On not reaching goals

If you know me, you know that setting goals is just something that I do. I’m a chronic goal-setter. I’ve been posting my monthly goals since September of 2009, and I have seen a lot of my “impossible” dreams come true through the years because I’ve set goals and made a plan to accomplish them. (Running a half marathon, for example!) I really, really love it. New Years is my favorite. I’m kind of compulsive about it.

So what do I do when I don’t reach the goals that I set?

Well this year, it’s happening. It happened last year too, and the year before. It’d be easier for me not to write this post, but my heart is to be transparent – not perfect.

Back in January, a big dream I had was to lead a financial workshop with Will. We were so excited about it, we even launched the website for it and opened registration! Things were rolling, and we were excited.

Then, Will had coffee.

He met with someone who would end up offering him a job, and it would change the direction of our family and work plans this fall. We are so grateful and excited about this opportunity! But we knew that taking this job would mean saying no to a lot of things we had planned – including the Engaged Entrepreneur Workshop. Even though we’ve invested a lot of time and energy and money into making this happen, we knew we had to say “no” for now.

In 2014, I bought a road bike and really wanted to do the whole cycling thing – clipless petals and all. But I discovered I really didn’t love cycling like I loved running and swimming. I never bought the pedals.

In 2013, I signed up (and paid) to run a marathon, then had a severe ankle sprain and had to forfeit. I also never learned to play the guitar well, like I had hoped.

Not reaching goals can leave you feeling really terrible about yourself, like you’re “less than,” like you don’t ever want to set goals again. It can make you throw your hands up in the air and “quite the whole goal-setting thing.” Whenever you don’t reach a goal, you have a choice: to keep going, or to quit.

Friends, you simply can’t quit! Don’t let an unreached goal stop you from going after the life you want to live. Perseverance is the key. Don’t give up! Life isn’t mathematics. Sometimes it works out that way – you calculate the time and plan needed to accomplish a goal, then you go after it, and you reach your goal. But sometimes, life happens. Plans change. I sprain my ankle. My husband gets offered a job. And that is OK.

After reaching many goals and NOT reaching many goals, here are 6 ways to process your unreached goals and move on with your life:

1. Observe your circumstances

Ask yourself: Does the fact I didn’t reach a goal have to do with uncontrolled circumstances of life? Or is there a way I can change my circumstances to better reach my goals? Know that life happens, and if unexpected circumstances arise, it presents a unique challenge to reaching your goals. You have to ask yourself: is it worth pushing through and reaching my goal, even though it’s much harder now? Or is the wise move to say “no” to this goal for now and move on to something else? It’s a tough choice.

2. Analyze your character

This is a hard one, but a good one. Use the opportunity to analyze your heart and your character. Be honest. Did you not reach this goal because you didn’t care? Because you are lazy? Because you were setting this goal to try to be like someone else or impress someone else? Those are not good motives for setting goals in the first place. Spend some time thinking on your motives and reasons behind your goals. Think about the “why” behind your goal. For example, if your motive for running a 5K is to get healthy and strong for the long run, that is a good motive. But if your motive for running a 5K is based on comparing yourself to someone else, it’s not a good motive. Do the hard work and analyze the “why” behind your goals.

3. Look for ways of improvement

One question you should always ask: “Are my goals SMART goals?” (SMART GOALS: Be Specific. Measure them. Make sure they are Attainable. And Realistic. Have a Timeline.) Not reaching goals always allows for an opportunity to grow. There is always a lesson you can learn, or some way in which you can improve for next time. Maybe you need to allow more margin in your life, or wake up earlier, or stop walking down the candy aisle, or writing your plan down in your calendar instead of trying to remember it all in your head. Maybe your goals weren’t realistic for this season of your life. Maybe you didn’t quite allow enough time. Maybe you didn’t set a timeframe, so you never did it. Take note, then make the improvements necessary.

4. Give yourself Grace

Sometimes it’s easy to accept grace from others, but it’s hard to dish it our to ourselves. I can be so, so hard on myself. Y’all, this one is a biggie. I’ve never learned giving myself grace more than I have this year. Being a Mama has been such a challenge in my little world of goal setting, because I’m not just caring for myself anymore. Interruptions to my plans (and goals) happen on a daily basis. Those factors are difficult when it comes to reaching goals I’ve set for myself! So what do I do? Give myself grace. The first time I set goals years ago, I didn’t reach half of them, and I beat myself up for it. I thought I was a failure. After years of setting monthly goals, I’ve learned it’s just not worth it to live in that negative self-talk. (Side note: read Crash the Chatterbox if you struggle with negative self talk. SO good.) Now, I don’t beat myself up when it takes me 3 months to read a book, when it used to take me 1 month to read 3 books. I give myself grace.

