Use goals to check up on yourself, not beat up on yourself

This post has been updated and re-posted from an earlier version.
We talk a lot about goals at the school and its led to many interesting discussions on the impacts—both positive and negative—that goals can have in your life.
One of the core reasons to set goals and work to achieve them is to build happiness, fulfillment, and sense of self. That is the true goal. But if you’re using your goals to beat yourself up or hold yourself back, i.e., “I set a goal to pass my next rank exam on X date and then I didn’t pass, I suck,” you’d do better to change your strategy regarding goals.

Set the Destination, Enjoy the Journey

I like to set a goal, build a plan that involves a daily or weekly discipline/rhythm, and then forget about the goal for a while and just enjoy the process.
Use the goal to set a nav point and then periodically pop your head up, take a look at the goal and see if you’re on track. If you’re not, ask yourself if you’re truly invested in the goal, and if you are, figure out how you need to change your plans and rhythms to get back on course. Don’t spend any time on negatively judging yourself if you’re off track, just take it as useful data for resetting your course or looking at the goal itself.

Fail Forward

When you don’t achieve a particular goal, take stock of what you have achieved and build a new goal from there. If you made it 60% of the way there, you’ve got a 60% head start on your next goal. Everyone fails, it’s what you do with that failure that makes a difference; if you scrap all your progress in self-recrimination then you’ll have achieved nothing. Follow John Maxwell‘s advice and “stop failing backwards and start failing forward!”

Celebrate Effort as Highly as Result

An alternate goal to “pass the exam in January” is “do the exam in January.” Being there is every bit as worthy. Choose a component of your study and just work on practicing that component, don’t even worry about getting better at it. My five minutes a day goal (I make sure to train at least 5 minutes each day) is not about achieving a result, its just about making sure I get the sword in my hand (and in my mind) everyday. By celebrating the efforts, I make the journey more fun and more rewarding.

Remember Rhythm

Big things are achieved in small steps. Make this idea part of your life philosophy and you’ll be surprised at where a thousand small steps will take you.

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