A world full of black and white with no grays would be a simpler world. Take math, for instance. There really are no gray areas with math. Math is like reality television. Some people love it. Most people disdain it. Everyone sort of tolerates its existence and understands its place in society. Math is black-and-white, right or wrong. Nearly every equation has one answer — of all the number (and sometimes letter) combinations in the world, there is one right answer. Just one. You are either right or wrong.
Life is not pass/fail. There is a lot of wiggle room, mostly because of perception. When it comes to goal-setting, we tend to see things as being like a math equation. “I want to lose 20 pounds in six months.” If you don’t make it — fail! “I want to be out of graduate school by the time I’m 28.” You are 3/4 of the way there at 29. Fail!
Our perception of what happens is far more important than what actually happens. Things that happen to us or things we do are just that, things. We then use perception to evaluate those things and assign values to them. If Bill Gates finds a $100 bill on the ground, he might laugh and kick it around a little, amazed they still make money in such insignificant amounts. A homeless man could stumble across that same $100 bill, but his perception of finding the cash would be a lot different. The money is exactly the same, but the reaction is different because of the value assigned to that cash based on perception.
Do you know people who never let anything bother them? These people are so annoying, but oh so cool. They are faced with some life-altering difficulty and face it with a smile while you wonder, “What are you doing? How do you remain calm and deal with all this?” They just keep their smile and say something like, “It’s all good. I don’t sweat the small stuff.” You then walk away and curse them under your breath because you were hoping for some sort of secret to be revealed.
Now think about the people you know who catastrophize. These individuals freak out every time they get a hangnail. They are screaming about quitting their job because the printer won’t work (it’s not even turned on). What is the difference between these people and Joe Cool? Perception. Stop and think about it. The things that happen to you are just things. Quit assigning so much value to the things and examine your perceptions.
Let’s put all of this in the scope of goal-setting. Goal-setting is not algebra; it’s not right/wrong or pass/fail. There is no such thing as failure. You cannot fail when trying to reach your goals. You’re probably thinking you fail every year about five weeks after New Year’s. Your perception is off. Failure is a lie based on a faulty perception.
Here are two steps to adjust your perceptions:
- Change the question
Faulty perceptions lead us to wonder what happened, why we’re not strong enough, why we cannot ever seem to jump over that hurdle. Instead, ask yourself what you learned. If you learn and grow in any way, you have achieved. Change your perception.
- Recognize the small victories
Change begets change, positive momentum can snowball, and progress is progress. Did you shoot for 20 pounds and only lose five? You lost five pounds and you are lighter than when you started. Sure, you didn’t achieve everything you wanted, but you made progress. Did you want to be debt-free by the end of the year but still have some lingering liabilities? You are in less debt than when you started, right? That’s progress and progress is success.
It is human nature to look at the negatives and start a shame spiral. But a small change in perception can be the difference between success and failure. After all, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.
Girl doing math photo available from Shutterstock