Why just “embrace the suck” of goal failure?

Think of a time when you pursued a goal, but didn’t achieve it. What did you do? When goals start going wrong, it can be easier to “postpone” them than deal with your mistakes. It’s also easy to forget that success is achieved through trying, and trying most often ends in failure. But if you can embrace the idea of being uncomfortable and understanding that failure is just part of the process, you might find that “failure” can give you the motivation to try—and try again.

To get yourself moving in the right direction again, first watch this short video on strategies to recover from setbacks.

 

 

Encountering failure and setbacks along the road to your goals is the rule, not the exception. And even if you’re conditioned to think that failure is bad, there’s a lot to be learned from embracing it. So what can you learn from these failures?

There’s more than one path to get there.

When you miss your turn or run into a dead stop in traffic on the highway, your GPS device can “recalculate” and show you a new path to your destination. Goal failure can act similarly: Each time your plan doesn’t go as expected, or you have to switch gears, you can consider new and alternate routes. It might take time and repeated effort, but the good news is you can turn obstacles into opportunities to practice flexibility.

There might be a different way of thinking about this.

How do you react to goal failure? You might be really hard on yourself—for example, “I’ll never be able to do this.” Or your beliefs about failure might be unrealistic. You might think, “I have to succeed the first time, every time.” When you get stuck on these kinds of thoughts, they can prolong the resentment, frustration, or hopelessness you feel after a setback. Remember that your thoughts drive emotions and behaviors. To shift your thinking before you get stuck, consider evaluating the accuracy of your thoughts; try saying, “That’s not completely true because…” or “A better way of looking at this is…”

Maybe this goal wasn’t the right one.

Sometimes when you step back and look at a goal you didn’t reach, you realize it wasn’t the right one, anyway. Maybe the goal you set was too big or too long-term or didn’t connect with something truly important to you right now. Maybe the resources you have right now aren’t nearly enough to overcome the obstacles that stand between you and your goal. Sometimes quitting one goal and completely changing focus makes sense. But most of the time, redefining the approach to your goal is the answer. Use the SMART goals method to help you set challenging goals that are tied to your reality. Identifying the 5, 15, and 50m targets you have to reach before your 100m goal can help keep you motivated.

The bottom line

Every year, lots of people set out to attain new goals through New Year’s resolutions, and many of them end up giving up or quitting before they reach those goals. So before you give up on last year’s unmet goals, think again. Of course, not all failures are created equal. Some might be devastating and take a lot of time to come back from. But for most simple failures of goals, getting back in the saddle is the best way forward. No matter how carefully you plan, remember that failure is a part of everyone’s life. Learning how to “embrace the suck” of goal failure productively can help you reframe obstacles, move through setbacks, and get you closer to your goals.

References

Jones, N. P., Papadakis, A. A., Orr, C. A., & Strauman, T. J. (2013). Cognitive processes in response to goal failure: A study of ruminative thought and its affective consequences. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 32(5), 482–503. doi:10.1521/jscp.2013.32.5.482

Kingston, K. M., & Hardy, L. (1997). Effects of different types of goals on processes that support performance. The Sport Psychologist, 11(3), 277–293. doi:10.1123/tsp.11.3.277

Latham, G. P., & Locke, E. A. (2006). Enhancing the benefits and overcoming the pitfalls of goal setting. Organizational Dynamics, 35(4), 332–340. doi:10.1016/j.orgdyn.2006.08.008

Oettingen, G., & Reininger, K. M. (2016). The power of prospection: Mental contrasting and behavior change. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 10(11), 591–604. doi:10.1111/spc3.12271

Park, J., Lu, F.-C., & Hedgcock, W. M. (2017). Relative effects of forward and backward planning on goal pursuit. Psychological Science, 28(11), 1620–1630. doi:10.1177/0956797617715510