How to Recover When You Don’t Achieve Your Goal
In January 2018, I set a goal to complete Run Rabbit Run 100—a 100-mile trail race at high elevation in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I trained harder than ever before. I ran more miles than ever before. I was ridiculously fit. And then, on race day, everything fell apart. It was hot. The elevation literally got to my head. Speaking of head, my mental game was all wrong. And so at mile 70, I quit. I had failed to achieve my goal.
The entire month of January is spent talking about making resolutions and setting goals and making this the year you achieve your best self. It’s all meant to be very positive and inspiring.
But what gets rarely, if ever, talked about is what happens when you don’t achieve these goals you excitedly set. Does that make the year a failure? Does that make you a failure? How can you rebound and reset your expectations?
Here’s what actually happens when you don’t achieve your goal.
You get frustrated.
You had such high hopes. You set a goal, or probably many goals. And then at some point, either during the year or on December 31, you realize you didn’t meet them. So you get frustrated. Angry. At yourself, at others, at circumstances beyond your control. No one is safe in your pissy pity party.
You feel depressed.
You start to doubt yourself. Your abilities. Your accomplishments. It’s a slippery slope, and you’re sliding down it headfirst. Maybe you put a lot of effort behind this goal and still failed. Maybe you had good intentions but didn’t follow through. Either way, you’re taking it to heart now. The failure hit hard, and it’s rocked your self-esteem.
You focus on what you did accomplish.
After you finish beating yourself up, your vision can clear and you realize just how much you have actually accomplished. Didn’t read 52 books? Hey, 26 is still a lot! Didn’t cross the finish line at your goal race? Most normal humans will never run 70 tough miles of mountain terrain—be proud!
You reflect on what went wrong.
There are lessons in failure, and now is as good a time as any to learn them. Maybe your goals were unrealistic (can anyone cook a healthy meal every single night of the year at home? No.). Maybe the cards weren’t in your favor (hottest race on record with a new, harder course). Or maybe you’re just human. And humans fail sometimes.
You get resolved to work harder this year.
Not achieving a goal can be good for you. It can make you more driven. It can light a fire in your belly when there were only smoldering embers before. It can show you what you actually care about. You can make adjustments and go after the goal even harder next time. You can remember how failing made you feel, and resolve not to feel that way again this year.
No matter what, goals are meant to teach us how to be better. Sometimes that means failing. And that’s ok.