Setting Yourself up for Setbacks – My 100 Book Challenge

Not trying to start with the excuses this early on, but had a rough week fitting in the minimum 2 books per week on my 100 Book Challenge, but had a breakthrough this week and made some great progress. See, that’s the thing with ambitious goals; you need to account for what you’re going to do when you do have set backs. With 100 books, my average of course has to be roughly 2 books every week with a 2-week margin for catching up if I miss that target. When the week started to get away from me I thought about what I would do if I ever did get behind.

What do you do when you get behind on your goals? Do you immediately throw in the towel? Do you punish yourself with negative self-talk? Do you see one setback as an overall failure, and toss the entire goal aside? Do you say, “What’s the use, and go back to your mundane, empty, and listless life?

I’ve learned personally, and experts and research have proven, those who naively set ambitious goals without taking into account the almost inevitable setback will likely not succeed. They almost go as far as to think they’ll “automatically” be a success and can be positive enough to overcome discouragement. They set lofty goals and think only about the achievement without considering the potential for discouraging obstacles. Sadly, the science says, those are the ones that fail.

However, those who anticipate they’ll run into obstacles can, in my own words, brace themselves for impact. You know you’re going to hit a wall sometime. This isn’t self-fulfilling prophecy mumbo-jumbo, but it is taking into account the occasional curve-ball life inevitably throws your way. Good hitters know how to hit a fast-ball. Great hitters learn how to CRUSH a curve-ball.

Now, these thoughts are overly simplified, but the principles were the mode of survival  for Admiral James Stockdale. He spent 8 years as a POW in Vietnam and was tortured 15 times. In his book, “Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot” he provides readers with a gritty account of his imprisonment and subsequent release.

From Wikipedia

“In a business book by James C. Collins called Good to Great, Collins writes about a conversation he had with Stockdale regarding his coping strategy during his period in the Vietnamese POW camp.[16]

When Collins asked who didn’t make it out of Vietnam, Stockdale replied:

Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.[17]

Stockdale then added:

This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.[17]

Witnessing this philosophy of duality, Collins went on to describe it as the Stockdale Paradox.”

Try not to fall into the trap of being so focused on your goal you don’t take into account the resistance you will face. The attainment of the goal is great and will say a great deal about your grit, but the wisdom you gain along that journey is, in my estimation, just as valuable as the attainment of a goal.

In short, set yourself up for setbacks. Anticipate there will be challenges along the way. If it were easy everyone would be doing it. No matter the goal you set for yourself, don’t lose sight of the lessons to be learned along the journey; they’re often just as important as the goal itself.

Feel free to leave me comments on your best kept secret for achieving your goals when the temptation to give up strikes!

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