Lessons Learned from Goal Setting .. Stories from Failure

I have been setting goals for myself since 2007 and have had many failures and few successes. This year, I decided to re-visit my previous efforts and see if I noticed any patterns that were holding me back. I was mentally aware of some of these patterns. The exercise of re-visiting previous goals and analyzing my efforts proved to be quite valuable.

Here are some of the general patterns I noticed. I hope reviewing this list could help you in your own goal setting efforts.

  • Too many goals

I was looking at a personal dairy entry from 2007 and noticed that I had listed about 7 goals. There were goals such as learning C#, learning ruby, leading a training class and so on. The problem with setting too many goals was that the list overwhelmed me and I could not prioritize the list and decide what I was going to pick and focus on. When I saw too many goals, I tried to step back and figure out what is it I truly wanted. This was a tough question for me and caused confusion and prevented my efforts at prioritization. Essentially, I felt stuck. A good mentor could easily have told me – Just pick one! 😉

I approached goal-setting as an exercise in creating a list of everything I would get done. I failed to realize that goal setting is truly about picking something, sticking to it, and getting it done. The act of completing a task energizes much more than creating a huge list. It is a waste of time to list out all your goals if that doesn’t lead to action.

  • Failing to re-organize my life around a goal

I vastly under-estimated the need to re-organize my life to achieve a big goal. One goal that I constantly struggle with is the need to exercise more. I have begin to realize the “systemic effects” that one big goal can have on your life. Let’s say you want to exercise regularly. You need to figure out a schedule that works for you. If you decide you want to exercise in the morning, you need to wake up earlier so that you can still reach the office on time. If you need to wake up earlier, you need to sleep earlier. All the activities that you do on a day-to-day basis has to be re-adjusted to meet this goal. This is a huge challenge and undertaking. You literally have to re-plan your entire day around this one goal.I believe this is the reason coaches ask you to pick one goal and stick to it. The self-discipline that you get from achieving the goal will help you with other goals that you set.

  • Lack of Support system

I truly believe the lack of a coach or mentor hindered my ability to achieve some of the goals I set. I bet any coach or mentor could have seen my goal list and immediately pointed out the flaws in my approach. I could have gained a lot by having a coach who could have asked great (and tough!) questions. Nearly all goal-setting systems specifically emphasize having a good support system.

  • Vague goals

Some of the goals I had listed out lacked clarity. I remember one goal I set for myself – Learn Ruby. What did “Learn Ruby” mean? How would I know that I had learned Ruby? What resources would be required to learn Ruby? I had to break this goal down into specific and tiny chunks that could be completed. It’s the same principle we follow on software projects. If you don’t know what done means, you are never going to get there!

  • Obsessive need to be perfect

Last year, I decided to exercise at least 5 days a week. No exceptions. I figured out a schedule. I decided when I had to sleep, what time I had to get up, and how I would go about my day to day activities to meet this goal. I got very obsessive about this. I did not want to fail. I did not want to take a day off. The first two weeks went fine. I was literally trying not to miss a day. In the third week, I fell sick and I missed a day and I was very upset and frustrated. In the fourth week, I literally lost my drive to keep working on the goal. I quit! The goal was overwhelming me and I was obsessed with being perfect. I am an big fan of Karen Mottekaitis and listen to her podcast often during my drive. In her interview with Ariane de Bonvoisin, Ariane mentions that we need to be human instead of perfect when dealing with change. This hit me like a ton of bricks! And it made so much sense!

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