There’s an art to making goals work

Posted: 20 July, 2012 in Goals
Tags: , , ,

I didn’t meet a goal I had for this week but instead of moaning and groaning about it (again) and kicking myself (again) for being a failure, I thought I’d give some time to actually finding out why I didn’t make it.

It brought to mind a great piece of advice I read a while back that talked about the difference between “ideals” and “actuals”.

It read: “The ideal does not actually exist outside our minds, nor is it achievable … because it depends on everything being perfect.

This is the third time this year I have failed to meet this particular goal. I set the time and the outcome and then watch as the deadline passes without having reached the mark.

It was time to ask myself, “Am I being too idealistic with my goal?”

I didn’t even have to think about it. The answer was a deafening “Yes!”

I do tend to idealise. My two main downfalls are assuming my time will always be my own, and assuming I will be much more productive that I know I usually am. I spent this week helping someone else and, while I didn’t mind at all, it set me back because I also hadn’t factored the possibility of interruptions into my timeline.

If I had been more realistic in my approach I would have extended the deadline and given myself an extra week, knowing that Murphy’s Law often makes an appearance when time is short.

Other differences between idealistic and realistic goals are:

  • Idealistic goals tend to have a short deadline. You want it achieved fast, you want it now! Realistic goals are more, well, realistic. You know it’s going to take time and you’re willing to allow for it. The perfect example of this is with losing weight. Wanting to lose 7kgs in 7 days would be ideal, but it’s not a realistic goal and this is why so many people are discouraged in their weight-loss attempts. We didn’t gain the extra weight in a week and it can’t be lost in a week. My rule of thumb is, however long it took me to gain this weight is the same amount of time needed to lose it again (realistically).
  • Idealistic goals depend on all outside influences being perfectly controlled and rigid. Realistic goals take into account that things will not always go right, well, or on time.
  • Idealistic goals will (almost) always lead to disappointment, while realistic goals will always lead to success. There is only so much time and only so much we can do in that time. When we forget this we start making unrealistic assumptions about our capabilities, which means we will fall short of whatever goal we’ve set.
  • Idealistic goals take into account your strengths and assumes you have no weaknesses. I’d like to meet the person for whom this is really true. In reality, we all have flaws, some of which will work hard against us with our goals. Instead of ignoring our weaknesses we need to factor them into our goals and be more realistic with what we are capable of doing. Knowing what we’re up against at the outset of our journey will help foresee where we might have problems and set down a contingency plan to help us get back on track if we stumble.
  • Idealistic goals tend to have an air of fantasy about them: I’ll finish this book and be published by this time next year. What a great dream that is! But this goal assumes certainty of so much that is out of my control. To keep this goal realistic I need to work only on what I have control over: ME. I should say, “I will finish this book by this time next year.” I can then work out a daily target that will see me achieve this goal. Once it’s written I can make another goal such as, “Approach three [or two, or one] publishers every week for two months.” This might increase my chances of getting published but only in an ideal fantasy world would I be able to put a definite time on this.

I’ve also read that f I’m waiting for my idealistic dream to come true before I am happy, I will never be happy. This is because I will constantly be working for an ideal high point that just isn’t achievable without all things being perfect. What a miserable thought!

The bottom line is this: where idealism fails, realism prevails. It’s time to get real and get working on a goal that works, not one that works against me.

With my new realistic goal firmly set down I’ve rediscovered the excitement I originally had for this project, before my repeated failures. I’m excited because I’ve given myself extra time, a back-up plan and, most importantly, a break. I’m not reaching for an ideal, I’m working towards an actual goal – one that is clearer to me now that it’s ever been.


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