Goal Achievement: Don’t let Perfect be the Enemy of the Good

I’ve found that most people scoff at New Year’s resolutions. They set a few goals, make a couple days’ or weeks’ progress on a rigid schedule, then fall off the horse, only never to get back on, reporting a “failed” resolution. They resolve never to set such goals again, from the experience that goal-setting inevitably leads to failure. What such people are lacking is not resolution; rather people often fail to be flexible and adaptable with their resolutions when obstacles are presented. Many iterations are needed to make a change in lifestyle. It is rare that a goal will be implemented perfectly as planned, because you cannot possibly anticipate all the consequences (good and bad) of your new behaviors.I have been making detailed New Year’s resolutions for 3 or 4 years now, and I have made significant changes in my lifestyle as a result. The tips I will share do not have to apply just to New Year’s, of course. The process I use can be applied to any new decision to reach a goal.

First, I take my list and sort my resolutions into things I want to accomplish daily, weekly, monthly, and within the year.

I post these resolutions in a place I will see them every day (for me that is as an image on my computer desktop).

I then take specific actions right away on each item to set me up for success. This is a framework, if you will, that makes it more possible to achieve a goal.¬†For example, I may have to “schedule” time to do the items. In the case of wanting to read a chapter a day from a book, I had to physically put a book in my backpack so I would be more likely to read while on public transportation.

I wanted to study Chinese every day for 15 minutes, so I set up an arbitrary recurring appointment time at 8pm to do that. I see it every day on my Blackberry or my Google Calendar so I am reminded to do it daily. I try it for a couple of weeks. I realize that I am busy most nights at 8pm so that isn’t really working out very well. I end up studying right before bed, or at random times, or some days not at all. So I don’t give up and call it a failure, I just think about it for a few days and figure out how I can better incorporate this into my schedule. I find that my schedule itself is not as structured as I had imagined it to be in the first place. It may take more time and data to actually plan a time to study. So in the meantime, on days when I have more time, I study longer to sort of make up for the days I missed, and don’t stress if I miss a day here and there. This is PROGRESS! If my schedule becomes more regular, it will be much easier, but in the meantime, I must remain flexible as well, and go with the flow!

I had a goal to do Yoga poses and meditation daily, so I set an alarm for 7am daily to do this. Keep in mind that I had this goal last year, didn’t put it on my calendar, and ended up doing it only about 2-3 times a month. So, I find after 4 weeks that I don’t really feel like doing my yoga poses daily. My sleep schedule is still too varied, my exercise schedule makes me feel more active on some days and like totally resting on others. I naturally end up doing it every 2-3 days, and that feels good. I end up meditating at random times every other day or so. So did I fail at my resolution? NO! I made a significant progress toward a goal, and the extent of my change is working for me, for now. SUCCESS!

I think people just put too hard a WIN/LOSE on goal achievement, and as a result, miss out on a lot of real progress in the direction they want their lives to go. Never give up on your goals! It may take several iterations in lifestyle (and sometimes a couple years!) to get yourself there, and at the WORST, you will find that your specific (and often arbitrary) goal itself wasn’t truly in your best interest and that a modified goal is actually better for you. Patience and flexibility in COMBINATION with discipline and smart perseverance will get you the results you want in life.