Goals, Persistence, and the Knowledge Behind Failure

2016 has been a pretty eventful year for us all. Even if you haven’t personally experienced a lot, a recap of headlines can give you an idea of why there’s a reoccurring sentiment of “I’m ready for 2017.” As we keep moving closer and closer to January 1, you’re going to see a lot of people talking about resolutions or “new year, new me”, or any other combination of catchphrases that can be stuffed into a Facebook status. At the same time, as we get further and further away from the dawn of 2017, we’re going to see the motivational quote posts dwindle and the goals that people set either get more lax or just outright disappear.

That may sound cynical, realistic, or just harsh depending on the person you ask, but it wouldn’t be such a common observation if it didn’t happen so often. However, what you don’t see, unlike the grand visions for our lives we throw on social media, are people putting the same effort into explaining how they fell short, and for good reason. Social media is often described as our “human highlight reel”, so why would we put our shortcomings on a pedestal? It’s embarrassing. That said, there is a lot that you can gather from just attempting a goal, and by doing just a few things to keep yourself honest, you can do a lot to guarantee some personal growth. Even if you don’t lose those 20 pounds or get that new position at work you have your eye on, it all revolves around shaking the notion that coming up short is some kind of catastrophe.

For me, the first step was answering the question, “What do I really have to lose?” As you’ll come to find out, unless your goal requires a huge financial stake to get started, there usually isn’t much risk to our goals other than a bruised ego. After being told by my doctor that one of the best things I could do for my joint inflammation was to stay active, I decided that I was going to take up a free trial for a Brazilian jiu jitsu class. Now, I’ve never been an athletic stud, so I knew the beginning was going to be ugly, and boy, was it. However, as down on my first class performance as I was, I realized the only repercussions were sore muscles and feeling a bit self-conscious in the presence of some really talented peers. The other thing I kept in mind, as my professor Albert said, was that “If you stick with it, the version of you six months from now will be able to kick the “old you”‘s butt.” All things considered, it looked like a situation that was really bound to succeed as long as I didn’t give up, and the same can be said for your goals.

By this point you’re thinking, “You’re not saying anything revolutionary. You can accomplish goals if you don’t quit? Wow. What a philosopher you are.” You’re not wrong, but like I said before, if the first sign of resistance doesn’t end someone’s attempt at making a change, over time we allow our cumulative shortcomings to grind us down. So how do you keep yourself going when life presents additional obstacles? For me, the answer was peer pressure. 

We’ve all had a moment in our lives where our gut instinct told us “I really shouldn’t do this,” but with some social nudging, we went through with it, for better or worse. When you’re trying to work towards a goal, a lot of times we do it in an isolated bubble, and the only people that know where our head and heart is at is us. It doesn’t need to be that way. Whether I posted a picture of the front door of the gym, told my family where I was headed, or made a social media post about going to train that night, I made sure everyone knew what I was doing, not because I wanted to brag about being bad at jiu jitsu, but because I knew that if enough people saw it, especially those who knew me the least, it would be what they knew to bring up first when we finally interacted. Even today, when people I seldom associate with that still follow me on social media see me in person or they comment on a different status and they ask me how jiu jitsu is going, I’m being held accountable for all of the posts I’m making. Sure, I could lie about days I skipped and paint some grand picture of things I’m not doing, but lying to yourself and others is a whole other can of worms you need to address if that’s a problem. If it’s a goal that you don’t want the whole world getting updates on, either use those online features to be selective about who sees the posts, or have someone that you communicate with that will act as the outside force of peer pressure. Either way, be honest and be consistent with checking in, whether good or bad. When you know that either a great deal of people or someone you hold in high esteem is going to get the truth about you dropping the ball, it can give you that last push over the edge when the little voice in your head is trying to make you take the easy way out. The last and most important detail has to do with the days that you listen to that little voice.

You’re going to screw up at some point. If you do anything long enough, there will be a time you don’t get it done. However, you have to keep your head up when this happens, because you’re going to be at an important fork in the road: You can decide to look at why and how you failed, and resolve to be mindful of fixing it going forward, or you can exit through the gift shop. There are days in jiu jitsu where I get destroyed. There are a lot of days like that. It’s discouraging to have a training session where it feels like you just aren’t doing anything right, but when I get in the car, I drive home in silence, and I think about what just happened. Did I really understand the technique being taught? Did I ask questions when I needed to? Did I just not eat enough food or the right foods leading up to class and felt like garbage? By the time I get home, I want to have a general idea of how I’m going to avoid having the same performance next time I step on the mat. The same kind of reflection is needed for any goal. If you don’t get the result you want, it only becomes a failure when you refuse to learn from it.

So as we come towards the new year, set that goal for yourself. Be prepared to take that first step, which is always the scariest, and after you’ve done that, make sure you hold yourself accountable and that you pay attention to when you get it wrong just as much, if not more, than when you get it right. Personally, it’s made a huge difference in my life, and until you go out and make an honest effort yourself, you have no idea what you could be allowing to pass you by. And just remember: Even if you don’t do exactly what you set out to accomplish, at the very least, you can hold your head up high for taking a risk plenty of other people started their year too scared to take. Fortune favors the bold.

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