Goals, Failure, and Shame

“Why does it feel like goals lead to failure? And why do I sometimes feel like a failure when I just start thinking about goals?… The ironic thing is I would avoid goals because of the bad feelings… But if I didn’t set [goals], it was… causing me feelings that were just as bad or worse… If we want to move toward our most important goals, we need to move toward failure and self-doubt.”

We’ve all heard about goals before. We read it in books. We talk about it at work. We talk about it at church. We hear it all the time. Tell me if this is familiar. Write them down. Give them a deadline. Tell somebody. Set them regularly. Goals for today. Goals for the week, month, year, 5 years, 10 years. Break a big goal down into little goals. Prioritize your goals. Successful people set goals. Goals lead to success. The question becomes, why does it feel like goals lead to failure? And why do I sometimes feel like a failure when I just start thinking about goals? Isn’t this supposed to be exciting? The way we think about it makes all the difference.

What Can Happen

One of my past tendencies when considering a new goal was to immediately think about all the details. I’d start asking myself tons of questions, become overwhelmed, and, ultimately, conclude that it wasn’t possible. The impossibility of that goal became a “fact” in my mind. And, of course, no set goal and no progress towards it. Once I began to look at this pattern curiously, without getting down on myself, I realized that the details don’t have to be overwhelming. But I also don’t have to consider the details right away while setting the goal. It is okay to set a goal and tell myself that I will figure out the details later. Then the details actually become useful to the goal process, rather than a hindrance. I like the thought “I will figure it out” much better than “i don’t know.”

What about the self-doubt? Whether I managed my desire for details well or not, the doubt was still there. Self-doubt shows up in many forms. I can’t do this because I haven’t done it before. I can’t handle goals right now because I have too much on my plate. I can’t because look at these other goals I’ve failed at so I’ll probably fail at this one. These thoughts, again, seem like “facts” in my mind. Then comes the shame train. Shame from past failures shows up. Shame from believing I’m not able to do things that I think I should be doing. Addiction loves shame. Shame loves secrecy. I don’t want to tell other people my goals because what if I fail. I can’t write it down, someone will see. Man did addiction mess with my goal-setting process.  This self-doubt and shame from failure made me want to stop even setting goals. I didn’t even want to think about them.

Failure Means __________

What do we make failure mean for ourselves? I spent years making failure mean for me that there is something wrong with me. This made me miserable. So I feared failure, because if it happened, those awful feelings would come up. But what if we just looked at failure as an outcome that is different than we expected or wanted? That language isn’t nearly as threatening as something is wrong with me. From here I can very intentionally choose my thoughts. I am accessing my own sacred power. I might then think what a great way to learn while I was really going for it. Or, this might sound crazy to some people, I’m going to keep seeking out failure in goals. They are like points. The worst thing that can happen is a feeling.

To say I love basketball is an understatement. I love to play and I love the Utah Jazz. I watch almost every game when they are bad or good. I love to see the development of players and the different coaching styles and how they affect the game. When playing, I always like to think of fouls as points, somewhat jokingly, and not dirty fouls. What if I look at failure the same way? When I played for the Highland High School team, I used to get so worked up about being good enough in games and really making my time count. I did this to the point that it took the fun out of it and it really messed with how I played. Sophomore year, I got put in at the end of a game that ended up being really close. We were down by 1 on the last play of the game with a chance to win. I built it up so much in my mind that when the ball was inbounded to me over my head, I was so focused on the “gravity” and “drama” of the situation that I let a completely catchable pass go right through my fingers. I could have made that catch in my sleep. It went out of bounds, the opposing team got possession and won the game. I was so embarrassed. Mortified! Not until my 20s did I really start to excel in basketball. It was because I was playing pick-up ball whenever I could. I just wanted more court-time. I didn’t care about mistakes. I just wanted to play, get the practice, get a workout, and enjoy myself. It’s been this way ever since and it is still one of my favorite things to do. What if I could have had that mentality at the more competitive level on my high school team? I would probably be in the NBA right now 😉 Yep, definitely would! I’m so glad I was able to adjust my thinking on this and get back to loving and embracing myself in my favorite sport: mistakes, failures, successes and all.

What Kind of Failures to Seek

This is simple. Ask yourself if the failure is from inaction and avoiding or from showing up and putting yourself out there. The kind of failure to seek is the kind where you are putting yourself out there, striving for something you want or believe in.

Embrace Every Part of Goal Setting

So failure and self-doubt are just part of setting goals and going toward them. If we want to move toward our most important goals, we need to move toward failure and self-doubt. If self-doubt is popping up, it means you have found a goal worth working toward. If there isn’t any, your goal probably isn’t set high enough. Go toward the self-doubt, examine it, actively disagree with it, and move on to belief in yourself. Oh this part feels so good! And working toward a goal while feeling good helps it to happen. Invite failure as part of the striving. Seek it out. Let failures be badges of honor. Have your own back through this process. Working through some self-doubt about my goals this morning I ended up at this thought, self-doubt means it’s worth doing and I’m moving toward my purpose as a human. It feels so good to think this.

Worst Thing That Can Happen is a Feeling

The worst thing that can happen when setting goals, reaching them, or failing to reach them, is a feeling. Yes, you read it right. The worst thing that can happen to you is a feeling. A vibration in your body. The ironic thing about this is that I would avoid goals because of the bad feelings that would come up. But if I didn’t set them, it was because of negative things I was thinking about myself that were causing me feelings that were just as bad or worse than the feelings that would come up when setting goals. And then there is avoidance of these feelings through overeating, overnetflixing, not going to bed early enough, overgaming, overworking, overplaying, overanything. If negative feelings are going to arise either way, then I’d rather work toward things I really value and want by setting goals. And I have confidence that I can see the thoughts as thoughts (not facts), see the feelings as just feelings, and that I can work through the self-doubt. Now go back to the list of things we know about goal setting (first paragraph) and it can become exciting. Or maybe just more neutral and non-threatening. Mindfulness baby!

Goals Help You Be True to Yourself

Rather than sum this up myself, I’ll let Brené do it. In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown says, “There’s risk involved in putting your true self out in the world. But I believe there’s even more risk in hiding yourself and your gifts from the world. Our unexpressed ideas, opinions, and contributions don’t just go away. They are likely to fester and eat away at our worthiness. I think we should be born with a warning label similar to the ones that come on cigarette packages: Caution: If you trade in your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.” She goes on to say “If the goal is authenticity and they don’t like me, I’m okay. If the goal is being liked and they don’t like me, I’m in trouble. I get going by making authenticity the priority.” Sorry if your head hurts from your mind just being blown. Actually, I’m not sorry.

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Please share some experiences of goals or failures of your own. Make comments. Let’s get a discussion going.

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