6 tips for shedding the baggage of failure

Yesterday was not quite what it could’ve been
As were most of all the days before
But I swear today with every breath I’m breathing in
I’ll be trying to make it so much more

Cause it seems I get so hung up on
The history of what’s gone wrong
That the hope of a new day is sometimes hard to see…

“Up and Up” by Relient K

I went for a long run tonight and I was listening to this song and thinking about the baggage of failure and how it weighs us down. There are things I’ve struggled with over and over, and sometimes it’s very difficult to try again without having the idea in the back of my head that I’m going to fail. I thought I would write up a few strategies and tips that have helped me move past some of my previous failures.

Reevaluate your goals
First of all, you need do some soul-searching and ask yourself: is this goal still something you want to achieve? Don’t waste your time trying to meet goals that you have little interest or passion for. Not only does it waste your time and energy, your likelihood of success is very low in this situation. Spend some time determining where you are, where you want to go, and what some of the steps in between are. Put it on paper and review it periodically to help keep that source of motivation fresh in your mind.

Be Accountable
I’ve noticed that sometimes I don’t tell people when I set a new goal for myself, and I think part of the reason is that I know I’m probably going to fail and I don’t want the added embarrassment of having my failure be public. But ironically, the very act of telling people about your goals and struggles can be a powerful motivator. If you know that people are going to be asking you about something that you’ve said is a goal, you’re more likely to keep at it. That’s been my experience anyway. On the other hand, if you set a goal for yourself and tell no one, it’s pretty easy to drop that goal when the going gets rough. Accountability for goals is a must. And you need to find the right people to hold you accountable. You want people who will not only encourage you along the way, but also will kick your ass a little if you start to let things slip.

Don’t Compare Yourself
Sometimes when I go to the gym after I haven’t gone for awhile, it’s a little intimidating. I’m not a small guy, but I can’t compare to these 300 lb. guys who look like the hulk, tossing weights that weigh more than me around like they’re nothing, while I struggle with a 10 lb dumbbell. I exaggerate, but only slightly. The point is that too often, I’ve let my embarassment over my current physical situation keep me from going to the gym, challenging myself, and not being afraid if people think I’m not handling very much weight. Discipline is similar. You might struggle with overeating. The last thing you want to do is compare yourself to some vegan freak who only eats weeds and seeds. If you eat pizza and donuts 7 times per week, and you decide to cut back to only have those things twice a week, don’t worry that you’re not at the same level as someone else. You’ll get there. Or maybe you won’t; it’s up to you. The point is, that person has struggles of their own. Don’t hold yourself up to anyone else’s standard.

Break It Down
One giant pie-in-the-sky goal is psychologically very difficult to hit, especially if you’ve had some failures or setbacks in that area. If you weigh 300 lbs and would like to get down to 200, that’s great. But break your goal down into more manageable steps, like losing 1 lb per week for the next month. Sure, you’ll still weigh 296, but you’ll have made some progress and hit a goal that you set for yourself. The psychological boost of achieving a goal is much more important than the 4 lbs and will give you strength and motivation to strive for the next milestone. Of course, you don’t want to set your goals too low. There’s no benefit in setting extremely easy goals for yourself. The trick is to set goals that still stretch you some, but not so much that you’ll break.

Take It Slow
Don’t try and change everything all at once. I notice that a lot of people try and completely reinvent themselves overnight. It’s true that sometimes you need to shake things up and make drastic lifestyle changes in very short periods of time, but if you’re writing a list of 57 goals every New Year’s and then trailing off by the end of January, it might be because you’re trying to do too many things at once. I’ve been guilty of this, even as recently as this last January. But what I’ve come to realize is that if I take it a few goals at a time and accomplish those things, build the habits and discipline, and then move on to the next thing, I can accomplish 57 goals in a year. The trick is to not try and do it all at once.

Train for self-discipline
Self-discipline can be thought of like a muscle. If you use poor training methods, strategies, and techniques, you decrease your chances of success and increase the likelihood of injury. Similarly, if you don’t learn good techniques for training yourself to form good habits, you won’t see very much progress and you will likely quit. For more information on self-discipline, try this series by Steve Pavlina.

Bonus: Track your progress
I’ve found it very helpful to track my progress against my goals. Whether I’m trying to control my spending, eat healthier, or keep up with a fitness program, keeping a log or journal of my progress helps keep me on track. I use Google Docs & Spreadsheets, but a simple notebook, text file, or back of an envelope would work just as well. Track your progress as often as you can. If the goal is to do something every day, note each day that you meet that goal. The point is to have a record that shows you progress over time and helps you see clearly when you had issues. I’ll be writing more about this in a later post.

Well, I hope some of this was helpful for someone out there. Life is driven by entropy, and is always tending towards a state of disorder, but you can put energy into your life and fight that trend. We’ve all failed and had setbacks. Don’t let that baggage drag you down into a vortex of failure. Just pick yourself up, take a deep breath, and try again. The only shame is in quitting.