Early in the year, I wrote about some 8 easy strategies on sticking to your New Year’s Resolutions, but let’s face it: we still totally struggle with keeping good and avoiding bad habits. Which has led me to wonder… Do we really struggle, or did we just set ourselves up for failure right from the get-go?
“Set ourselves up for failure? Pssh, whaaaat?” is probably what you’re thinking, but don’t hate on me just yet. There are a few signs that we just set ourselves up for failure, and I believe that actually means something.
So read on to discover the 3 ways I’ve noticed people set ourselves for failure, as well as what that might mean about goals. And of course, I won’t leave you with just that, yo!
Stick around until the end because I also recommend actionable ways to remedy this (unconscious) bad habit.
1. We don’t make a plan.
It’s all too easy to declare something as big and exciting as, “I’m going to go on a solo backpacking adventure this year” but not actually make plans to start.
Heck, even small goals like “I’m going to start blogging this month” can be left gathering dust on the shelf when you don’t sit down and make a plan.
I notice this in a lot of my friends who wail about this big project they think they should be doing but end up never doing. A blog, a YouTube channel, a side hustle, a book… Yet whenever I posed the question, “So when are you going to get started?” I’m met with a shrug and a vague: “Soon.”
Even worse: “When I’m not busy.”
Reality check: we’re always going to be busy.
And “soon” just isn’t a valid plan. A plan is something specific, with actual steps you need to take and an actual timeline you want to be following. While I don’t think we should bind ourselves unflinchingly to these plans (we still gotta be flexible in case life comes a’calling), we still need some kind of focus or structure to abide by.
If you’re setting a goal for yourself and don’t make an action plan, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Just remember:
Things that can be done any time often happen in no time.Gretchen Rubin
I’ve found over the course of time that I fall victim to this whenever I have a new big project in mind. I go as far as thinking about the things I have to do, but I never get around to actually setting the right deadlines or setting myself up for success in these projects.
End result? A lot of projects with half-baked plans that are still too vague and too big to manage. I didn’t know the purpose for wanting to do these projects, so I definitely didn’t get around to pursuing them.
2. We make loopholes for ourselves.
If you ever found yourself making a resolution to, say, eat less junk food and yet always make the effort to hang out at a friend’s house where you two always eat junk food, then you’re making some pretty hard-to-resist loopholes.
One thing I’ve learned in the quest to stay away from bad actions and habits is that facing a temptation head-on is often going to lead us to commit that action we were avoiding in the first place.
You can compare it to the saying of playing with fire. “Play with fire, and you’ll get burned.”
But one of the more fitting simile for this is one I got from a Catholic priest in my university. He says to face temptation head-on is like going to battle without your armor on.
When we set ourselves up for failure with these obvious, avoidable loopholes, it’s a lot like going to battle without any armor on.
If you know your phone is a constant source of distraction, are you always keeping it around, especially when you know you need to be working?
If you have trouble stopping after just one episode of a TV show on Netflix, are you always scrolling through the site when you should be doing something better with your time?
I’m guilty of loopholes, too. For example, for someone who really doesn’t care for arbitrary things – like having to wait until January 1st to start a new project, for example – I seem to have a really bad habit of time-blocking arbitrarily. “I’ll start working on a new blog post at exactly 4pm,” I’ll tell myself.
This has obviously backfired. A lot. Say at exactly 3:59, a friend of mine leaves a text, and it takes me a good three minutes to respond. Suddenly it’s 4:02, now I can’t possibly work on that new post!
My time-blocking loophole has always paved the way for this kind of thing to happen, yet I never seemed to learn until I one day invoked my mantra: Just do it.
No more waiting for the perfect conditions, for the right atmosphere. So what if it was 4:02? Now is better than never.
3. We set unattainable goals.
Hey, I’m all about dreaming big. But sometimes we dream a little too big that we end up scaring ourselves into a paralysis or even life crisis. Trust me, I’ve been there – in fact, I bare my soul in this blog post and tell you all about my quarter-life crisis here.
And I believe there’s a difference between big goals and simply unattainable goals. The latter might be those goals we think we should set, maybe spurred on by others’ expectations or shiny-object syndrome.
These unattainable goals are those we don’t really put our heart into, either because we don’t really want it or don’t want it enough.
Not too long ago, I set a pretty strange goal for myself. I say strange because, looking at where I am today, you would never have guessed that it was what I wanted, but if you knew me for years, it would have made slight sense.
