There’s one story that pulls at my heartstrings every single time I hear it. It isn’t a Hallmark movie, or one of the Grimm fairytales my Grandma used to read me. It’s a story whose details vary each time, but the same basic tragedy is still at its core: a woman who sets goals, fails to reach them, and then labels herself a failure and refuses to try again.
The beginning of the year always brings goals to mind, and the number of women in my life who refuse to set them (out of fear of failure) is staggering.
We are so obsessed as a culture with perfectionism that we have unlearned our ability to be with progress.
If we come even 20% of the way to reaching our goal, we’re still further along than we would have been without setting the goal. For some reason, we refuse to give ourselves partial credit. We want an A+, or nothing at all - and this perfectionism is keeping us from growing at all.
I think that regular goal setting is important. I also think it’s one of the most routine yet remarkable acts of bravery we can commit to doing. Goals don’t need to be weapons that we wield against ourselves as we equate our worthiness with our accomplishments. Instead, I teach my clients, friends, and family to see goals as the rulebook they’re writing to their own game of life.
We all know that winning a board game without having access to the rulebook would be extremely difficult. We’d be constantly wondering what elements we need to accomplish to win, we’d wonder how many points we had, or whether our access to the community bank matters. Even if we won, we’d never know it - because nobody around us knows what winning looks like either.
That’s exactly the kind of confusion you’re creating when you refuse to set goals. Without clear guidelines, you’ll never be able to celebrate your progress - because you don’t even realize it’s happening. I know it can feel scary, especially if your goals last year didn’t work out as you planned. Unfortunately, refusing to set goals is just avoiding the problem, rather than dealing with it.
You have to be willing to be courageous enough to choose the structure you need to celebrate your success in the year ahead.
When we embrace this perspective, goals just become a tool for us to monitor and celebrate our growth - not an aspect of our lives that defines us. And being willing to buck the perfectionism trend and embrace progress instead is a radical act that will guard your heart and improve your daily experience.
If you’re ready to get courageous and set goals despite the fear of failure, I’ve got some tools for you to use.
When you consider your goals for 2019, I’d encourage you to reflect on the following questions:
What areas of my life can I appreciate my growth in (even if I didn’t “hit” my goal last year)?
What are my goal setting fears trying to teach me?
How does this new goal support my vision for my life 365 days from now?
Where am I settling for a “doable” goal, rather than an exciting one?
What would it look like to be okay with progress, not perfection?
When it comes time to set the goals down on paper, I recommend:
Pick no more than three significant goals to pursue in the year ahead (especially if you’re a little hesitant about this process!).
Break each of your three goals down into a step by step process. Some goals may only have three steps, but others will be more complex. Make the process of achieving the goal as easy as possible by creating clarity first.
Schedule regular times to check in on your goals, and make them non-negotiable. Sunday nights are a great time to look at the week ahead and pencil in times to focus on specific steps in your goals.
Many people consider only the “doing” aspect of the goal: i.e. what tasks do I need to accomplish? Just as important, is the “being” conversation, which includes everything from perspective to the beliefs you hold about yourself. An easy way to get clear on what you can shift here to make habit change feel easier is to ask yourself, “Who do I need to be to achieve what I’m looking for?”
When it’s time to set goals for the year ahead, I hope you’ll view this process as a time to stretch and grow. Let yourself be amazed by your growth, even when it doesn’t feel fast enough or perfect enough. Be present to the gifts given to you by putting in consistent (though sometimes mundane) action in the right direction, and let an amazing year unfold.
Photos by Tory Putnam