So let’s say you’ve had an ambitious goal that you’ve been working towards for a while now. Perhaps it is losing X amount of pounds over a period of time, scoring X amount of goals in the season, or reaching a certain financial goal. You worked hard and pushed yourself, but unfortunately came short. Instead of losing 15 pounds you lost 10. You wanted to score 10 goals this season, but managed 9. Your target income for the month was $4000, but you fell short by $165.30. Understandably, you’re upset. All that hard work to come so close, but yet so far in reaching your desired goals. So what do you do now?
Well, we have two basic routes we can take when it comes to reflecting on goals. It’s great to have high standards for yourself but beating yourself up for almost reaching your target might push you to do better next time, but you also might not like who you are when you get there. Let’s look at the different scenarios for the weight loss example:
OPTION 1 - Outcome focus
You stuck to your diet as best as you could, and got in the required physical activity to help reach your target of 15 pounds in 3 months. Three months later you step on the scale and see your weight, do a quick calculation, and realize you are 5 pounds short of your goal. Your perfectionist self triggers the inner dialogue: “Are you kidding me?”, “of course I couldn’t reach my goal”, “I will never reach my target, why do I even try..”.
You’re a bit angry with yourself, and decide to go work out right now as punishment. You are determined to work off those last 5 pounds! After your workout you cool off a bit, and decide to set a new goal. You set your next goal a bit higher than the last one; 20 pounds. You have to reach this next target. Otherwise you are a failure. As the following few months come along, you find yourself pushing yourself more than you have ever pushed yourself, to the point where you feel physically and psychologically burned out. You check the scale again, and much to your confusion and frustration, you are again off by a few pounds (Most likely because you haven’t incorporated recovery into the mix!). So the cycle continues where you get down on yourself and are so self-critical that it takes it’s toll on your mental health. Maybe one day you do reach your target, but you feel so beat up with the boxing match going on in between your own two ears that it has lost it’s gratification. You only seek to push even more next time because you are fixated on only the outcome.
PROS TO THIS APPROACH
Set high standards
Pushes your limits to reach success
CONS TO THIS APPROACH
Increased chance of developing maladaptive perfectionism
OPTION 2- Process focus
You stuck to your diet as best as you could, and got in the required physical activity to help reach your target of 15 pounds in 3 months. Three months later you step on the scale and see your weight, do a quick calculation, and realize you are 5 pounds short of your goal. Despite initially being upset, you take a moment to objectively assess the situation; “alright, I didn’t reach my target, but I came so close. Look how far you’ve come in the last few months!”.
You think back to when you started, and how impossible even losing 10 pounds seemed. You realize there is no reason to get upset with not “technically” reaching your target. It is in the past. You cannot do anything about it in this moment, so why get down on yourself? It is much better to celebrate the 10 pounds lost, rather than berate yourself for the 5 that you didn't lose. You are happy looking back at your progress, and reward yourself. Your inner dialogue is much more compassionate, congratulating yourself for a job well done and sticking with the process. Sitting down to formulate your next goal, you come into it with a clearer, and more optimistic mindset. You come across something called interval goal setting, which helps track your goal performance based on realistic and accurate data which you track along the way, and gives you a range in which to aim for. You look back at your average rate of weight loss in the last 5 months, and set a new, more flexible goal range; 12-16 pounds. Anything that falls in this range will be considered a success. You are satisfied with that thought (and your brain likes it too, as it is less daunting than a fixed number!), and go about planning the next few months by focusing on the things inside your control (process goals) that will help you reach the result (outcome goal).
PROS TO THIS APPROACH
Reach desired outcome without focusing on it
Realistic goals based on actual performance capabilities
CONS TO THIS APPROACH
May not reach your absolute potential
There is no perfect way of going about this. Whatever approach you take, you have a chance of reaching success. But the question is, what is the reality of the situation? Can you do anything about not reaching the exact goal you set for yourself? The answer is you cannot. Regardless of what you could of, or should've done, all that is in the past now. All we can do now is assess and reflect on what worked and what didn’t. But by berating yourself for not being perfect puts you on a path of negativity that can be hard to get out of. We will never be perfect, and by understanding this we can begin speak to ourselves with a bit more compassion and kindness, as we would to a friend in the same situation. Ironically, the less we concern ourselves with external success or rewards, and instead focus on what makes us feel good, the more success we actually get in return!