Disappointed You Didn’t Achieve Your Goals? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I have been reflecting on 2020 and have just read the document with my goals for the year. I may laugh someday, but right now I am sad and demoralized. I accomplished literally not one single goal I had set for myself in 2020.

I wanted to lose some weight and get in shape. Nope. I joined a gym around the time of the shutdown and was so gung-ho that I paid for the whole year up front. Who knows what happened to that money?

A couple of my goals required money, which I am making a lot less of now than I was a year ago.

I had some developmental activity goals for my kids, but now I am just glad they are still alive after being quarantined at home, with me trying to work and them doing online school.

My partner and I had big plans for a romantic vacation—that’s off the table now.

I am thinking of just letting myself off the hook for 2021. Do you think that is a bad idea? Or is it smart? I really feel like just…

Giving In             

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Dear Giving In,

I found my goals, too! But I did laugh, because I am in pretty much the same boat as you and I have already cried a lot.

So here’s the thing, Giving In. Think about all the stuff you did accomplish that you hadn’t planned on achieving at all: You still have a job! You haven’t hurt your children! You and your partner are still together! These are all massive wins, my friend. If you had seen what was coming and your only goal had been to survive it, you would be feeling pretty great about your goal setting right now. So I think you must let yourself off the hook for 2020—you and the rest of the world.

Now, what about 2021? I say don’t give in, because here is what we know about goals: under normal circumstances people who set goals and write them down simply achieve more than those who don’t.

But the wisdom of good goal setting also tells us that our goals have to be realistic. I’ve always seen good results—for myself, my teams, and my clients—when goals are a bit of a stretch, but not ridiculous. We never really know what the future will bring, so you can only set goals with your current reality in mind. Ask yourself: what does my heart long for that I could take some steps toward right now? Find something you can actually do with just a little focus and the support of your partner, friends, colleagues, and kids. Maybe it’s a fitness routine you can do at home. I got through this year using Aaptive, an app that offers all kinds of workouts for folks at all levels. Maybe it’s walking around the block three times every day. Or maybe there’s something you could do with your kids at the end of online school every day. Given that nothing will be all that different for a while yet, setting an achievable goal will undoubtedly make you feel more optimistic and hopeful.

I would recommend this, however: Set one goal. Only one—but one you can crush. Leave the long list for another time. Or never. The biggest reason people don’t achieve their goals is that they have too many of them. There isn’t much research to support that assertion, but I am 100% convinced it is true based on my experience. Let’s tell the truth about what it takes to just get through the day, adulting and behaving yourself, paying the bills on time, showing up for work and speaking in complete sentences, and making sure dinner will happen somehow (cereal counts). Then let’s throw a pandemic on top of it and all bets are off.

You will probably need to mourn the dreams you had for 2020. It’s okay to be sad. But making some headway on a new dream, a dream that makes sense in light of our current reality, will give you a sense of control, autonomy, and mastery that will set you up to be ready when the world shifts back toward what we once thought of as normal. And history does teach us that it will shift.

So make a list of what you accomplished that you hadn’t planned to. I’ll bet it is really long, and something to be proud of. Be as sad as you need to be for the losses of 2020. And then get moving toward something you really care about that has deep meaning for you. Enlist help from anyone who can help you. It will make you feel better, I promise.

Love, Madeleine

About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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