It's the end of March. We're one quarter of the way through 2018. If you're like most people, you started the year with goals and plans for the things you wanted to accomplish. If you're smart, you broke down your goals for the year into steps you would take and planned how you would accomplish those steps week by week and month by month.

You set out to follow those steps. And you didn't get all of them done. Only three months into the year, you've already fallen behind. 

Does this sound familiar? It should. It's what happens to most people who set goals, especially "stretch" goals for themselves. About 80 percent of those who make New Year's resolutions have failed at those resolutions six weeks into the year. And it's not just New Year's resolutions--most people who set goals for themselves fall down on those goals somewhere along the way, so you're far from alone or unusual.

It certainly sounds familiar to me--I've already failed on some of the 2018 goals I set for myself. To find out what to do next, I talked to executive coach and best-selling author Wendy Capland. A while back, I wrote a column from an interview with Capland, and as a follow-up we decided she would coach me and that I would write about it. 

Here's her advice for when (inevitably) you fail to meet your own expectations.

1. Don't give in to all-or-nothing thinking.

"People get discouraged, and it's easy to give up," Capland says. But it's what you do now, after your initial plans got derailed, that really matters. So you weren't as perfect as you thought you should be. If you abandon your goals now, you'll be throwing away whatever work you did do.

2. Shift your conversation with yourself.

If you've failed at your initial 2018 goals, there's a good chance you've already given yourself a good scolding. Capland says you should stop that right now. "Shift your inner conversation away from 'You suck!' and 'You're a failure!'" she advises. Getting angry at yourself won't help you reach your goals any faster. But it will make your life a lot less fun.

3. Take stock of what you did do.

Because human beings are hard-wired to pay more attention to negative information than positive information, your natural tendency will be to focus on whatever you set out to accomplish but didn't. Fight that tendency by paying some attention to whatever you did get done. 

For example, I set myself a six-week challenge to get some exercise every day. Five weeks in, I haven't come near meeting my goal--the last couple of weeks have been filled with tight deadlines and can't-miss social events, and the weather where I live has been relentlessly rainy. I did a count and discovered that of the 35 days so far, I've failed to exercise on nine of them. Then I realized that means I've exercised on 24 days out of the last 35, or just under five times a week. That's a huge step in the right direction.

3. Consider that you still have plenty of time. 

We're only one-fourth of the way through the year--there are still nine months left, which is enough time to complete or make meaningful progress on all your 2018 goals. So don't panic, and don't give in to frustration or lethargy. You can still get it done.

4. Ask yourself if your goal is realistic.

Last year, I set myself the goal of reading 100 books in 2017. I knew that was ambitious, but it turned out to be not so much a stretch goal as an are-you-out-of-your-mind? goal. Yes, I could read two books a week if I had lots of free time, but given an overloaded work schedule and social calendar (not to mention a house and a garden and a husband that all require lots of attention), it was a nonstarter. 

It didn't take long for me to realize that goal wouldn't work. But I felt I was committed and I'd already written up the list with 100 spaces in it to be filled in, and so I decided to go ahead. And pretty quickly, I became a victim of all-or-nothing thinking. It was obvious I wouldn't reach my goal, so I stopped trying. I ended the year having read a lamentable 23 books.

It would have been a lot smarter to acknowledge that my original goal was just too big, and adjust it downward. If my new goal had been 30 or 40 or even 50 books, I would have tried harder to reach it. I might not have gotten there, but I bet I would have finished more than 23 books.

5. Ask yourself if you should change your goal or your approach.

Sometimes the goal you start out with isn't the right one, but if you think about it, a different goal or a different approach that makes more sense becomes clear. "Someone I work with wants to write a book--that's her goal for the year," Capland says. "But she hasn't really started writing and it's already March. We talked about it and she said, 'It's still something I care about, I just don't want to sit and write for hours.'" 

So they began discussing different ways to approach this task. Now Capland's client is speaking into a recorder and having her words transcribed, rather than sitting and writing, and she's finally making some progress on her book project.

Published on: Mar 30, 2018
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