3 Unexpected Things I’ve Learned About Goals From Failing To Reach Them

In January, I sat down with coffee in my Anthro mug and wrote out a list of goals for the new year in my notebook. The goals spread over multiple areas of my life, from where I’d like to see That First Year go, to perfecting my homemade latte (Y’ALL I can froth milk now!), to writing a book, to practicing Arabic every day outside of the class I’m taking. I love dreaming up goals and writing them down — that, to me, is the highlight of the goal-setting process.

But following through with said goals?

I struggle.

Because it’s hard not to feel a sense of defeat looking back over my goals and realizing that, aside from the homemade latte, I’m not exactly meeting many of the goals I had set for myself. In fact, I barely wrote in February, only practiced Arabic in my once-a-week class, and didn’t put as much work into my blog as I had hoped.

It’s easy to let one failure in meeting a goal during a preferred timeline dwindle my motivation to continue pursuing my goals.

But I can’t let a lack of goal success over a few-month period dictate the rest of my year. I’d like to offer three things I’m learning about setting yourself up to meet your goals.

1. You need a proper work space.

A proper work environment sets yourself up for a proper work flow. But “proper” is subjective to everyone, since we don’t all thrive in the same work environments. I love early mornings spent in my favorite coffee shops, music in, words flowing; you, on the other hand, might concentrate better in a quiet room, just you and your laptop tap-tapping away into the wee hours of the morning. It’s important that you know what sort of space best sets you up for success.

I somehow am the luckiest apartment-dweller in all the land, because my roommate and I have a shared office in our current place, and it is the office of my writing dreams. A whole room dedicated just to reading and writing! What more could this 24-year-old heart ever want?! But as I’m learning both in my home study and in my 9-to-5 job, a workspace that complements your personality is integral to motivating you to actually, you know, work.

For me, that means beaucoup wall art, candles, flowers, and notebooks on notebooks on notebooks adorning my desk space with some dope pens (good pens are essential, this is a non-negotiable). I don’t have wall space at my desk at my day job, but I still have photos on my desk to personalize the space and make it feel more like my own.

I’m on a budget (read: I have, like, no money to spend on decor), so I’m always looking for ways to decorate my home office without spending much. For wall art, I purchase inexpensive downloadable prints from Etsy, scour through pretty magazines like Darling or Belong to use the photography within, and I even framed the cutest cactus stationary my roommate had given me for my birthday. Oh, and I have the city prints Lane made exclusively for That First Year all over my desk area because they’re dope (this is not a sales pitch, I really do have Lane’s art all over my home). Printed photos from your travels also make great wall art, and Target and Michael’s both have inexpensive frames (and Michael’s usually has a coupon or sale on frames!). BOOM. A proper work environment created without spending all your money in the process and the motivation to actually spend time in this workspace you’ve created.

2. Drink a drink when you need to focus.

Pick a drink, any drink. Coffee with a splash of creamer, a homemade latte, a fruit smoothie, an herbal tea, a glass of wine, a bottle of water. There’s something about having a drink I can sip on while I work that magically makes me more productive than if I were nary a drink. Brain science could probably explain the reasoning behind this, but here’s my empirical evidence: I brought a coffee machine to share with my office compadres at my day job, and now I’m on fire with my productivity every morning compared to mornings in the era B.C.M. (Before Coffee Machine).

Give it a try and see if this works for you!

3. Offering yourself grace is integral to working toward your goals in a healthy manner.

Oof, offering grace to myself has been the hardest lesson for me to learn, and I’m still thick in the throes of learning this life lesson. (I wrote about this for Her Story Goes once.)

As I wrote earlier, it’s difficult to not enter into a headspace of self-defeat whenever I see all the steps I didn’t take to reaching my goals last month. I believe that sociologist and author Brene Brown would call this “shame,” and let’s be real, shame isn’t the easiest pursuer to throw off the scent.

Enter stage left: grace. A concept I learned like a theory, but have never really known what it meant to apply this theory to my life, both in offering it to myself and in offering it to others.

Last September, I spent the month worshipping at the Pedestal of Productivity — though I was falling asleep fitfully and having near-panic attacks nightly, I still continued to set my alarm for 5 AM to give me time to write for an hour before work, ignoring the fact that my body was crying out for sleep. Though I felt exhausted and disconnected from my friends while working 50+ hours a week, I didn’t feel comfortable asking for a day off to rest and spend time with human beings outside of work. I had too much to do, and any day that didn’t feel “productive” felt like a failure.

And then I got sick. Like, sicker than I’ve ever been. Like, an infection in my intestines (how do you even GET something like that?!?! Doctor’s answer: *shoulder shrug* “It happens.”) that sent me to the ER incredibly dehydrated, and put me on an adventurous 10-day sojourn with two incredibly strong antibiotics.

All because I let work become the dictator of my days, and a completed to-do list become my daily marker of success at the expense of my health — physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. I was treating work as my life rather than as a part of my life. And though my random infection was a wake-up call to slow. it. down., I still haven’t mastered the art of offering grace to myself. But I’m working on it. Because last month, the month I wasn’t as productive as I’d hoped to be? I needed mornings without an alarm clock, instead waking up naturally with the early light of sunrise instead of my jarring pre-dawn iPhone alarm. I needed less screen time and more friend time, less writing of posts and more reading of books. Just because I didn’t accomplish everything on my daily to-do list doesn’t mean my days last month weren’t full or worthwhile.

So instead of sinking into shame at all the goals I still seem so far from accomplishing, I’ll instead offer myself grace, the remedy to shame, so I can continue moving forward, encouraged both in my work and in my rest.

Ally Willis is a public relations graduate who buys way too many concert and plane tickets and then writes about it. She puts all things British on a pedestal. She runs a blog about post-grad life and also writes about music and travel on her own personal blog.

Image via Unsplash

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