We’ve all heard the quotes about falling down and getting back up and how failure teaches us, but when you’re in the moment, it can be difficult to remember those things. All you think is: I didn’t meet my goal. I failed.
It’s OK to feel disappointed, but also pause for a few minutes to reflect. “Failing hurts. We are quick to be dissatisfied,” says Christina Heilman, PhD, certified strength and conditioning specialist and author of “Elevate Your Excellence: The Mindset and Methods That Make Champions.” “Although we live in a very busy world, when we set a goal and don’t get to that goal, it’s a good time to reflect on what happened.”
That includes fitness goals, whether you aimed to run a 5K without walking, do a full pushup, add 20 pounds to your deadlift or anything else. The next time you don’t reach your goal, try these steps to help you be more successful next time.
YOUR 3-STEP REALITY CHECK
1. IDENTIFY 3 UPS
Heilman recommends first asking yourself, ‘What were the positive things I learned by trying to reach this goal?’
It may be that you discovered an underlying injury and got physical therapy to treat it. Maybe you made a new friend. Maybe you gained the confidence to do the full variation of an exercise or try a handstand in the middle of the room rather than at the wall.
2. IDENTIFY 3 DOWNS
Once you know the positives, consider the not-so-good things. “What didn’t go as planned?” Heilman asks.
Maybe you said you’d train every day but only did three or four days a week. “Maybe once a day wasn’t realistic then,” Heilman says. Or maybe you couldn’t do the exercise or race the way you wanted to, but you still had the courage to try it. Acknowledge those downs.
3. IDENTIFY 3 HOWS
The last step of Heilman’s process is to decide what tweaks you will make to your training plan for the original goal or a new one. To decide if you should try again, consider whether the original goal feels light and feasible, or if it feels heavy or like you’re going to beat your head against the wall to do it, Heilman says. If it’s heavy, find a new goal.
Either way, make a new plan to reach the goal so you can celebrate small wins along the way. “We remember negatives, but we so easily forget the positives,” she says. Maybe you put money into a jar each time you do your program and then buy a new workout outfit when you reach your goal. Or maybe you text a friend each time to let them know you trained today. Sometimes, feeling good after a workout is reward enough.
If you need help looking at what was working and what may need modification, document what your process was leading up to the goal attempt and bring that to an exercise physiologist, strength and conditioning coach or other fitness expert, suggests clinical sport psychologist and sport scientist John Sullivan, PsyD, coauthor of “The Brain Always Wins.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
“A lot of times people think they need to be hard on themselves to achieve goals,” Sullivan says. “However, maintaining or creating self-determination requires enjoyment in what you are doing. If you are overwhelming yourself to accomplish a goal, it’s a sign to re-evaluate your process. Most of the time, it only takes subtle adjustments if you are already active.”
Keep in mind, too, that everyone fails to meet goals. “Even elite athletes get in slumps and don’t reach their goals and want to quit. But they are learning from it,” Heilman says. If you have internal motivation and strive to learn, then your goals won’t seem as hard, she adds.