How (not) to Fail

I recently returned from a 3 week trip to visit friends in America. It was exactly what I needed and I had so many inspiring conversations and revelations during my time there. On the plane on the way back, you would have thought January 1st came early. I was making lists of all the things I was going to do when I came home. It looked a little something like this;

– set up camp on a treadmill at the gym, you can only stop for toilet breaks and maybe to go to work but if possible try to just do your work at the gym. it’ll be fine. 

– blog. all the time. write a new post every day even if you have absolutely nothing of any interest going on in your head which will likely be the case because you live at the gym now, remember?

– get awesome at piano. this is a tricky one because it might disturb the other gym-goers but on the bright side, you can personally provide the soundtrack for your biopics ‘getting fit’ montage. 

– save ALL the money. try not to buy anything. this will actually be really easy because you now live on pure adrenaline and bottled water. it’s still important to stay hydrated. 

– pray without ceasing. just repeating ‘Lord Jesus, help me not die on this treadmill’ over and over doesn’t count.  

– read every book. study the bible in every translation. take notes on everything. don’t worry, everything is an audiobook now so you can just listen while you run. 

– stop watching tv. or movies. or YouTube. or flip books. sell your tv and your laptop and your extensive flip book collection. 

I may be exaggerating, slightly. My point is that none of the things on my list were one-off, clean-out-your-wardrobe, kind of resolutions. The real list looked like this;

– Gym (early morning)

– Start blogging again

– Work on music (piano and songwriting)

– Spend less

– Watch less tv

– Read/Study more

– Pray more 

These are all fine things to aim for but they are also all habits that needed to either be formed or broken. They say it takes 30 days to make/break a habit and I had honestly planned to undergo all of those things as soon as I was home from America. I was gearing up for the most nightmarish month of my life until it hit me – I’ve been here before. 

This wasn’t the first time I’d planned to punch life in the face and make some kind of attempt at being a grown up. (Whaaaaaat?! I’m only 29 and 2/3! Leave me aloooooooone! *Rolls out of bed at 8.55 and eats cake for breakfast*) Which leads me to the Sherlock Holmesian deduction that – I must have failed all those other times because I’m not a grown up and I still feel like life is backing me into corners and relentlessly flicking my forehead.

So I sat down, prayed and thought really hard about what was going wrong. I realised something that honestly broke my heart; I have been setting myself up for failure. Not only have I been setting myself up to always fall at the first hurdle but I am also the queen of kicking myself when I’m down. I am that teacher who gives out really ridiculous homework and then punishes you for not taking it seriously, except for some reason I’m giving MYSELF homework and then punishing MYSELF for not doing it properly and no wonder our education system is failing, I’m a terrible teacher. Ok, so I’m not a teacher but you get my point, right? 

So, I made a new list. A list of things that I thought would help me to succeed in achieving these goals over time. I’m sure these are things that everyone knows and I’m just late to the party as always (I’m notoriously 2 weeks/years behind everyone else when it comes to tv/movies/music but I get there in the end). But just in case, like me, you feel as though you’ve been setting yourself up for failure – here are my tips;

Specify what your goal is. So instead of just saying ‘Gym’ or ‘work out more’ I resolved to (try to) go to the gym at 6.30 every morning and run on the treadmill for at least 30 minutes every weekday. Being specific makes it easier to measure success.

Be realistic. The first set of goals I listed above were exaggerated but often times the goals we set ourselves are not far off. If you want to try and save up £500 a month but you only make £750 and have rent and bills to pay, you’re probably not going to get very far. Unrealistic goals are just asking for trouble. 

Prioritise.  Unless you are superhuman, it is highly unlikely you will be able to achieve all of your goals at the same time, especially if it involves taking the time to form a habit. Decide which is the most pressing and focus on that one first. Once you have nearly achieved that goal you can decide what to move on to next. 

Commit: As I said, it takes 30 days to form a habit and similarly 30 days to break a habit. So if you are trying to limit yourself to watching just 30 minutes of tv a day, you will have to keep it up for 30 days in order for it to become a pattern of behaviour that is easy to maintain. 

Believe that you can do it. This will be easy if you have made your goals specific AND realistic. Don’t be too hard on yourself but don’t go easy on yourself either. Deep down, you know what you’re capable of. 

Remember why you are doing it. Are you trying to get in shape, save money for a holiday, learn a new skill or move closer to being who you know God created you to be? Remember the reason for whatever it is you’re doing and, if possible, have a visual/written reminder handy to keep you motivated. 

Finally, and to me this is the most important piece of advice I could give you, be kind to yourself. Encourage yourself when things go well and when things go less well – stay positive. Rather than telling yourself that you’ve failed and might as well quit, remind yourself that you are capable of doing better. You are strong, determined, persistent and truly amazing. You can do it! 

Stop setting unrealistic goals and then giving yourself a verbal kicking every time you fail. You may not realise it but with every negative word and self-criticism you are destroying yourself emotionally and mentally and what a tragedy to know that you could have avoided it by simply setting yourself up to succeed instead of fail. 

Whatever you are hoping to achieve over the coming weeks, I’m with you. You’ve got this!