Crush Your Goals by Avoiding These Four Common Mistakes

“New Drum Set – Barley Used.”

Barely used. A quick search of Craigslist will uncover hundreds of similar postings; a proverbial graveyard of grand goals that never quite got off the ground.

How many times have you seen this scenario play out?

  1. Set a goal to do something awesome
  2. Buy the awesome gear…all of it
  3. Start doing the awesome thing
  4. Realize the awesome thing is kind of hard and time-consuming
  5. Sell awesome gear on Craigslist for a demoralizing loss

This is an overly simplistic illustration, but it exemplifies a harsh reality. We all want to do awesome things, but we don’t always consider the amount of time and energy involved. Playing drums is hard. Distance running takes miles of practice. Gardening is an endurance activity. Blogging takes persistence.

New goals also compete with our existing responsibilities–jobs, friends, family, other hobbies. We have a schedule we’re used to, and it becomes quickly apparent this new awesome thing is going to take some serious attention. As our new goals continually test our resolve, it’s vital to have a strategy in place to avoid these traps before they happen.

Last week we talked about consciously setting goals and getting started, and this week we’re going to outline four common pitfalls that can derail our goals and how to avoid them.

If you’re struggling to get started check out this post on choosing a goal and sticking to it.

1. Failing to Prioritize

“The person who forgets the ultimate is a slave to the immediate.” – John C. Maxwell

Putting your future self first is about prioritizing tasks that are going to provide the greatest long-term benefits. To do that you have to determine what’s important and stick to it. Although, like most things, that can be easier said than done.

The above quote from John C. Maxwell perfectly summarizes my early struggles with prioritization. I would start on a task I wanted to accomplish, and some version of the following would inevitably occur: 5 minutes in a new email arrives so I stop and answer it. Back to my task. 20 minutes later the phone rings, and I stop and spend 60 seconds answering a question and another 10 minutes exchanging pleasantries. Back to my task. 10 minutes later a co-worker stops by “to chat” for 15 minutes. Back to my task. Answer another email. Back to my task. A colleague has a problem with one of their accounts, and I spend 30 minutes talking them through it. Back to my task. Now, it’s time for lunch, and I’ve accomplished about 30 minutes of real work.

How many mornings have you lost like that? And, it’s not just the wasted time we’re losing, it’s the time it takes us to truly get back on task. A University of California study found that it takes workers an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on task after an interruption.

If you struggle with staying focused, try this next time you have an important task: close yourself off to all interruptions and distractions. No phone calls, no emails, no TV on in the room, no checking your phone, no friendly chats, no questions, no putting out fires for other people (unless those fires are literal.) Work like this for two hours every day for a week and then take stock of how much you accomplished.

Better yet, turn your notifications OFF.

2. Skipping Ahead

Just like you can’t skip the first few miles of a marathon, or the lower rungs on a ladder, don’t try to skip over the first steps of skill acquisition. Sure, I want to learn to shred on the guitar like Kirk Hammett, but that’s never going to happen if I don’t commit to learning chords and scales today. The only way to the end of the run and the top of the ladder is by taking the long way, one mile, and one rung at a time.

“But I want to be better now!” Hey, I get that, patience isn’t one of my virtues either. But, since we both know the only way is straight through, try this next time you hit a roadblock: visualize yourself sitting in exactly the same place you are right now. That person you see is you, right? But, not just you 30 days older, it’s you 30 days older and a helluva lot better at playing guitar than you. The only difference between that person and you is what you’re willing to do between now and then. Stay the course and don’t get ahead of yourself.

3. Taking Failure Personally

“If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.” – Steve Jobs

Failure can be a harsh and sobering experience, so much so that it stops many people from ever trying again. It’s a familiar narrative: we decide we want something, we’re filled with excitement as we take the first steps, we put everything we have into it, our heads filled with visions of mastery, and just as quickly we hit a wall and realize how far we have left to climb.

Maybe the task becomes too physically or emotionally exhausting. Maybe our peers, who laughed when we started, are now laughing even harder at how poorly we’re performing. Whatever form the failure takes, it feels like a grueling indictment of who we are. We tried our best, spent so much time, and now we’ve crashed and burned. Our egos (and perhaps our bodies) are beaten and bruised. We don’t want to feel like this again. And, what’s the easiest way to keep that from happening? Walk away. Never do it again. You can’t lose chips you don’t put on the table, right? Sure, but you can’t win anything that way either.

You’ve heard the proverb “nothing ventured, nothing gained” a thousand times, but it’s powerful advice. Life is full of uncertainty, and having the courage to take action in the face of that uncertainty is the path to success. Understand this now: you’re going to fail, odds are more than once. Failing is okay, in fact, I encourage it. You learn a lot about yourself by failing. You learn how to take your lumps, that’s it’s not so bad, and that you can, in fact, get back up. You also get the priceless silver lining of failure: experience. Every time you try to do something you’re learning. You’re learning processes and procedures. How things are done and not done. You’re learning things you can take with you into your next endeavor. Stop thinking of it as “failing” and start thinking of it as “learning.”

4. Willpower Overload

Overloaded willpower has wrecked more than a few of my grand aspirations. You’re probably familiar with it too. You hit that moment where you’re fed up with you life, and you want to be a better person. Then we start by deciding to change everything about ourselves. We’re going to eat better, we’re going to exercise, we’re going to spend more time with our family, we’re going to be better employees, and we’re going to stop swearing so much (guilty as f$%*.)

I’m not saying these are not laudable goals, but for many of us, they’re too much at one time. When we decide to improve ourselves we’re not only trying to create new habits, we’re attempting to break old ones in the process. You’re not just going to go to the gym three days a week after work, you’re also going to stop hitting the bar after work and eating wings with your coworkers. You’re not just eating healthier meals, you’re also not grabbing Taco Bell on the way home or throwing a frozen pizza in the oven when you’re hungry. Breaking old habits is dreadfully difficult because we’ve been fostering those habits for decades. Even if the habits are unhealthy, they’re also familiar; they’re comfortable. So, when you’re trying to create a new habit remember that you’re also banishing an old one, and you’re going to have to put as much time and energy into the new behavior as you did the old one. (Read last week’s post for a guide to setting goals you’ll actually accomplish.)

If you force yourself to consciously break 10 habits every single day I can all but guarantee you’re going to fail at most of them. Instead of trying to change your life all at once, start by changing one thing. Trust me, the small successes start to snowball fast.

This year is going to be your year. You have your one goal, and now you have a strategy to stay on track. Now, get out there and get after it.

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Are you thinking about taking the first step? Are you hesitating? Already moving toward your goals? Wherever you are right now, I want to hear about it. Send me a message HERE.