Some 92% of us don't achieve our New Year's resolutions. There are many reasons we fail at reaching our goals – everything from biting off too much or not having a plan to patently unrealistic way-out-there goals that are way too big to achieve without breaking them down into smaller bites. Often we will give up after the first failure – we miss a day of exercise and stop, or gain weight one week and just kick the whole diet thing.
But one slip-up does not mean you've failed. In fact, if you don't slip up every now and then you're not pushing yourself – and it's only when you push yourself that you will achieve something out of the ordinary.
Here are three things you need to think about when you slip up or make mistakes on your way to a goal:
- If you're not slipping up, you're not progressing
- Choose to learn from what went wrong
- Take slip-ups seriously, but not personally
1. If you're not slipping up, you're not making progress
It's such a pleasure to watch a top sports person at their game. They seem to effortlessly perform at levels that we can only dream about, achieving feats we could only wish for.
But top players did not get to their level without making mistakes. In fact, without mistakes they would be stuck in their comfort zone, doing only the things that come easy. To get where they are they practiced, made mistakes and practiced some more until they got it right. They continuously reached outside their comfort zone.
It's only when we reach outside of our comfort zones that we learn to take our game to the next level. That's where we make mistakes – and that is where we can get better at what we're doing. While we're stuck in our comfort zones we are just repeating what's comfortable – but that does not teach us to do anything new.
So when you make a mistake or slip up, you should know that you're learning what doesn't work. You're at the edge of your capabilities and that is where you learn to get better at what you do.
So mistakes are not only natural – they are the mechanism that tells us we're pushing the boundaries and learning something new and better.
2: Choose to learn from what went wrong
Brain scans show that when we make a mistake, we decide within 0.25 seconds how we're going to deal with it – ignore it and move on, or pay attention to it and fix it.
Of course it's a lot easier to just ignore the mistake and move on with what we're doing – but then we're giving up the opportunity to learn from what didn't work.
So we need to embrace the idea that mistakes are opportunities for learning. We need to train our brains to recognize mistakes and slip-ups and look at it with curiosity – if we can learn to avoid that mistake in future we're getting better at what we're doing.
When I started seriously writing weekly articles and newsletters I started with a bang. The first three or four weeks were great – I produced tons of stuff that I thought was really great. But then I slipped up – I reached a wall where both the quality and the quantity of my writing dropped like a stone.
The writing was so important to me that I did not have the choice of giving up. I had to make it work. So I went back to the writing methodology that I was learning and discovered that I had missed one critical step – and that miss led to the wall. Focusing on that single step, getting it right and making it part of my writing routine put me back on track.
To make progress, we need to learn from our mistakes. But mistakes are uncomfortable, and we need to train our brains to look at the mistake, analyse what went wrong and then fix it. That's how we get better at what we do.
3: Take slip-ups seriously, but not personally
Making mistakes is human. From the day that we're born we make mistakes – and we learn from them to first crawl, then stagger about, eventually walk and then run. We make mistakes when we go to school, get a new job and enter relationships.
Making a mistake does not mean that you're a failure – it just means you're human.
When you make that human mistake you have a choice. You can choose to avoid the discomfort, walk away and stay in your comfort zone. Nothing learned, nothing gained.
The alternative is to take the mistake or slip-up seriously – as an opportunity to learn. If you choose this path, you're on your way to getting better at what you're doing. And this is where we learn, grow and become better human beings.
So when you slip up or make a mistake, don't believe that you're a failure. Know that you're human and take the opportunity to learn and get better.
But all I seem to be doing is making mistakes!
We've all been there – we set a goal to learn something, exercise more or lose weight. And then, no matter how hard we try, we literally seem to be taking one step forward and two steps back. No matter how hard we try, we make mistakes, slip up and get discouraged.
So now you have a choice; you can give up or you can go and figure out why you're failing. Very often our goals are so big that we don't seem to be making any progress – so you need to break the big goal up into a series of smaller ones. Or it's just slog, slog, slog – and no reward. Build in rewards when you reach specific milestones – you deserve it.
Before you give up, go take a close look at why you're slipping up. See if you can fix the cause and try again. You can get there.
But it's going to take years!
You're probably setting your goal so far away that there's no visibility on progress. If you're working on something big, break it up into quarterly milestones and then only focus on this quarter. Build in rewards when you achieve a milestone.
But more importantly, enjoy the journey. We're sometimes so focused on the goal that we forget to enjoy today – and sometimes today is all we have.
We're all human, and humans make mistakes
We're human, and to be human means we're going to make mistakes. The trick is to regard those mistakes not as failures, but as stuff that we need to learn from so that we can get better at something. To deal with mistakes or slip-ups, you need to:
- Realize that a mistake or slip-up means we're right where we need to be – at the edge of our capabilities.
- When we make a mistake or slip up at something, we have a choice: either ignore it (and probably make it again) or go back to see what went wrong so we can fix it.
- Know that making mistakes is human and part of the learning process; it does not mean we're failures at what we're trying to achieve.
I've been "just another statistic"
I've certainly been "just another statistic" when it comes to New Years resolutions – or any other kind of goal setting. But I like to believe that I'm getting better at achieving the goals I set for myself.
I'm learning to learn from my mistakes, deconstructing big goals into smaller, more realistic ones and viewing slip-ups and mistakes as learnings rather than failures. If you adopt these principles you will get better at achieving your New Year's resolutions too.
I challenge you to fail
Now that you know that you're going to make mistakes, and that you can use them as an opportunity to learn to get better, I have a challenge for you:
- Set a goal that you want to achieve in the next three months. It should be ambitious but not so big that you will never achieve it.
- Make a plan for reaching the goal. The plan can be as simple or as complicated as you like – but you need a plan for what you are going to do every day or week.
- Fail along the way. Seriously – push yourself to the point where you slip up, make a mistake or fail at something. By building failure into the process you'll be better able to deal with it.
- When you fail, pause. Analyze why you failed and take steps to make sure that doesn't happen again. Then resume.
- Repeat until your goal is reached.
To make this challenge real, get an accountability partner – someone to whom you're going to commit and report back on a daily or weekly basis. If you can't find someone email me – I will be happy to take on that role.
And to help you along the way, get Dan Coyle's book The Little Book of Talent. It will help you more than you can imagine.