Last year, I set a goal to do a small thing every day for 365 days. And I failed. So, what did I learn about setting goals? Not what you might think.
Ah, January. The brand-new year stretches out in front of us like a gorgeous blank canvas; a vision of unmarred, freshly fallen snow as far as the eye can see, untrodden as yet by anyone’s footsteps.
I don’t know about you, but I love me a wide-open expanse of fresh, unmarred snow. I like how it looks spreading out in front of me, just begging me to make my mark. And, I love to look behind me, to see my trail marking my path through to where I am, bearing witness to how far I’ve come.
As I’ve sat down these last few January weekends with my beautiful new planner to set up my 2023 calendars and create my new plans, I was reviewing and reflecting on last year’s progress.
This is where I regale you with tales of my stunning successes and exciting adventures. As a coach, many people might expect me to have created nothing but success and progress. And I have those, to an extent: I had a great year. I had a lot of successes and adventures and made significant progress on a lot of projects that are important to me, including new, unexpected experiences and a lot of healing I didn’t know I needed.
And, I flat-out failed at some of the goals I’d set out for myself at the beginning of last year. I may be a coach, but I’m a human first and foremost, and you’ll never find me pretending to be perfect and only showing the glossy parts of life.
Last year, I was definitely going to have my book done and published and available for sale by December. As you can tell by the book that does not yet exist, that did not happen. I did, however, complete the draft and begin the edits. By the way, no one talks about how mind-numbingly boring and filled with self doubt the process of editing a book can be.
I meant to learn ukulele, by practicing at least twice per week. I think I practiced twice, period, out of the whole year. The Sound of Music set me up to believe that I would pick it up a lot more quickly and easily than is happening.
I also failed at a simple, seemingly inconsequential intention I set out for myself last year. I have a simple writing exercise that is meant to be done in the morning, before I start my day. On days that I do it, I am a happier, more-grounded human being.
Doing this writing exercise clears out the negative gunk in my mental trunk and has me choose how I will come at the day that is intentional and empowered, instead of unconscious and reactive to my circumstances, thoughts and feelings.
Doing this exercise means I have a better day. You would think that would be ample motivation, all on its own.
To be clear, there’s literally no good reason for me not to do this practice: It’s quick (like less than 5 minutes) and it works. Each year, I even buy a pretty, limited-edition Moleskine daily planner just to entice me to do this exercise.
Last January, I set out to do this writing exercise every day for 365 days. Now, it’s worth noting that the year before, in 2021, I did this writing exercise a grand total of 13 times. 13 out of those 365 limited-edition Moleskine pages had writing on them.
That’s a whopping 3-percent success rate, or a 97-percent rate of failure, depending on whether you’re a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kind of person.
Now, you may think that trying to go from 11 to 365 might seem a bit ambitious. I mean, from less than a fortnight to a full annum is a pretty big jump. Going from a scant 3 percent and gunning for 100 might even seem like a set-up.
And it was a set-up, I suppose. After all, I did fail at my goal. I did not clear every day. By the close of 2022, I did not hit 365, nor did I get particularly close to it, even.
Last year, I cleared exactly 209 out of 365 days. That’s just over 57 percent. Essentially, if this were an exam, I got an F.
Based on my results, I’ve reset my target accordingly: I’m aiming for 100 percent, or 365/365 days once again.
Using past results as a basis for future prediction, failure is a likely outcome.
So why would I set myself up to do it again, if I’m likely to fall short? Why not lower my goal and set myself up for meeting a more reasonable expectation? After all, if my goal had been 200/365, I’d have gotten 105 percent, or an A-plus with a gold star.
Here’s why: Clearing 209 days is 196 days more than I cleared the entire previous year (and most years before that, too).
That means that for 196 more days than the year before, I gave myself the gift of setting my day with intention and choice. That’s roughly a full 6 months of choosing me, every day, instead of less than 2 weeks total.
Did I fail? Technically, yes. But I’ll call that kind of progress a win.
And if I assume that I’m going to clear even the exact same number of days this year as last, I’d rather get 57 percent of 365 than of 200.
Additionally, playing this game gives me the opportunity to examine and transform my relationship to my results. I can learn to play for progress, instead of holding out for perfection. I learn how to improve when I’m in the game, not when I’m out on the sidelines, waiting until I know for sure I’ll hit a home run.
What I know to be true is that my goals don’t make me miserable, nor do they make me feel like a failure. Only I can do that. And only I can choose outside of that, which—coincidentally—my clearing exercise helps me to do. And I can only practice doing something different if I let myself try and fail again and again.
So, when it comes to the games I choose to play and the goals I choose to set, I’m going to keep playing for gold. I want it all, so I’m going to keep choosing to play for it all. I’m going to aim high, because even if I miss, I’m pretty sure I’ll get a helluva lot closer to where I want to be than if I aimed low.
My goals for 2023? They look a lot like my goals for 2022, which I’m completely fine with. I’m going back in on them again, because I still want to achieve them, regardless of my progress in the past. Any progress is a game worth playing, in my opinion.