goals

Failing feels terrible. It forces us to realise and acknowledge that perhaps we’re not quite as good as we imagined we were, and stings even worse when we know we could have done more to prevent it.

The art of cultivating meaningful pursuits will always involve some level of failure because failing is the most necessary step in getting good at anything. 

So if we need to fail to realise our goals, but the thought or act of failing makes us want to curl up and die, perhaps it’s time we develop a more sustainable relationship with it. 

How we feel at the completion of any finite game can be calculated with a reasonably simple (if not slightly convoluted) equation.

Imagine that the emotional outcome we experience as a result of the game can be measured on a scale from negative ten to positive ten. A score of negative ten involves dark, personal feelings of dissatisfaction and disappointment. A score at this end of the spectrum is the type of guttural feeling which could result in someone never attempting a similar game again. Whereas a score of positive ten represents a feeling of such intense, euphoric bliss that it almost overwhelms the body. Scores of positive ten are those once in a lifetime moments of accomplishment which fill us to the brim with joy and pride. Our score along this emotional outcome scale is called our emotional outcome value (O). 

Now imagine another scale, which now only ranges from negative five to positive five. This scale is called the Result Scale. Our result value (R) is determined by how well we performed in the game, where negative five represents the absolute worst, most embarrassing, humiliating failure possible and positive five is the best, most gratifying, outstanding success possible.

At first glance it might seem that these values should be directly correlated; that the result of our efforts should reflect how we feel about the outcomes they produce. But we know from experience that this is often not the case. Both our result value and our emotional outcome value exist only once the game has been completed. 

There is another value, which also exists somewhere along the result scale, that is determined before we even begin playing. Our expectation value (E) represents the result we imagine is most likely to occur, and it is the only aspect of this equation of which we have complete control. Our expectations are influenced by an array of internal and external factors. They’re shaped by what we’re hopeful for, tempered by our previous experience and solidified by the expectations others project onto us. Sometimes we take the time to set them consciously, other times we unconsciously drag them along as baggage into games we don’t yet know we’re expecting ourselves to win. 

Ultimately, the emotional outcome of any finite game is the difference between the result of the game and the result we were expecting.

Result (R) – Expectation (E) = Emotional Outcome (O)

If we’re playing scrabble with a friend and we don’t have a lot of skin in the game, our expectation value might be a neutral value of zero. We don’t expect to succeed or fail and sure, we’d like to win, but we aren’t that fussed either way. In this case, our R value and our O value will be exactly the same. 

Let’s say we win. It was a close enough game, but we had better tiles and won without too much hassle. Our R value is one and so is our emotional outcome. It feels good, but not too good. We say, “Ah! Bad luck. You’ll get me on the next one.”

Now instead, let’s imagine that we’re getting ready to play against a friend who we know possesses an annoyingly Brobdingnagian vocabulary. They’re competitive too, so we’re expecting a challenging game. While we’re sure that beating them is within the realm of possibility, we’re realists. We understand the odds are stacked in their favour. In this case, our E value might be set at negative two. Winning here will definitely be an upset, but stranger things have happened.  

Perhaps we scrape through and secure a modest victory for an R of two. While the success was nothing spectacular, it feels excellent! 

R (2) – E (-2) = O (4)

When you subtract a negative number, it becomes additive. So two minus negative two leaves us with an emotional outcome of four. We’re buzzing after this victory and decide to challenge them to a rematch.

This time around, we’re heading in confident that we can replicate the result of the last game. We know we got a little lucky, but if we were able to beat them first try, they can’t have been as good as we thought they were.

We head into the next game with an E value of positive one.

But we don’t replicate the result of the last game. We don’t even come close. It’s unclear whether or not they were just taking it easy on us in the first game, but after a brief debate as to whether or not ‘katzenjammers’ is a valid english word (which is promptly settled by Google), they annihilate us. R score of negative four.

In this case, there’s no negative subtraction trickery working in our favour.

R (-4) – E (1) = O (-5)

The cost of failure is compounded by the expectation of victory.

It only makes sense to expect success when success is certain (which it almost never is). By placing our E value on the result scale, we’re setting ourselves up for unnecessary suffering.

So let’s change the game.

What if, instead of placing our expectations on the same scale we use to measure results, we designed it its own scale altogether?

How much could we improve our emotional reaction to objective failure improve if we started to set expectations on our growth rather than our success?

Imagine one last scale with me. A basic scale from zero to five which represents how much was learned by playing the game in question.

If we set our R and E values not on the results scale, but on this growth scale instead, it’s far less likely that we’ll walk away dissatisfied. And the less we walk away dissatisfied, the more likely we are to continue to play.

When we aim not to succeed, but to grow, we’re far more likely to fall into success.

Expectation is healthy for as long as your expectations make sense.

We don’t run out of time, we simply fail to seize enough of it.

That big project you’ve been meaning to get around to for weeks isn’t finished for one of two reasons:

Either It’s not as important as you think it is;

Or you’re scared.

Both are entirely valid, but it’s important to know the difference.

If it’s not that important, kill it. Then find something that is.

But if you’re scared… It’s probably an indicator that you’re onto something special.

You’ll never be rid of the the fear involved with doing important things. But you can dance with it.

Thank it for turning up. Be grateful that it’s alerted you to the importance of the task at hand. Then send it on it’s way.

