Failed Resolutions Are the Most Important Ones
We know ourselves by knowing our patterns.
You might say unachieved goals are the most important goals in our lives.
For one, our lives are littered with unachieved goals. We spend far more time with our aspirations, dreams, efforts, lapses, and missteps than we do with our successes. Which is good: if your life isn’t strewn with unachieved goals, then you haven’t truly lived.
But unachieved goals are particularly important—perhaps even more important than the shiny and somewhat self-satisfied achievements in our lives—because they’re the ones that teach us the most about ourselves.
I’m thinking about this because of my failed resolution last year. I made the single resolution to walk 10,000 steps per day as a way to exercise in this claustrophobic pandemic that denies me access to my gym routine. I was fast out of the gate, striding well above 10,000 steps/day in January, even considering boosting my goal to 11,000 steps. That momentum carried me to a 10K average for the first six months of the year.
Then shit happened. A long trip to take care of my Mom. A lot of work stuff. A book deadline. A school year that actually happened for my daughter (which then required my shuttling services). And other stuff. My 10K/day slid, and then it slid again. I thought I could make a heroic comeback by the time some of the dust settled in October, but the dust didn’t really settle. It kept dusting.
Then, suddenly, in November, horror of horrors, it looked like I might dip below 9,000 steps as well—a humiliation. I was like a football team that starts the year 7-0 and ends the year 8-8. This potential failure caused me to regroup, and I finished with a streak of 10K days to keep my average above 9,000.
My surprise was that I found I was immensely happy with that 9,000 average. It wasn’t a failure; it was an achievement. If I hadn’t set the goal of 10,000, I probably would have only walked 5,000 steps per day, so the lesson was that the benefit of a goal isn’t necessarily in achieving it—it’s because it takes you beyond your normal level (and often takes you to other places).
In fact, I think the main point of a goal is the aspiration, direction, and focus it gives you—even when you fail.
I see this in National Novel Writing Month so often. The challenge of National Novel Writing Month is to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month. People often tell me they failed when they write only 10,000 or 25,000 words in a month, but those are a lot of words that would have otherwise been unwritten.
My unachieved goal invited so many questions that an achieved goal doesn’t:
Why didn’t I achieve it? Did external or internal obstacles (or both) stand in the way? What could I have done to overcome those obstacles?
Was my method was wrong?
Was my mindset wrong?
Was the goal truly important to me?
Now as I set out to hit 10,000 steps/day this year, I’ve got so much more knowledge of my daily patterns and shortcomings to work with. It’s like I took a course in my goal last year, and now I’m taking a higher-level course on the way to mastery. As a result of my earlier attempt, I have a whole body of experiences to reflect on to decide what I’ll do differently.
Since we’re embarking on a new year, and many are grappling with the embedded frustrations and likely failures that resolutions present, I want to stick up for goal-setting—especially when it comes to writing. Here are seven reasons why I like resolutions (which shouldn’t be set just at the beginning of a new year, but set, reset, and recalibrated through the year):
Goals get you to start. They ask you a simple question: How long are you going to wait to do the things you want to do?
Goals help you show up every day: The psychological reward of reaching a daily target is immense.
Goals provide focus: Reaching a goal is about choosing to do one thing over another.
Goals create momentum: A streak has a way of building on itself.
Goals get you to do more than you otherwise would: When I look at my steps after dinner, and I’ve only walked 7,000, I’m likely to go out for that other 3,000.
Goals build self-awareness: We know ourselves by knowing our patterns.
Goals help us identify what we care about: If we can’t make time for a goal, it might be a sign to turn our attention elsewhere.
We’re never truly in control of our lists. We never have enough time. The important thing is to be in charge of our time—to make it work for us instead of working for it. A goal helps us assert ourselves in a world that too often works to silence us.
Because a Haiku
The breeze picked up as if deciding what to take
Because a Quote
“When I'm writing, the curiosity pulls me forward. The work gets done when my terror is outpaced by my sense of urgency to speak.”
~ Ocean Vuong
Because Prompts Take Us to New Places
Use this photo as a prompt, as a random catalyst, as an igniter for any writing project you're working on.
All the Comfort Sin Can Provide
If you like this newsletter, please consider checking out my recently released collection of short stories, All the Comfort Sin Can Provide.
Lidia Yuknavitch said:“
Somewhere between sinister and gleeful the characters in Grant Faulkner’s story collection All the Comfort Sin Can Provide blow open pleasure—guilty pleasure, unapologetic pleasure, accidental pleasure, repressed pleasure.”