Goals, Projects and Failure

It is amazing how easy it is to get sidetracked on a goal or project. Sometimes the cause is small, for example needing to run an errand during your normal workout time. Then the next day rolls around and the "need" to run more errands in that same stretch of time becomes easier to justify. Finally, that time somehow switched from workout time to errand time.

Other times there are legitimate, longer period interruptions such as illness, changes at work, or other lifestyle changes that alter the way you spend your time either for long periods or permanently. Not much can be done about these events except how we decide to RE-prioritize around them.

Recently, my little self-help project became sidetracked due to two significant events: an accident that forever changed the course of the life of a good friend of mine and my wife's shoulder surgery. Neither of these events happened directly to me but they did affect me and rightly so. This got me to pondering about how to deal with staying on course when it comes to personal goals and projects.

I get sidetracked on projects all the time; it seems that there is always something else I need to be doing. In the past I'd let projects get past a point of no return – a point where I felt that I and failed too much at the goal to continue perusing it. Since then I realized this is a terrible way to look at things. It is a great way to put something off so that you can claim it is too far gone and give up. There are only two reasons that you should abandon a goal or project - it is not worthwhile or it is causing more harm than good.

I have learned that it is OK to chuck these useless or harmful goals and projects as soon as you realize that they are toxic. No ceremony, no farewells, no drama – just gone. It is also OK to put projects on pause when other events in life pop up. This is called prioritization – not failure.

By the way, failure doesn't happen to me, it is a choice I made. If I choose to abandon a worthwhile goal for any reason, that is a choice made not a failure to succeed. The only failure is in not trying all solutions and then convincing myself that I couldn't achieve it. I am not an expert at the goals I want to achieve therefore; I can allow myself to screw up sometimes. It's ok. Pick up the pieces, learn from the results and try again.

So how do I keep my goals and projects from failing?

  1. Is my goal or project worth my time?
    The first step to reaching any goal is this question. Does the goal inspire me or do I find a REAL benefit in what I'm working toward? If not, or if the reason the goal exists is due to social pressures (I should do this because it's what everyone is pressing me to do) then the goal will fail. It doesn't matter if I perfectly define my goals and tasks, or expertly plan the execution of my project; if I don't fully believe that reaching my goal is worth it, I won't. I tried and failed to quit smoking more than 10 times. It was always too hard and someday looked like an easier day to quit. It wasn't until I woke up one day completely sick of smoking that I was able to pull it off. The quitting was still just as difficult but the perseverance required was much easier to muster. I believed that the temporary hardship now was worth the long term unshackling of the costly habit.
  2. Define goals into projects
    Turn goals into projects by giving them timelines, boundaries, and a specific end result. Think S. M. A. R. T. (Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic Timely) Lose weight is not actionable – Lose 20 lbs. in 90 days is.
  3. Am I setting aside time to work on my goal or project?
    Anyone who has had any success in any endeavor will say that one must plan and manage time to include the required tasks. If you don't know what you need to do, then that is your first task – research.
  4. Don't fool yourself
    "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool" - Richard P. Feynman
    Every time I get sidetracked, I keep this quote in mind. Am I inflating other items to detract from my project tasks? Am I responding emotionally to a perceived defeat rather than systematically breaking down the results and learning from them? Am I looking for excuses for inactivity or a diversion? And then finally, if the answer is yes, then I ask why? If the answer to these is no, then I have to drop back to step 2 and ask, are the goals S.M.A.R.T. and am I executing the tasks required properly?
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