Why do we fail and how do we move forward from it?

On March 20, 2011 I challenged myself to make 30 posts in 30 days. Today is April 24, 2011, and I posted 11 times in that 30 day span. I failed in the challenge I set for myself. I apologized if I disappointed some of you who were looking forward to more frequent posting.

No matter how much we wish we could go back in time and change something, the reality is that the only we can do is make the best decision going forward. We all have mistakes, shortcomings, and failures, and we cannot change them. No one is immune to them. But we can only move forward. And we can learn from them. In today’s post I plan to dissect why we fail at the goals we set for ourselves and what we can learn from them using forward, using my recent challenge failure as an example.

Unrealistic goals

Above all, goals must be realistic. If your goals aren’t at all reasonable for you, then you’re running a race that you can’t win (sorry Usain Bolt, I’m never going to set a goal of running faster than you!). Of course, this does not mean goals must be something you are guaranteed to achieve. Being reasonable is different from being certain. It can certainly be reasonable for you to get into medical school, but there’s never a guarantee you will.

How do you know if it’s reasonable? Ask yourself – have there been people in my position that have achieved something like this before? If there has, then perhaps it’s reasonable. But even if no one has, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It might mean you just need to work harder than anyone has before. But if you need to work 1,000 times harder or grow 10 inches in height to achieve something that someone else like you can’t do, then you might need to rethink things.

Was 30 posts in 30 days unrealistic? It wasn’t impossible. But was it reasonable? Over the last 12 months, I have averaged 4.25 posts per month. I think expecting myself to increase my blogging productivity by 7 was a bit too much to expect of myself. A more realistic goal would probably be to double my average blogging frequency, so something like 8 posts/month or 2 posts/week.

Picking the right goal but the wrong plan

When trying to achieve a goal, the process is pretty simple. 1. Set the right goal. 2. Make action plan. 3. Execute said action plan. However, failing at any of these 3 points means the desired outcome isn’t met. Today I want to talk about step 2, and in particular, about what happens when you pick the right goal but the wrong action plan.

In thinking about this challenge, I need to ask myself: What is my goal? My goal wasn’t to make 30 posts in 30 days. That might look like the goal on the outside, but it wasn’t a goal I personally cared about. The goal I really cared about was to put more effort into this blog and write and share more. And truth be told, forcing myself to write 30 posts, of any length or topic, doesn’t actually interest me now that I think about it. I much prefer to write less frequently, but more quality. I would rather write a meaningful 1,000 word post than 5 small and less meaningful 200 word posts. I failed to take my personal preference into account when I made this challenge for myself.

I had the right goal, but I picked an action plan that I wasn’t genuinely driven to pursue.

Losing motivation

Once you set your goal and create your plan, all you have left is execution. But execution requires motivation. I wish that if you picked the right goal and developed the right action plan, that alone would be enough motivation to help you achieve your goal. But as we all know, no one has perfect drive. We all lose sight of our goals, we all run into obstacles that reduce our motivation.

What do I write about? I don’t feel like writing right now, should I just force it? Oh gosh, I missed one day, I’m already behind in my 30 posts challenge now! At some point, when you’re so behind in schedule, you stop seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It becomes all black.

It’s important to keep that light alive. It helps to visualize your goals, and making them visual to you. Write them down. Post them on your fridge or your computer monitor. Personally, I keep a goal planning document with all of my goals and all of my tasks. I actually didn’t write my blog posts as a goal in my document. That might have contributed to my failure.

Some things you just cannot control

Sometimes obstacles or unfortunate events can make your goal more difficult or even impossible. Your athletic goals will be slowed if you get injured or ill, for example. While there were no particular events out of my control that stopped me from achieving 30 posts in 30 days, I didn’t give myself room to prepare for those possible obstacles. We all need to make sure we have the wiggle room in our plans to deal with unforeseen events. Not even giving myself some buffer days was a bit much.

I’m sure there are many more things we can learn from failure. What about you, do you have any lessons after failure that you would like to share?