Life isn’t—and perhaps shouldn’t be—about absolute perfection. Setting and striving for ambitious goals offers a certain joy in the journey and anticipated achievement. And yet, sometimes, we face roadblocks, interference and struggle. We’re not operating in “flow.” Our plans go awry.
“The best laid plans of mice and men” should read, “the best laid plans of mice, men and doc students!” (If you’re not a doctoral student, substitute your role into the phrase.) Relationships need to be nurtured and maintained. Information you need is not accessible. People you count on do not come through. Interruptions and distractions impede progress. The “bug” circulating in your community slams you, tapping your resilience. Life happens. And you miss a target, self-imposed or one set by others.
I embrace the domain of goal setting with enthusiasm. Aspirations are not only challenging in content (hello, “doc student”), but time span. My style is to set personal deadlines in advance of any “real” deadlines. Achieving personal deadlines creates a win—gifting me with time to share or pursue broad interests. The difference between the “personal” and “real” deadline creates “slack”—time that can be consumed in an adaptation to the original plan as needed. (Process geeks reading this description will recognize “critical chain” methodologies.)
So, how do you recover when intention and reality collide? I use a three-step process: Clearing, Analyzing, Reorienting—a “car” to take me to my goal:
- Clearing requires taking a break—a separation from the issue at hand. Taking a walk (or a nap!). Going for coffee. Working out. Tapping into fun and laughter. Whatever the “clearing” activity, the key involves focusing on the moments and the people I’m with, and resolutely NOT consciously allocating brain time to the challenge.
- Analyzing involves recognizing equally what was and what wasn’t working and contemplating my assumptions, beliefs and values—how am I “being” and not just how am I “doing.” What had I anticipated, and which if-then strategies had I employed successfully? What did I miss? What did I not do, that I should have?
- Reorienting incorporates two components. The external “technical” piece is a simple plan modification—what occurs when on a calendar. I also own the internal element of assuring I live consistent with my values, learn from and adapt to environmental change, and both prioritize my engagement with others and harmonize who I am within what I seek to do.
There are times I feel aligned with the universe—expansive, empowered and maximizing potential beyond the conventionally possible. And I have times where I am acutely aware of my own humanness. Reconciling the two involves faith, courage, a sense of humor, committing to act on my intentions . . . and, sometimes, taking a car ride.
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