My goal back then was to train so I could audition to become a professional ballerina. (Kinda crazy just saying that out loud, especially since I’m far away from the dance industry.) I had this standard I wanted to achieve: doing triple pirouettes, perfecting my balances…
But when it came right down to it, I unconsciously had convinced myself that I wouldn’t actually be able to attain that standard. I knew I was way in over my head; I hadn’t executed a triple pirouette since I was 15, and it wasn’t as if I was training enough to actually go professional.
We sometimes set unattainable goals because, let’s be honest for a minute, they’re not really the goals we want for ourselves.
We all have probably been guilty of one or even all of these behaviors that unconsciously set us up for failure. And in my talks with fellow creatives and dream-chasers, I’ve found that these behaviors are hinting at either of these things:
We’re afraid of being judged.
My friends know me as someone who is relentless about everyone sharing their creative work, even if it’s just to one person closest to them. So one concern that’s often brought up is: What if people judge me for it?
Fear for being judged for our goals is all too common and all too real. Truth be told, it’s something I struggle with every day. But I’m learning that getting over the fear of being judged – for our big goals, passion projects, new resolutions – is a lot like learning to drive.
It’s hard at first. But with a little practice, it will get easier.
This fear is part of the whole experience, and if we let fear run our lives, then what would be left of it?
Related: You’re a Creative. No, Really.
We’re afraid of failing.
I get it. Failing is hard. It’s embarrassing.
If you launched a new YouTube channel and expected a standing ovation from your friends yet got crickets in return, that’s painful. If you share that you’re open to art commissions but make zero leads, that’s hard to live down.
Failure sure hurts. In fact, it hurts so much that it even scares us out of taking the necessary steps to finally “do the thing.”
Which is funny because we’re setting ourselves up for the very thing we’re afraid of–failing.
We’re afraid of being who we are.
This is slightly related to my point of being afraid of being judged. We’re sometimes afraid of facing ourselves because we think other people won’t accept us. Which is normal. (High school days, anyone?)
But there’s also the part of us that doesn’t want to accept some other part of ourselves. Be it our weaknesses or flaws, or even unconventional loves, we might be setting ourselves up for failure because we’re not being true to who we are.
Take my example of setting a goal I didn’t really want for myself: becoming a professional ballet dancer. One of the reasons I really considered the drastic change in life paths was my instructor’s enthusiasm and encouragement.
But I didn’t really want this goal for myself. I told myself, “I don’t want to pursue something for life just because I’m good at it.” I had to be clear about what I wanted.
Related: 10 Ideas to Stay Creative All Year
Ways to not set ourselves up for failure.
I don’t want you walking away from this post without some actionable tips, my friend. So here are some concrete action steps you can take to make sure you’re not setting yourself up for failure.
1. Sit down and identify your priorities and real goals
You need to get clear about what you really want and why you really want it.
I like to take a journaling approach to this, listing down all my big goals and what I want to happen in my life. Then I narrow it down to the goals I want to prioritize.
And also make sure to stick to those priorities. I always talk about the most effective ways to stay productive, so be sure to read up on them here.
2. Make a plan
Okay, here’s the thing: if a goal meant enough to you, you’d do whatever it takes to make it real.
So to do that, you gotta make some plans, my friend!
Make your plans specific, actionable, and time-bound. What this means?
Plan out your goals, think through what each successful goal looks like, and be sure to keep yourself motivated to finish with deadlines, accountability groups.
3. Set some milestones
Set little milestones to celebrate and mark your progress on your goals. Say, a weekly weigh-in for a weight-loss goal, or a daily writing quota for a blog you want to launch.
With milestones, you know exactly where you are and how far you’ve already come. And seeing our progress is the perfect momentum you need to keep on going.
Let’s set ourselves up for success, not failure. You don’t need to do big, big, big things to make sure of that either.
Don’t set yourself up for failure
Excuses are easy. Follow-through? Not so much.
Many of us have been guilty of setting ourselves up for failure in one way or another. That’s okay.
I believe acknowledging these moments is the first step to fixing these habits. If you find yourself committing to a big goal but have never made plans, start a plan. If you always let yourself succumb to loopholes, identify these and then avoid them.
Productivity, excellence, genius… Whatever you want to call it, the secret is showing up. And showing up means identifying all the ways we might be keeping ourselves from achieving what we want to achieve.
So what will do you now? Will you show up, or will you set yourself up for failure once again?