Bullfighters have a very strong relationship with reality. When an angry bull is coming toward you, deluding yourself that it is a puppy will not go well. Even a little bit of puffery or false modesty could skew your perceptions and have serious consequences for how effectively you can fight it. While this may seem pretty obvious when applied to ferocious wild animals, when it comes to our own goals and accomplishments most of us are not well grounded in reality. Some focus exclusively on what didn’t happen, where they miscalculated, messed up or simply didn’t succeed, while others avoid looking at the gap between their stated goals and the actual accomplishments. Despite our natural tendency to veer one direction or the other, focusing on BOTH the wins AND the gaps allows us to learn the maximum amount from our experiences and plan effectively going forward.
Sometimes looking at our goals for the previous year feels like stepping on the scale after Thanksgiving. We know that we didn’t reach our target, so we don’t even want to look at it. We often forget how many little accomplishments are needed to make one big victory. You can’t (and shouldn’t) just go out one day and run a marathon. It is a little win every morning that you get up and run five miles, or even one mile. When you review last year, keep in mind that it takes a lot of little triumphs to achieve anything significant. Even if you have not yet landed that huge whale of a client, gotten your client management system working just right, or expanded your firm as ambitiously as you hoped, I bet you have taken a lot of steps to move your practice forward. Try making a list of everything you have done in the last year that has contributed to your efficiency, reputation, or the quality of work produced by your firm. Attended a conference and got some leads? Put it on the list. Improved your delegation skills? Put it on the list. Implemented a new system for screening potential clients? Put it on the list. Started taking vitamins that increase your vitality? Put it on the list. Faced with two or three pages of wins, you may notice yourself having more energy and enthusiasm for the coming year.
Focusing on your achievements is fun and inspiring, and you could just stop there. However, it’s only half of the reality. Regardless of whether you had a great year, or an unusually difficult one, the odds are you didn’t accomplish every goal. If you are interested in more than just progress, if you want to actually achieve the specific results that you declared, you also need to look at what got in the way. Take a moment and ask yourself what was missing that, if it were present, would have helped you to achieve your goals. I bet the first thing that came to mind was time. I invite you to take time off the table as an explanation. Everyone has the same 24 hours in the day. What else was missing? When I do this exercise with people, their minds generally go to all kinds of complicated circumstances. Consider, instead, that it is actually very simple (not easy, but simple). To achieve a goal, one that is challenging to you or outside your comfort zone, you need (1) a plan and (2) structures to help you follow that plan. If that goal was not achieved, one or both were insufficient.
Circumstances will always create challenges to achieving our goals. The gift provided by both the planning process and support structures is that they help us to stay grounded in reality. As with bullfighters, the “monster” barreling towards us may be huge and hairy, but amazing results are possible when we are clear about the facts and remain focused on our commitments.