours? When you think about your goal and it doesn’t particularly excite you, but you know a lot of other people that would really like to see you do it. It may make you feel like you have status, but you’d really be pleasing other people by achieving that status instead of pleasing yourself. Goal-chasing can be difficult and may cause stress and real effort, but if those goals resonate, you ‘lose time’, meaning find yourself fully present while chasing them, and you are always grateful for opportunity to work towards them.
While I find I didn’t fully achieve all that I set out to do in 2018, I am grateful for all that I have learned in the pursuit of every goal I undertook: persistence, perseverance, resilience, and furthering my ‘knowledge’ of the things that I am truly passionate about. I approach the coming year reviewing all I have accomplished. Accessing not just those things I completed for myself, but all the things I began. Even those things I may have never started. I celebrate how big a dent I made in goals that I didn’t fully achieve. And I consider what might have changed in my life that caused some goals I had set on January 1st to no longer be a priority a few months down the road. This is just as important – for it shows me how I have grown and changed as I have achieved different things or grown in different areas. Once I have done this, THEN I am ready to consider my goals for the coming year, using the ‘knowledge’ about what I have done, what is important to me, and where I think I want to put my time, energy and focus for myself in 2019.
I would like to wish everyone a very happy New Year. As we move into another 365 days of circling that big orange ball in our sky, may we all be grateful for the work we’ve already done that was meaningful to us in 2018. Our brave attempts ‘in the arena.’ Celebrate our ‘wins’ through full remembrance and recognition of the hard-won confidence that is now part of us. Our resilience and ability to learn from our setbacks in all our endeavors. The love we’ve shared, the wonderful people in our lives, and the generosity that has been shown to us and that we’ve shown to others as well as ourselves. May we remain friends with ourselves through our most difficult trials in this past year and the next. And never cease striving for our goals with passion and appreciation for the each and every win that we earn.