.. but what if I fail at my goal. Say Hakuna Matata.

Another common question, we encounter is:

What if I commit to my goal and I don’t achieve it?

This worry is also not related to a system but rather, aimed squarely at the goal. So, first, let’s be pragmatic and accept that this is totally possible.

Yes, you may not achieve your goal and that’s OKAY

It’s okay, it really is. All of us, including me, want you to succeed. However, it is good to not get so attached to the goal but more to the intention and process of change. Personal growth comes from the journey, at least as much as from the destination.

To put it simply, there are few things you can do when things don’t work out.

  • Drop it
  • Re-think or reframe it
  • Press on
  • Double down on it
  • Ask for help

Let’s take a look at these options a bit more..

Drop your goal

Yup, it’s not about the goal, it’s about you. If you’re finding out that the goal doesn’t fit your intention or it’s not the right time to unleash it, then feel free to drop it.

What is important here is to do a “blameless post mortem” of your goal to learn why and what you should be aware of when you set a subsequent goal. Blameless post mortem’s are great. The central theme is to find out what, not who, caused the failure and oddly you can get to it using a technique called “5 Whys”. Yup, basically, you ask the question, “Why did that happen?” And the answer shouldn’t place the blame on a person, in this case, you.

Why am I not ready for this goal.. yet?

Perhaps you were not your most objective self when setting this goal. Happens to many of us all the time, think New Year’s resolutions. Emotion driven and/or rushed resolutions that we’re all to familiar with are quite common. Don’t be hard on yourself but before you drop the goal entirely, take a look at the other options.

Re-think and reframe your goal

We are generally not great at estimating effort over something longer than a few days. As a result, your goal may need an adjustment. We also tend to over commit at the beginning and tire out pretty quickly if our anticipation overcomes our expectation. But here’s the great thing – you tried! And now you know more.

So what can you do? First, ensure you’re in the cool, calculated and pragmatic state and examine your goal. It’s totally fine to go back to the drawing board and write a new or updated worthy goal or choose a different system. All you need to is ask is…

What did I learn about myself and what should my goal be?

And now, let’s apply a simple trick. This one comes from my (virtual) running coach and follows from the point above. His observation with the athletes he trains is that the anxiety of achieving the ultimate goal at the end generally holds them back. So, he has a couple of things he brings up on almost every run

Start easy and celebrate more

Try breaking up our goals into smaller milestones, can give us quick wins to celebrate. But we can go even further. For example: celebrate whenever we start even though you didn’t feel like when we woke up, celebrate shaking the initial cobwebs, celebrate that we came back a better person every time we tried. These are not easy to just turn on but practice celebrating more, please!

Start easy and find more reasons to celebrate and have fun on the journey to your goal

He is on to something more profound and that is that if we perceive the short term result of working on our goal as negative, it’s much harder to keep at it even if the ultimate outcome is highly desirable.

Press On – Keep at it a bit more

B.F. Skinner, a behavioral psychologist, ran an interesting experiment. He took a group of test subjects and divided them into 2 groups – one that received a reward for an action when it was done a fixed number of times and the other that received a reward for the same action but a random number of times. Now, our intuition tells us that the first group should be more motivated because they know exactly when to expect the reward but he found that when the rewards were turned off, the second group actually kept working on the action longer. There is a link here to loss aversion.

What will you miss out or even regret if you don’t try

The lesson that follows is to flip the expectation on its head. Instead of being anxious about a fixed outcome at the end, being excited to go on the journey every day not knowing what to expect! Then come back and assess how you’re doing and what changes you need to make.

Double down

There is a very well known bias we can use to our advantage here. Great coaches, sales people and negotiators use it all the time to trick us into committing. That is the simple act of owning or feel like you own something makes you feel that good things will come if you wait for it

Here’s an example: During the housing crisis in 2008, a study from Zillow (a popular house hunting site) showed that around 90% of home owners said that there had been foreclosures in their neighborhood and around 80% said that they didn’t think that the real estate market would improve, yet around 60% believed that the value of their homes had not decreased and around the same planned to invest in home improvements. That’s the power of ownership that despite the gloom of uncertainty, people believed in what they owned.

You are more committed to what you own

Ask for help

Here’s something you don’t hear often because we’re constantly told to go it alone. But we’re social animals and one way or another influenced by the people around us, more so, by the ones that are closest. So, the lesson here is simple.

