Goal Setting: Planning for Failure is Key to Achieving Success!

Written by: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

Setting clear and achievable goals can help to maintain a healthy level of self-esteem.  When you’re working towards something that is important to you, and when you do so in a purposeful way, you are likely to feel more positively towards yourself.  Setting clear goals at the outset of any new venture - whether it be related to work, relationships, fitness, personal development, etc. - is really important; without clear goals from the very beginning, it can be easy to lose sight of what you hope to achieve, and it becomes more difficult to measure your progress along the way.  It’s for these reasons that we like to spend time discussing counselling goals with our clients in our very first meeting.

One of the frameworks that we’ve found helpful for setting healthy goals is the “S.M.A.R.T.” system.  The S.M.A.R.T. system is a well-known and effective method for goal setting; it specifies that goals should be:

Specific:  The “who, what, when, where, and why” of your goal

Measurable:  How will you determine progress? How will you know when your goal is met?

Attainable/Action-oriented:  How will you achieve your goal?  What resources will you use?  What steps will you need to take?

Realistic/Relevant: Is the goal realistic, in the sense that it is something you have control to change?  Why is the goal important to you in your life at this time?  How is it connected to your values for living?

Time-bound: By when do you plan to achieve this goal?  What is your timeline?

Each aspect of S.M.A.R.T. goal setting is important and builds upon the others to strengthen and clarify your goals.  That being said, when setting goals, we’d encourage you to pay particular attention to the “R”; that is, making sure your goals are realistic and relevant.

The reason that we highlight the “R” elements is because, so often, people will set goals for themselves that are quite simply unrealistic and unachievable because they leave no room for slip-ups!  Then, as soon as they miss a day at the gym, or as soon as a disagreement happens with their spouse, it’s all out the window.  “All or nothing” goal setting simply won’t work.   In order to experience success in your goals, you must leave yourself some room for failure.  We suggest adopting an “80:20” attitude when it comes to realistic goal setting – that is, 80% of the time you will be acting in accordance with your goal, and 20% of the time you leave room for human error!  Setting realistic goals means that you're expecting to have both good and bad days right from the outset, so when the time comes that you fall off track (and you likely will, as we all do!), you'll be better able to view the situation as a momentary lapse, rather than taking a totalizing perspective.

The other “R” factor, relevance, is also of particular importance.  If your goals aren’t relevant or meaningful to you, then you’re less likely to achieve them.  Ask yourself:  what are my reasons for wanting this goal now?  What are my reasons for not wanting this goal now?  If it turns out that your reasons for not wanting the goal outweigh your reasons for wanting it at this time, then it may be beneficial to re-assess the goal in the first place.

Happy goal setting!