Monday, September 3, 2018

Placing the Goal Posts

Every month, I set goals for myself. Sitting down and writing out what I want to accomplish focuses me and helps me to juggle the various aspects of my life -- one step in moving toward an often elusive work-life blend.

Often, I overshoot. Sometimes, the balls I'm juggling all come crashing to the ground.

This morning, I sat down to review my August accomplishments and set new goals for September. As usual, I'd hit a few and missed a few. Okay, I hit a few and missed most of the rest.

Often, I overshoot.

Someone else reviewing my goals might suggest that I create goals that are more realistic, or that I pull back and set goals in fewer areas. If I were being evaluated by anyone but myself on the goals I set, or if my professional progress depended on meeting my goals, that's exactly what I'd do.

But I've come to like overshooting. My goals aren't the SMART goals embraced by businesses and, taken together, they're not even the REAL goals I wrote about last spring.

Separately, however, REAL goals is exactly what they are. They represent a combination of hopes, dreams and the actions necessary to make them happen. When I judge my progress on a black-and-white, success-or-failure scale, it's easy to feel defeated, but when I focus on growth, I not only feel better, but I also know exactly where to go with my goals for the next month.

When we fail, we have several choices. We can huddle in a corner feeling defeated. We can get angry and beat ourselves up. We can lament how we'll never amount to anything because we missed an imaginary goal post we erected ourselves.

That doesn't sound very smart, does it?

I prefer to take the growth mindset approach I teach my students. Failure teaches. It tells us whether the goal posts are too close, too far, or just right. Sitting down this morning writing a short narrative to myself about my progress on each of my goals helped me reflect on whether or not my focus was in the right place, particularly as I move from August to September, from summer vacation to fall semester. It helped me to see where I did more than I set out to do and where I fell short so that I could shape September's goals accordingly.

This habit, begun when I retired six years ago, serves not only to help me make progress but, as it turns out, it has helped me to reframe failure. If we see failure as the end, or as a personal flaw, we stop moving forward but, if we see it as instructive, it's a tool not for lamenting the past, but for shaping the future.

No matter how realistic our goals, we will sometimes fail to reach them. Life intervenes, sometimes in good ways and sometimes in ways we'd rather not imagine. Tossing out our goals because we're afraid we won't reach them deprives us of the wonderful sense of accomplishment we earn when we do.

Life is full of failure. It's all in how you frame it. As for me and my goals, we plan to emerge victorious.

At least some of the time.

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