You’ve got more time than you think you do.

Get to work.

We’re born with talent, we develop skill and we earn opportunity.

Ability is what we get when we take advantage of all three.

To feel like we’re making ‘progress’, our abilities must be growing.

When they’re not, we start to feel stagnant – in creeps the humble dread of meaninglessness.

Shield against that. Learn to love learning. Take risks.

Grow.

Was there a day this week where you went to bed dissatistied with the way you spent it?

How many days was that the case?

If that number is hard to deal with (which at times it most certainly has been for me), one of two things are wrong.

Either the way you’re spending your time isn’t aligned with the stories you want to tell about yourself, or your expectations aren’t in line with what’s reasonable.

This worst is when it’s a combination of the two.

We all deserve to love what we do.

But sometimes loving what we do requires us to work hard at loving it.

When it comes to finite play, the way we approach games has much to do with how well prepared we are for surprise.

Speed, trickery and deception are all most difficult to deal with when they can’t be anticipated.

True mastery is being adept enough at the particular game that nothing comes as surprise.

“A true Master Player plays as though the game is already in the past, according to a script whose every detail is known prior to the play itself.”

James P Carse

Further, being prepared for surprise and bracing for surprise are entirely different things.

“To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is the be educated.”

The goal then, when playing any finite game, should not necessarily be to win; it should be to become so educated in the given game that you no longer experience surprises which result in loss.

In such a situation, surprise would not be met with any resistance, as it would only be a detail in script which already resulted in victory.

Play not to win; play to continue playing, all the way to mastery.

“Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.”

James Clear

People say you are what you eat, but I’m more inclined to believe you are what you do.

Make good food decisions, you’ll be a healthy eater.

Juggle every day, you’ll be a juggler.

In many ways, we are all of the things we’re performing in each moment.

Which is why it’s so important to optimise yourself in the immediate term.

Long-term goals are great, but they have no relevance to who you actually are outside of the effect that have on focussing your immediate goals.

Dreams are so fun to imagine because they skip all work required to realise them and get right to the reward.

For them to come true, a through line must be forged which connect the dream to the now.

People who lose sight of this live in a world of constant inaction with distant goals which will sadly never eventuate.

Every action, every second, is a vote for the person you’ll become.

Vote wisely.

If you’re inclined to set a resolution tonight, consider focussing on what your life won’t look like if you don’t change, instead of what it could look like if you do.

Let’s face it, the fantasy version of yourself who hits the gym everyday, lives zero waste and smashes all your work goals this year isn’t going to exist.

Why promise to deliver on something you know you’ll feel guilty about in six weeks once you let it slip, when you could address the root fears driving all of those desires and make meaningful change to your every day.

What if instead of asking yourself what you want your life you look like, you asked yourself what you’re most scared of it looking like?

If you don’t change a thing, what are the most frightening consequences?

What will you look back on in 2021 or 2030 and wish you’d changed?

Here are my biggest fears for 2021:

  • I’ll be in the same job, at the same place I work today.
  • I’ll have given up weightlifting for Jiu Jitsu.
  • I won’t have completed the first draft of my book.

The dread I feel imagining a version of myself not having got these things done is more than motivation enough to see them through.

Don’t promise yourself you’ll become a superhero tomorrow.

Promise yourself you’ll be a better version of yourself than you are today.

Pursuits are the infinite games we play which involve clear feedback and trackable progress.

Playing slot machines can never be a pursui because there’s no way to get better at it; over time, you’re guaranteed to lose.

However, playing poker could be a pursuit. There are a set of skills involved which can be honed over time with practice.

Pursuits are not habits, but they can involve habitual practice.

Mixed Martial Arts is a pursuit which benefits greatly from a habitual routine.

Pursuits are the goals we set which never end.

They’re the things which over time we wish to master. Which we do for the sake of continuing to do them.

Nobody ever wakes up and realises that they’ve mastered a pursuit.

Mastery is not a destination, it’s a practice.

“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.”

Benjamin Disraeli

Irrespective of how many good reasons one can collect to remain unhappy, inaction is the only way to guarantee that the unhappiness will stick around.

We’re not responsible for the hand we’re dealt, but we are responsible for the way we play it.

If you’re not seizing every moment you’ve been gifted, you’re not doing everything you can to be happy. It’s simple as that.

This means that nearly none of us are doing everything we can to better our lives. This sounds bleak, but it’s actually the opposite.

Inherent in every future day is the potential to grow.

Aim to grow 1% happier each day, and you’ll be stunned how quickly life feels like it’s turning around.

Today I agreed to the terms of a big project with a mentor I value greatly.

We discussed objectives, expectations and a timeline. We scheduled meetings and identified the research I need to complete before starting.

I was warned not to work too hard over Christmas (a holiday I don’t care for), lest I spoil it for myself.

And at by end of our conversation we had a agreement;

On February 18th 2020 I will deliver the first 5000 words of a creative non-fiction text accompanied by a book proposal.

Exactly how this will go, at this point, is impossible to tell.

While the prospect a full length book is daunting, but there is no doubt in my mind that I can get the work done. What’s up for debate is whether or not it’ll be any good.

If it is, 2020 could shape up to be a year to remember. If not, there’ll be a whole lot of learning which gets done.

Either way, the possibility that I could be on the path to authorship as early as February excites my every fibre.

Watch this space. Big things are inbound.