A lot of talk about goals often seems to focus on setting achievable goals and that you either meet them or you don’t. There doesn’t seem to be much talk about how some goals (not necessarily hard ones to start) may require a lot of hard work. Instead, I feel like when you fail to meet a goal, most of the blame is passed onto the goal itself, instead of the person pursuing it. The goal must have been too hard. It wasn’t achievable. It wasn’t realistic. Etc, etc. However, sometimes you just need to face the fact that you just didn’t:
- put enough time into it.
- put enough energy into it.
- want it enough.
- try/work hard enough.
It’s not the goal that failed, it was you. And some goals are going to require you go the extra mile (or two). They’ll require late nights and early mornings. You may need to find extra time to work on it, such as during your “time off”. Or trying to find ways to make yourself work even when you’re not motivated.
I believe in setting SMART goals, which are goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. But I also believe that even after doing so, it’s possible to fail at them for a variety of reasons. And yes, some of this reasons aren’t specifically you or the goal failing. Something that seems attainable one week, may no longer be so a week later. For example, if you plan to run a race, but get injured right before. Or the goal may no longer be relevant – if your research changes direction, your goals need to change with it.
But just because a goal is SMART, it doesn’t mean that it won’t require significant effort on your part to actually achieve it. Including pushing yourself near your limits and stretching that little bit further. But, these goals are often the ones you’ll feel most proud about when you do get them. And part of that will be because it wasn’t easy.
So what are some things to do when a goal starts to feel too difficult?
- Re-evaluate – does the goal still meet the SMART definition? Does it need to be changed?
- Focus on why. Why did you make the goal in the first place? Why do you want to achieve it? Why is it an important goal?
- Can it be broken down? Often smaller pieces of a goal will feel manageable even when the goal itself doesn’t. Instead of focusing on writing a whole paper, focus on individual sections or chapters. If you still can’t write, try to jot down what you need to write about in each section, such as the relevant facts, background info or results.
- Use a carrot to propel you forward. Or a shark to run away from. 😛 Having rewards (or punishments) can be motivating to work towards. For example, maybe for every task you complete you can watch an episode of a tv show. Or when you finish writing that paper you can go out for dinner.
- Tell other people. Sometimes, there’s nothing like having people expecting you to hit some target to motivate you to do exactly that. This weekend, it was announced to many that I wanted to run a sub 1 hour 10k (my first ever). Knowing that people were going to ask about it is what kept me moving during those final kms when I really wanted to stop. I didn’t want to have to say I failed.
What steps do you take when setting goals? And how do you deal when you fail to meet one?