The question: I’m always setting daily goals and getting down on myself when I don’t achieve all of them. Any advice?
Just this past week, a bright, young recent law school graduate presented me with a similar problem. The young man, who claims to struggle with organization yet managed to pass the New York bar exam on the first try, explained to me that he is constantly making daily schedules and beating himself up when he doesn’t stick to them. When I encouraged him to cut himself a little slack, he replied, “If I were a robot, I would be able to meet my goals.”
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“Perhaps,” I replied. “But you’re not a robot.”
One of the common mistakes people make when setting goals, especially if they involve schedules, is that they base them on an external benchmark without accounting for their personal styles. Good goal-setting is an inside-out, not an outside-in job. If you set your goals and schedules according to what works for other people, without being honest about how and when you work best, you may find yourself continually frustrated and disappointed.
Whether we realize it or not, we all have individuals rhythms and preferences that guide our actions. For example, I’m not much of morning person, and I usually get my wind around 2 p.m. My best friend, on the other hand, is usually at the gym by 7 a.m. If, in creating my own workout goals, I based them on what works for her, I would be setting myself up for frustration and disappointment. Instead, I go in the late afternoon, or early evening.
The Myers Brigg’s Personality Type Indicator (MBTI) categorizes personality types across four different dimensions – Extraversion and Introversion, Intuition and Sensation, Feeling and Thinking, and Judging and Perceiving. The dimension that most governs how you structure your day (or don’t) is the latter one. Judgers (which, contrary to how it sounds, has nothing to do with being judgmental) like to have their ducks in a row. They like structure and have a natural affinity for keeping to schedules. Perceivers (who aren’t necessarily any more perceptive than the Judgers) prefer a more flexible approach to life – they go with the flow, so to speak. Neither judging nor perceiving is considered a more legitimate approach to life – both are equally valid. They just have different inclinations.
If you are a Perceiving type, may I suggest you set weekly goals, instead of daily ones. That will give you focus, while offering you more flexibility to get things done in your own way, in your own time. You might also think about when, during the day, you tend to have the most energy, and plan your schedule accordingly.
If you’re anything like me, there’s a method to your madness. You just need to figure it out and be gentle with yourself. Good luck!
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