Why is it that 95% of people who set themselves goals fail to reach them? In one word: impatience.
The most important and difficult stage of goal-building is the immediate stage after you set your goals. In the first stage, there’s a brief blip of euphoria. But this soon passes and then you hit the arid plateau of learning. It’s in this phase that most people lose their way and give up.
But this is the phase when you have to hang in there despite appearances. Otherwise, it’s like digging up the seeds a week after sowing them. So, here, for those who need a roadmap through the arid plains of goal-building, is a 6-step guide to managing your impatience and keeping your plans on track.
1. Have Plenty of Motivation Reminders. One of the cruel tricks that life plays on us is to make goal-setting easy and goal-building hard. This is no more true than in the opening phases of working towards a new goal. When we choose a new goal that seems within our reach, we are full of excitement and anticipation. It’s like the start of a marathon when everyone cheers us over the start line. But the cheers soon become a distant memory when we move into the second phase, the hard slog. It’s in this phase that we need to have a ready supply of motivation reminders to keep us going. Here’s one I often use. It’s from Ray Kroc, founder of the global restaurant chain McDonald’s. Kroc was an amazing entrepreneur. He says that it is in the early stages of working towards a new goal that you learn the most: “When you’re green, you grow. When you’re ripe, you rot.”
2. Be A Fly, Not A Bee. The chief problem with the early stages of goal-building is that you can never be sure of the right way forward, particularly if you are breaking new ground. You try something and it doesn’t work. You try again and it doesn’t work again. And again. And again. That’s tough. But it’s essential. Because you’re learning. Karl Weick says that in this situation it is much better to be a fly than a bee. When you place a fly and a bee in an upturned jam jar, the bee will head straight for the light and repeatedly buzz against the bottom of the glass. The fly on the other hand will dive frantically around the jar exploring every corner until he finds a way out. That’s the example to follow when you want to succeed: be a fly, not a bee.
3. Accept The Struggle. Those who are eager to succeed often treat the second phase of goal-building as an unnecessary waste of time. They would prefer to skip it and jump to the next phase of success. But this is to misunderstand the whole point of the second phase. It’s there to toughen you up. You may have heard the story of “The Man and the Butterfly” about the man who saw a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. To help it out, the man cut a bigger hole in the cocoon and pulled the butterfly through. However, instead of flying away, the butterfly was unable to fly. Its body was too swollen. What the man did not understand was that the butterfly’s struggle to emerge through the hole forces fluid from its body to its wings and thus makes them strong and ready to carry its weight. Like the butterfly, we need to struggle to succeed.
4. Be Objective. In stage two of goal-building, it’s valuable to stand back and distance ourselves from what’s going on. We need to be tripeds not bipeds. Bipeds are people who see only themselves and others. Risk-taking is a do-or-die undertaking. Progress is either a triumph or disaster. Life is black and white, winning or losing. Tripeds, on the other hand, can distance themselves from their situation by finding a third position where they can observe things with objectivity. Life isn’t either-or any more. It has depth, colour, and many angles.
5. Don’t Judge Yourself. Our win-lose culture puts great pressure on us to consider ourselves at any moment in life as either winners or losers. This means that failure is a bad thing and winning is everything. One of the most quoted expressions in our modern culture is: “Failure is not an option”. But this is to misunderstand the real nature of success. We need to fail in order to succeed. And we need to fail big-time in order to succeed big-time. Practically every successful entrepreneur, from Thomas Edison to Walt Disney, experienced failure many times over. But they didn’t judge themselves. They interpreted failure as “not succeeding yet” and saw it as just one more step on the road to success.
6. Manage Your Morale. Of course, it’s not always much fun to be stuck in the hard slog phase of goal-building. Nobody’s cheering any more. You have nothing to show for your efforts. And the dream still feels as far away as ever. That’s when you have to manage your morale. That means managing your stress, keeping things light, and working on the things you can’t see: your thinking patterns, your emotions, and your spirit. And, like the fluid in the butterfly, these may just be the things that will make you fly. “I can say: “I am terribly frightened and fear is terrible and it makes me uncomfortable, so I won’t do it.” Or I could say: “Get used to being uncomfortable.” It is uncomfortable doing something risky. But so what? Do you want to stagnate and just be comfortable?” (Barbra Streisand)
We human beings are very similar to the plant world. We grow best when we work with Nature and time. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to achieve your goals. If you hold on with faith, certainty, and determination, you’ll get there in due course when the time is right.