Speak up and ask for help with your goal

You’ll be surprised how powerful that simple act of asking for help is giving you additional capacity to go out and achieve your goal.

What doesn’t kill you…

… only makes you stronger. You already know this one. Growth happens when we’re stretched and what better way to stretch ourselves other than our own goals.

Remember the times you got through your worst challenge and you not only survived, but you gained new perspective from it that has shaped who you are

What was most helpful for you in this post? Let me know in the comments. Feel free to share these posts with folks that you coach and help. Let’s pay it forward and encourage every one to achieve their goals. Take care!

Goals and the fear of missing out

I received a few questions about the 80/20 system. This post is dedicated to the most common one. However, even though this question appears to be about the 80/20 system, you will notice that it is less connected to your choice of a system and more to the choice of your goal and perhaps even, your intention. Here’s generally how the question goes:

What if I miss a huge opportunity because I stopped something else to focus on my 80?

Without beating around the proverbial bush, the simple answer to that question is yes, that is a possibility. So there, let’s get that out of the way but first, it doesn’t matter what system you choose, this question is really about choosing to commit to your intention. Second, remember, you are in the driver’s seat so the choice is absolutely yours to make and even through that action you will learn something useful. Concretely, if the intention did not make the cut to be meaningful enough for now…. and that’s okay.

It’s okay to re-think if your goal is really worthy

However, before you jump to that conclusion, think deeply about what you know about this “missed” opportunity and why it hasn’t come along yet. Is it possible that you’re actually falling prey to very well known behaviors vis-a-vis “loss aversion” or “status quo bias”?

Loss aversion, unlike risk aversion, is a behavior where the pain of a loss hurts us more than the joy of an equivalent gain. In other words, losing a hundred bucks hurts more than gaining a hundred bucks. Specifically, when it comes to gains, we prefer a certainty of the gain over chance even if the chance could leave us better off. E.g. 100% certainty of getting $90 is preferred over 50% chance of getting $200. On the other hand, when it comes to loss, we become riskier, thus preferring a chance over certainty of a loss. E.g. 50% chance of losing $200 is preferred to 100% certainty of losing $90. Connecting the logical thread to goals, the thought of stopping something (seen as the certainty of losing an experience) thus hurts more than the perceived (yet to experience) gain from achieving our goal.

Related to loss aversion, status quo bias is a preference to not want to change the current state, thus seeing any change as somewhat of a loss.

To overcome either of these, you need to first be aware if it is happening. You can put on your scientist hat and fact check if you are overweighing the importance of what you’re going to give up vs what you can gain from the goal. Perhaps the issue is that you haven’t committed enough to one alternative. Nice thing about this self check is that you will learn more about yourself and also evaluate the importance of the intention to you giving you a good balance of sticking to one thing and also exploring something new.

Is my apprehension being caused by a bias or aversion to a loss?

You may not always have impeccable data to make this choice and it may inadvertently come down to a judgment call. In which case, take a measured leap of faith and by that I mean, why not try out your intention without completely committing to it. Give it about a third of the total committed time and keep the door open on the other things. Make a conscious note to review your choice every week so you can check in on how you feel. This gradual re-anchoring to a new status quo can help nudge you forward or, at best, confirm that the intention is not meant for you right now… and that’s okay.

Trying before committing to a goal is also an option

What did you think about this post and was most relevant for you? Let me know in the comments and also if you have any other questions. Take care!

Can I use computer science to make better decisions? (This is not about AI)

Seldom does a book come along that makes you re-think. This is one of those that you may keep going back to. From the mundane choices (where to park) to often untenable solutions like optimizing global supply chains, a refreshing read.

Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian


What I really liked about this book:

1. Pragmatic ways of looking at real problems and understanding how to approach the solution so it’s good enough for you

2. Learning that not all problems are solvable even for the world’s smartest people and computers so don’t lose sleep over them

3. It’s important to prioritize but also to know on the basis of what you need to prioritize. In other words, few things matter more than others but it’s important to validate against your intentions (aka what’s really important)

4. Simplicity is one way of breaking complexity – adding more constraints to your problem often makes the problem harder to solve

I hope you enjoy this book and let me know in the comments what you thought about it!

Optimal stopping or when to stop looking and start deciding (and other rational choices)