Failing to Achieve a Goal: How do You Measure Success?

Have you ever set a goal for yourself and then not achieved it 100%?  How did that make you feel?  If you have ever failed anything in your life read on; if you are 100% successful, exit and write an article for the rest of us to emulate you.  True resilience is built on the notion that you learn from your failures and adjust as necessary to be more successful in the future.  In fact, that is the measure of true success and not just blind luck.  

    This weekend I raced in one of the biggest paddleboard races on the East Coast.  It is the Carolina Cup and it attracted the largest crowd of any race in the world, over 500 total racers.  If anyone has taken my 2 day Mission Based Resilience Course (and I truly hope that you have), we develop Resilience Training Plans (RTPs) in the four human dimensions: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.  During the course of the class, I use examples from my own life to show students what a training plan looks like.  Every training plan has 3 components:


  1. Mission/Goal (quantifiable and temporal, i.e. linked to a time and date)
  2. Execution/Tasks (that support the Mission/Goal) 
  3. Accountability in the form of a swim buddy 


    My Physical Resilience Training Plan for this past weekend was to finish the race in the top 10% of the field at the Carolina Cup.  I executed the plan over the past 4 months with rigorous Stand Up Paddleboard training, weight/resistance training, Heart Rate Training, nutrition, and even sleep and visualization training.  I was ready and I was being held accountable by my peers every step of the way. I felt strong during the race and after a shaky start, I got into my groove and finished the race feeling better than I have ever felt.  My heart rate definitely showed that I had pushed myself.  However, I failed to finish in the top 10%.  I was happy with my performance, since I shaved nearly 45 minutes from my time from last year, finishing the race in 2 hours, 36 minutes.  All things being equal, I DID NOT accomplish the goal that I set out for myself.  This happens to us a lot, doesn’t it?  What do we do about it?  What steps do we take?  Using the right methodology with these simple goals (such as the one mentioned above) will help us to develop strong habits of resilience when a more important goal is not attained.

    I think in our society we tend to try to make everyone “feel good” which is a noble effort.  However, achieving excellence has never, and will never be linked to simply making people “feel good.”  Ask yourself this question: if you have set a goal lately (and I hope that you have), is it a realistic goal?  Is it too easy that you know that you will achieve it?  Is it too difficult and lofty that you may never achieve it?  Hint: both of the aforementioned statements need to be adjusted.  Choose a goal that is realistic, challenging, yet attainable.  To grow, you must challenge yourself; that applies to the psychological as well as the physical.  

    For me it is back to the drawing board on this race.  I have an average speed that I need to attain in order to break into the top 10% of the field 6mph.  That speed is well out of reach.  However, in order to break into the top 50% I need to have an average speed of 5.5 mph, which, in my opinion, is attainable.  So that will be my new goal.  A goal that is not too lofty (6mph), but challenging (my current pace is 5-5.2 mph).  Putting this much thought into your goals is important because it is not simply the fact that you are trying to go faster on a paddleboard or get a certain certification for your workplace.  It is the fact that you are striving and reaching for a goal and again learning the mechanics of how to do that!  That is more important than the goal itself.  

    How many of you have heard about the old adage that the journey is more important than the end?  That is what this is all about.  The struggle to achieve the goal, and the lessons that you learn from that struggle, is what is important.  So even if you fail at something and you don’t achieve your goal, the lessons that you learn and the character that you build result in overall true success.  So the next time somebody simply tries to pump you up after you have failed to achieve a goal, look at yourself critically and think, “what can I do and what adjustments do I need to make in order to accomplish this goal in the future?”  Don’t let the “feel good” mentality of this society lull you into a false sense of mediocrity.  Become successful not through your achievements, but in how you react and conquer your failures!  

Two of my 5 Kids and me at the Carolina Cup, right before the race!

Two of my 5 Kids and me at the Carolina Cup, right before the race!

Dr. N