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How I learned from failing instead of failing to learn.
2019 was a great year for me. So when it came time to review the year and set goals for next year, I was feeling pretty good about myself. But when I looked at my list of New Year’s Resolutions from last year, I was shocked. In strictly technical terms, I had failed at three of my five resolutions for the year. Three out of five! That means my success rate was 40%! A solid F grade.
So what happened here? Did I have an amazing year or did I totally fail at my resolutions?
Well, the answer is: both and neither.
2019 was a year of transformation for me. Which means that the biggest successes I had in the year were things I wouldn’t have even thought to put as my New Year’s resolution back on December 31, 2018. The resolutions that I didn’t accomplish weren’t exactly failures but were starting points or ideas that eventually evolved into something else. Looking at these, I realized five key things that I learned from failing:
Don’t be afraid of bigger goals
Some of the resolutions that I set for myself were much more modest than what I actually ended up achieving. For example, one of my resolutions was to do yoga more often. Instead, I ended up training for and running a half-marathon. If I had put that on my New Year’s Resolution list, I probably would have thought I was crazy. I had no idea how to train for a run and I had never done one before. But guess what? Later in the year, when I decided to do one (at the urging of my sister), I figured out how to train for it and surprised myself at what I was capable of. I didn’t do a perfect job in the marathon, but the experience of going after something big gave me confidence and improved my running skills far beyond what I had ever done before.
I realized I avoid big goals sometimes because I’m afraid of failing at them. I write modest, achievable resolutions so I feel like I can accomplish them. But this past year, my more modest goals were the ones I “failed” by not really taking action. For the bigger goals, I might not have done them perfectly, but I got a lot further because I took some serious action.
Don’t underestimate the power of convenience
Life is busy. When push comes to shove, my resolutions that I stuck to were not the easiest ones but were the ones that were most convenient for me in my daily life. Part of why going to yoga didn’t work for me is because (a) my schedule is too busy and changeable for me to be able to attend classes at a specific time and (b) I didn’t have a studio close to my house that I loved. I was successful at running because I could do it on my own schedule and because I can do it on a trail or at the gym, both of which are five minutes from my house.
This was a big learning this year and one that I am taking into 2020. For me to be able to really stick to something, I need to be able to do it on my own schedule and in almost any location. My goals also need to either be compatible with my lifestyle, or I need to make adjustments to my lifestyle.
For example, one of my other goals that I failed at was committing to a specific healthy diet that I wanted to try. The problem was that this specific protocol didn’t work well with my weekly meal prep, which is the main way I am able to cook at home. If I‘d really wanted to stick to it, I needed to figure out a way to make a weekly prep work. But I discovered, it wasn’t really that important to me, which leads me to my next learning….
Sometimes, you don’t care about something as much and you thought you would
Two of my three resolutions that failed were things I realized I just didn’t care enough to devote the time and energy to them. They sounded like a good idea, they are things that I still like in theory, but they didn’t really have the impact I was looking for.
The great thing about this is that it gives you an opportunity to examine what you are looking for and find a different path to getting it. For example, one of my resolutions that I failed at was to be more social. I saw this as making new friends, going out to events, getting involved with new organizations, etc. But when these opportunities came up, I found myself resisting them. I realized that this broad approach to “being more social” was not really working for me. It was far more meaningful for me to spend quality time with people that I love and already know. This gave me the feeling of connection and community that I was looking for, even if it looked a little different than I originally thought. This is a good opportunity to identify some of your core values and make sure your resolutions support them.
Stay flexible and open to opportunities
One of my greatest accomplishments in 2019 was starting this blog, which wasn’t even on my radar when I made my New Year’s Resolutions last year. Oddly enough, the thing that prompted me to start writing on a regular basis was the Soccer Women’s World Cup. I wasn’t able to watch the games in real-time and so I was avoided going on the internet to stay away from spoilers. To occupy myself during my daily commute, I started writing on the Notes App on my phone. Starting a blog immediately then clicked as what I wanted to do. I could have ignored that desire, telling myself that it wasn’t on my resolutions list. But instead, I paid attention to it and started taking action and I’m very grateful that I did.
The act of setting goals has as much power as achieving them
You may be thinking, why set goals when they so often don’t work out? For me, there are two key reasons:
- Setting a goal usually prompts you into some kind of action. It may not ultimately be the action needed to actually accomplish the goal, but almost always it creates some momentum that takes you forward in your life.
- Every time you fail at a goal, you learn something important about yourself. If something didn’t work out, take some time to ask yourself why. Did you not really care about it? Is fear or confusion holding you back? Did you take some actions that you thought would accomplish something only to find they didn’t have the result you expected? What have you learned from failing? The answers to these questions are all important and valuable.
In this season of looking forward to the new year, I encourage you to take some time to also look back. Failing is totally okay, and learning from your failure is even better. I could look at my 40% success rate and decide that I better not even create resolutions this upcoming year. But I’m not. Instead, I am celebrating everything that I learned from failing this past year. And I’m making that list again and moving forward with ideas while staying open and flexible to whatever this year has in store!
How did your resolutions go last year? What have you learned from failing? Failure is nothing to be ashamed of, so celebrate your failures in the comments below.