How to Develop the Freedom to Fail & Achieve Your Goals

By Doug Mains

Achieve Your Goals

“Intentions and goals are tools for liberation. But when we use goal-chasing like a hammer, it can beat up on our self-esteem, relationships, and creativity.” – Danielle Laporte

My friend wants to gain weight. Yes, gain weight. He’s pretty slim. When he was telling me, he explained that he pretty much has the same thing for lunch everyday: a sandwich, chips, and fruit. He lamented, “I can’t imagine eating the amounts of food I’d need to eat to gain weight”. The reality is that he’d have to up his diet a considerable amount. It’s overwhelming for him to the point at which he has a hard time just taking a single step toward his goal.

I realized we had a similar tendency to when it comes to creating habits and achieving goals. I want immediate change. I want to do it all, and I want to do it all now. So I set unattainable expectations for myself. Then when I fall behind or get overwhelmed, I give up and pile the failed goal on top of my collection of could’ve-beens in the basement of deflated dreams.

Nike’s slogan has never worked for me. After excessively failing at my self-appointed objectives, I eventually realized that my failure was not in not accomplishing my goal nor in unsuccessfully creating a habit but in not setting myself up for success. My failure wasn’t after the fact but before it. I was setting myself up to fail by being impatient with myself and expecting too much out of myself too soon. I had the wrong mindset back then…

Wanting Growth Now in a Microwave Culture

This is typical of others in our microwave culture. Everyone wants results immediately, and we are frustrated when we don’t get them. A microwave meal takes thirty seconds to prepare. Fast food is delivered in under two minutes. Medications are expected to fix our bodies as soon as they touch our tongues.

Perhaps we have allowed for this cultural norm to seep into our daily expectations, even the ones we set for ourselves. We become the nagging, angry screams of waiting for customers at our establishments. It doesn’t work!

On the other hand, when my wife and I go out for an expensive dinner, we can be wary of our meal if it seems like it comes out suspiciously quickly. I expect the kitchen, in that case, to take its time preparing my food with patience, care, and expertise. That’s because quality takes time and effort. A bad habit takes some time to create, but it takes time plus effort to create a new and positive one. If we want to do it right when it comes to achieving a goal, it will certainly take time plus effort; it will take patience and care in developing expertise, but it will be worth it. “A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence” –Jim Watkins.

How to Develop the Freedom to Fail & Achieve Your Goals

Throwing Soft Balls

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward”…

I’ve learned it is vital to my habit-building and goal-setting to make sure that what I desire to accomplish is attainable for me. I started to throw myself soft balls so that I can hit easy home-runs and keep morale high.

For example, I want to read more. Instead of committing to an entire chapter of a book every single day (then getting overwhelmed, falling behind, and quitting), I’ll commit to reading just what I can (no matter how little, but at least a little) on weekdays and only read if I feel like it on weekends. Giving myself grace and lowering expectations has allowed me to celebrate even the smallest steps and that has motivated me to keep going. It doesn’t matter at what pace you go – crawl, walk, run, fly – even just a little a day goes a long way. So do a little or do a lot but always celebrate movement!

Developing the Freedom to Fail

Even with the patience of a chef and swinging at soft balls, I’ve had to develop what I call the freedom to fail. This might be the most valuable lesson I have been learning. The struggle is real; sometimes, life gets in the way, and we just can’t always do exactly what we hope to accomplish.

This is when perfectionism needs to be shelved, and we need to be okay with “good enough”; we need to allow ourselves the freedom to fail. There is no rush, and there is time. We are going to miss days, screw up, fall behind, and fail but that is okay because ultimately it is about growth, not perfectionism. It is about moving forward. When we grant ourselves the freedom to fail, we can get up no matter how many times we fall.

So I told my friend that maybe he doesn’t need to worry about eating a whole cow chased down by a protein shake just yet. Perhaps he can add one more element to his daily lunch so instead of three items, he has four. And, later, he can add something more substantial to his diet. If he doesn’t pack or eat that fourth item one day, then he should allow himself the freedom to fail and to try again tomorrow. No big.

A small step missed is easy enough to make up so make your next step toward your goal small. And if you mess up, try again tomorrow. You are not a fast food establishment; you are a 5-star restaurant where the best results take time and effort. Have patience with yourself, throw yourself some softballs with small and attainable objectives, and develop the freedom to fail. “But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

What is the fourth item in your daily lunch? What is your next step toward your goal, no matter how small? Please, share in the comment section below!

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Doug Mains
A voice for silently-struggling men, Dadding Depressed is a resource for guys with mental illness and their supporters from a struggling new dad’s perspective. Living with depression and anxiety, I have noticed a need for male advocacy in online resources regarding mental health. I am a freelance writer equipped with honesty, perspective, and humor. As I personally learn how to better function as a new dad and a man dealing with the challenges of mental illness, it is my hope to be a voice for other men who are silently hurting. I live in East Lansing, Michigan with my gorgeous wife, Lindsey; my eight-month-old son, Isaiah; and our crazy Cockapoo, Wendell. Over the last five years, I have been on a challenging journey of unraveling my own mental health issues, rediscovering my value, and growing as a father and husband. I love good food, great beer, pretentious coffee, ping-pong, soccer, collecting vinyl records and hardcover editions of my favorite books.