failure

The Anatomy of a Failed Goal

If everything had gone according to plan I shouldn't be able to walk very well right now. I should be incredibly sore and spending my day relaxing but with an intense sense of accomplishment. You see, I signed up and paid for the LA Marathon that was held yesterday. But I did not run the LA Marathon.

This is the anatomy of a failure.

THE BEGINNING

 

At the end of last September I was flush with success and ambition. I had just pulled off a successful event (along with my team of volunteers) that took approximately a year to plan. It was an extreme stretch event -- I had never done anything like it. It was very stressful but in the end I was very, very proud of the work we had done. Still riding that wave of euphoria I decided I needed a new audacious goal to work toward.

I decided that new goal would be the LA Marathon in March.

THE INITIAL SUCCESS

 

At first, training went very well. I was motivated and sticking to a plan. However, the first week where I felt like I was truly going to be pushing myself into new territory (I believe my long run was 7 or 8 miles) I got injured. I wasn't too worried at first because injury is often part of the training process, especially for someone who doesn't run a ton and I realized I probably needed some new shoes. I took the following week off, bought some new shoes and tried to focus on the upcoming weeks.

Unfortunately, a combination of recurring pain in my ankle and a complete lack of planning on my part was the beginning of the end.

THE STING OF REALITY

 

Just as I was getting over my injury and back into the regular training groove the semester ended and I flew home to Michigan for the holidays. Somehow when I was making the decision to train for a marathon in March I completely missed the point where I'd be living in Michigan for about 4 weeks right in the heart of my most important training time. Michigan. In January. Cold.

I'm a terrible treadmill runner and I always have been. I'm not sure why but I'd rather run in freezing rain or 20 below than on a treadmill. However, at the same time, I had no cold weather running gear. I also didn't have the money to justify buying new cold weather gear when I spend the remaining 11 months of the year living in Southern California.

At this point I'm just over a month away from supposedly running this marathon and all I've been able to accomplish is hurting my ankle and then moving somewhere I can't safely train for 4 weeks. Things were starting to unravel.

THE SHIFTING OF GOALS

 

If you read the last section again it may look like I'm blaming my lack of marathon training success on treadmills and a lack of proper equipment. However, I know I could have easily fixed that problem if I wanted to. I could've gone out to a sporting goods store and picked up some running tights, a couple long sleeve shirts, and some cheap hats and gloves and toughed out my training in Michigan. I could have utilized some willpower to not overly indulge in the decadent holiday foods and festivities. The problem was with me and my motivation, not the equipment or weather.

For some reason the allure of running a marathon started to wane pretty quickly once I had made the goal. I had even made the conscious decision not to tell people about it because I had read some research that telling people about a longterm goal makes it less likely that you'll actually follow through.

However, by the time I flew back to California at the end of January I had officially dropped the marathon goal in favor of something else. I decided to just eat the registration fee instead of showing up at the race and trying to just gut my way through it. Part of me wanted to do just that. I mean, what's more audacious than basically not training for a marathon but just showing up and battling through it anyway? What would make for a better story?

That would have been the ultimate stupid icing on top of this whole ill-advised cake, though. The last thing I needed was to hurt myself doing something like that.

THE LESSONS

 

Now, I'm doing my best to learn from my mistakes. The first thing I learned is that making plans for the future when you're in an artificially elevated state (like I was just days after doing something awesome) may not be the best time to make those decisions. It's probably better to slow down and make a more careful decision about where I want to place my focus when I'm not so amped up.

Secondly, I've learned to not underestimate the effect of reality. For example, I should have realized that I was going to be going back to Michigan for a large chunk of my training and running would be difficult in the winter conditions there. Tied to that was the fact that I gave myself just under 6 months to prepare for this distance. That's not an impossible amount of time, but it definitely doesn't allow you any wiggle room if you have to deal with injury or a lackluster training week in general. Every time I fell short of my running goals I became more and more anxious because it felt like the day of the race was bearing down on me. Instead of using that as motivation I think it ultimately demotivated me. If I wanted to give myself a better chance at actually preparing properly for a marathon I should've picked one further away.

Finally, I realized that there's a big difference between doing something because you like the idea of having done it and doing something because you want to do it. I liked the idea of being a marathon runner. I like doing things that challenge my physical abilities. However, to do it right I should've built up the habit of running. I was starting from almost scratch and trying to both instill a new habit and push myself at the same time. I would've been much more successful if I had taken a couple weeks or months just building the habit of running every day. I couldn't worked out when the best time to run would be and then shifting into a training schedule wouldn't have been such a shock. Instead, I was trying to figure out when the best time to run would be and increas mileage all at the same time. I had no steady base to work from and the first time I faced adversity (i.e. injury & cold weather) I fell apart.

Luckily, it hasn't been all bad news. Ever since I decided to officially drop the goal of training for the marathon at the end of January I've been doing something else fitness related. I've never been as consistent or seen as much in the way of results as I have since the end of January and now. I think my success in this area (and I'll share it with you sometime in the near future) stems directly from what I learned from the failed marathon goal.

It's okay to fail at something as long as you take a moment to figure out why. If I had failed at training for this marathon and ultimately just sat around feeling sorry for myself or being mad at myself then it would've been a complete waste. Instead, I'm doing my best to learn what I can, make changes to the way I do things, and continue to grow as a person.