5. Focus on your wins

Of the 20 goals I set for this year, I have already accomplished 15 of them, and I’m still working on 2! That means that by the end of this year, I will have reached 15-17 of the big goals I set for myself this year, and I will have only not reached 2-3. I have the choice: I can focus on the ones I didn’t reach, or celebrate all the goals I DID reach. I’m choosing the latter. Every year, Will and I have a Christmas date sometime in December where we recount everything we did that year. We celebrate our accomplishments, travels, memories, and wins. We bring a journal and write it all out in front of us. We leave feeling encouraged and accomplished, rather than focusing on what we didn’t accomplish. Celebrate your wins – they are worth celebrating.

6. Set new goals

Set NEW goals. DO it. Don’t let unreached goals determine your future! That is no way to live. Like Churchill said… Never, ever, ever give up. Learn from your past, then HAPPEN to your future. That is what goal setting is all about: YOU happening to life! Not always letting life happen to you.

•••

I don’t think it’s coincidence that one of our dearest friends (who coached me for my first Half Marathon) is in the thick of this right now. Bob Willix, an endurance athlete, crossed the finish line for the Ultraman Triathlon last night in Kona, Hawaii. He has finished 6 Ironman competitions, and this is his 4th Ultraman.

The Ultraman Triathlon is a 3 day race. Day 1: 6.2 Mile swim + 90 mile bike. Day 2: 171.4 mile bike. Day 3: a double marathon (52.4 mile run). These athletes are incredible.

This time, the race was treacherous. He got terribly seasick because of the waves and had to be pulled out of the water because he could have drowned. But he didn’t quit! He continued in the race on Day 1 on the bike, and on Day 2 he was fighting crazy winds. Two of the athletes were hospitalized, and his safety was in danger again because of the 50 mph wind gusts as he ascended and descended mountains. Day 3 – just yesterday – Bob ran a double marathon, but because of intense pain in his leg he had to walk and rest more than he planned. He ran 49 miles before time ran out – just 3 miles short.

Y’all. I tell you this because I KNOW BOB. He has been training for this event for months. He will be at peace with the extreme circumstances he couldn’t have planned for. He knows his motives were good, as this was a lifelong dream of his. He will find ways to improve his training. He will give himself grace, knowing he gave it everything he had. He will focus on the fact that he DID swim over halfway, that he go back up on his bike even though he could have quit, he finished day 2 completely, and he DID run a double marathon within minutes of the cutoff time. He and his family have already declared this a victory, and they will learn from it to go after it again.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

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  • Kaitlin said:

    This resonates strongly with me. I tried to start a photography business two years ago. Paid the money for a logo and business cards. Consulted friends in the business. Set up the Facebook page. Advertised. Took about a dozen free shoots so I could build my portfolio and demonstrate my talent. And yet, in spite of the good feedback I got from clients, my business never took off. I made a go of it for two years and suddenly realized, "This must not be what God has for me." And I felt instant peace when I stopped trying to make it work. Was it a worthy goal? I think so. Did I go into it with the right motives? As far as I can tell, yes. Did I work hard enough? Yes. But, did it work out? No. And I've learned to be content with that. Anyway. Great post, encouraging words. You're a positive and encouraging influence, Nancy, and a wonderful photographer. Keep up the great work!

    • Nancy Ray said:

      Thanks for your comment Kaitlin. Not reaching goals can be hard, but it's wonderful when you can find that sense of contentment like you have!

  • Kristi said:

    Nancy- do you every feel guilt setting personal goals? I have a four year old and a 1 year old and I always feel guilt when I sit down to set goals- like it's selfish of me to spend so much time focusing on myself when I can barely keep this working mom/wife/mommy thing together as it is! Just wondering if you have any tips for pushing past this. Thanks!

  • Erin said:

    This post has encouraged me in so many ways! I could not be more grateful for you and your transparency! Yes! Life happens, but you have to keep moving forward! I too love goal setting, but as a Mom of 3 young kids, many times the unexpected happens. I can plan out an entire week/day/hour and things just don't go as planned and goals are not met according to my schedule. I often feel so defeated and discouraged. But just because I didn't meet a goal according to my schedule doesn't mean I should give up setting goals entirely. I need to keep going and embrace the unexpected along the way. Focus on what did happen instead of what didn't. This was a fantastic reminder for me. It's not always easy being transparent, but this was just the encouragement this Mama heart needed. THANK YOU!

  • Thank you for your transparent heart, friend! We have gotten into the habit of setting goals this year and it has been awesome. We definitely have been distracted in the last few months, but this is just the push I needed (ironically) to set our December goals today! xoxo

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  • Sara said:

    Thank you Nancy! I really appreciate this post as I do goal-setting for 2016!

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