In continuing to explore the fresh start the September seems to bring, I have a question for you. How many times have you been in a situation that turned out less than successful and your next step was to blame yourself, beat yourself up or possibly even give up? It’s taken me a long time to understand and accept that mistakes, setbacks and undesirable results are really just other forms of information. When something goes well, we don’t usually take time to think about what it means – it means we did the right things, in the right order at the right time to support our goal.
And when we miss the mark?
Now we have another kind of information – what didn’t work, what needs to be changed and what we might want to do differently in the future. We can take this feedback and use it to refocus, retarget, aim and shoot again. For most people and most goals, it’s very possible – and important – to try again.
When I look back at the times in my life when I “really screwed up”, most of those times what I really needed was not to get angry (or have others get angry at me) and see how terrible I did or how awful I was. I needed to get clear about why I missed the mark. What actions didn’t support my goal? What choices affected my results? And why was it important that I get this goal in the first place?
Then once those questions were answered I could take a breath and move forward.
Unfortunately, for most of my life instead of being supportive and understanding of myself, I beat myself up terribly. The self-talk in my head was horrible. It would never occur to me to say those kinds of things out loud to another person, but I was quick to say them to myself. Was it any wonder that after a setback I had next to no motivation for continuing on with a goal, or if I did, it was halfhearted and with the underlying belief that I was never going to get it anyway. After all, I was a screw-up and I had the crappy results to prove it.
No. I had information to use to help me move forward.
In the past, I put myself through the hell of increased fear, anger and self-loathing. “Clearly” I didn’t deserve my goals. But that’s the advantage of wisdom and reflection. I know better now.
This summer two of the novels in the Melusine’s Daughters series took on the issues that sent me into a tailspin when things didn’t go as planned: self-forgiveness and self-compassion (and I’ve linked the blog posts to those phrases). Gaining both of these qualities have helped me to stop talking to myself so terribly.
Now instead of yelling at myself internally and then responding with actions that looked like those of an angry teenager, I look at the information I was given from missing the mark. If an arrow doesn’t hit the target you may have to re-aim, but you also need to look at your stance, how you’re holding your bow, the strength of your arms and many other factors. When I don’t reach a goal, I allow myself to feel upset – I wanted it and I’m disappointed – and then I look at the reasons I didn’t reach it. Was the timeline impossible? Did I need more skills? Is my goal out of order and is there something I need to do first? There are all sorts of factors, some in my control and some not, that I can take into account as I look to hit the target the next time. The energy that once went into making myself feel bad and holding some terrible negative assumptions, now goes into look honestly at the situation and receiving the information that will allow me to hit – or at least get close – my goal the next time.
Information is powerful. You can use it or abuse it. Ignore it or learn from it. Missing the mark gives me information. I’ve come to see there are incredible benefits to being emotional about the situation (it’s always going to suck to not get what I want when I want it) and practical about my response so then I can use this information to change the situation.