Photo via jk5854

 

Lessons Learned From A Failed Week

I inadvertently ran a little experiment on myself this week. The week after TEDx happened I was struck with the most crippling lack of motivation I've experienced in a long time. I finally pushed it aside and was able to get a handle on the projects that had been playing second fiddle in my psyche for the past couple months. I realized I have some pretty awesome projects to work on and got super excited to make some progress. Something clicked in my head and I told myself I'd do whatever I needed to push these projects forward. I was ready to bear down and get some serious work done!


Instead of buckling down within the fairly successful framework I've created for myself, I regressed to a younger (and dumber) version of myself. Specifically, I stayed up very late a couple nights in a row to "get more work done." For some reason I thought I'd be able to go to bed at 1 AM and still get up early enough to really wring out all the value in my favorite time of day -- the early morning. Believe it or not, I'm human and when I don't get enough sleep I don't operate very well.

At the beginning of last week I told myself I'd do whatever I could to have a super productive week. Instead, it was one of the least productive weeks I've had in awhile. It's funny that my mind immediately went to, "I'll just stay up later!" to fulfill the need to be more productive. A much better approach would've been making sure I got to bed on time every night, getting up a little bit earlier (since I know I love the mornings), working out and meditating regularly (because when I don't I feel like a failure and that carries over to my work), eating well, working in short and focused bursts, etc. Basically, everything I normally do to accomplish really cool things and feel good about my work. I've been developing these habits and routines for awhile and they all went out the window when I decided I needed to be truly productive.

Last week wasn't a complete bust, however. I may not have been super productive but I did gather some useful data. The best way for me to be productive is to stay within the guidelines and routines I've created for myself. Greater productivity can be found by improving the way I operate and using my time within my current constraints. It's tempting to think that staying up later night after night results in greater productivity. I think I've been collecting data on myself and studying my optimal work habits for long enough to know that wasn't going to work. The last seven days confirmed that for me in a big way.

When's the last time you had a bad week? Instead of just trying to forget it as soon as possible, is there something you can learn from it?

How to Maintain Control During Times of Strife

Sometimes I psych myself out when it comes to writing for this blog. I tell myself that now that I’m a graduate student actually studying positive psychology, all of my articles should be steeped in references, research and data. That’s the type of evidence that we look for in my classes and there is certainly a place for it. Hell, my ultimate goal with all of my studying and research right now is to help make life coaching a more reputable and credible profession with the support of science.

 

But this blog is more than an amateur psychology journal.

Sometimes it’s just about a guy that’s trying to make his life a little big better by thinking about the best way to approach life. Sometimes it’s about a guy that takes a leap and moves across the country to study something he’s truly passionate about. And sometimes it’s about a guy that’s fighting through the same issues that everybody faces at some point — loneliness, confusion, and an overwhelming sense of the unknown.

It doesn’t always have to be about the science. In fact, science without humanity is arguably completely useless.

WHEN THE UNKNOWN SEEMS INSURMOUNTABLE

As I sat down in the library after a long day of statistics, research methods, and discussing complex articles with people who are much more intelligent than me, I was dreading having to write something for this website. My brain was fried and my analytical thinking capabilities had been completely tapped out for the day.

It’s time to just write about what’s on my mind right now, regardless of the science behind it. And right now I’m looking at some turmoil in my personal life, stress in my student life, and unknowns across the board. What do you do in a time like this? What should you do?

FOCUS ON THE CONTROLLABLE

For me, whenever I’m feeling out of control I always come back to the idea of focusing only on what I can truly control. When I sit down and think about what I actually control in a calm and collected manner, I’m usually surprised by how little I’m left with. The everyday worries that fill my life, and yours, are actions we can’t control. And yet, we worry about them. We fret. We let the uncontrollable control us. A renewed resolve to focus only on the variables within our grasp often leads to fresh outlooks on the true nature of our stress and worries.

What does that look like?

DAILY HABITS

Almost everything we do is the result of our habits. Our habits are built up over time by making the "right" decision over and over (which obviously varies depending on context). When your life feels like it’s spinning out of control it’s likely that what’s actually being neglected is the attention to your daily habits. Improve those, and you’ll find your life getting back under control.

ATTITUDE

I recently read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. The main takeaway from that book is that regardless of the hopelessness of your situation, even if it is rife with suffering and despair, you still control the contents of your own mind. Frankl suffered through Nazi concentration camps and during this time of unbelievable suffering he developed his theory of meaning. Those who are able to find meaning in their lives are able to find any situation, even those filled with suffering, an opportunity for growth. Try reframing a negative situation into more positive light and you’ll be taking the first step toward reclaiming your attitude.

THE NEXT ACTION

Huge projects are not completed in one night. Grad school is not completed with a weekend of hard work. A happy life is not built upon a single event. Instead of looking at the big picture, try focusing only on the very next action you’re taking. Make a good decision about your next action. And then, make another good decision about the action after that. If you fill your days with good decisions about your next action then you will have control over your life.

I love positive psychology and I love science. I love data and the strength that empirical evidence gives to an argument. However, sometimes I get tired of numbers, theory, and variables. Sometimes I need a quick dose of inspiration — something to get me moving in the right direction.

Where are you feeling like you’re losing control in your life? Do you actually have control over it or is there something you should be focusing on instead?