There's nothing better than missing the target. Well, hitting the target is fun too, but I'll tell ya, there's a ton of joy in missing the target.
If I missed a target it means I set one to begin with, and I consider that to be a win...a huge win. Often I'll step back and ask myself, "what's my target here?" only to find that I had no target in mind. Without a target I never truly know if I did what I set out to do. You can set targets for long-term goals or little things, like how you want to spend the next hour of your time, or how you want to greet your spouse the next time you see them.
The key is that you view missing the target to be just as much, if not more fun than actually hitting the target. That may sound preposterous, but I'll share more as to how that can happen over time.
Below I'll share three frameworks that help me have fun setting, hitting, and missing the targets I set for myself. For each I'll share a recent example in my life of how I used that framework. In doing so, I hope to help you see how you can more readily bring this approach to the targets you set and the joy with which you pursue them.
Win or Learn
Let's break down the beauty of this framework using an example of the running target I set for myself in 2020: to run a half marathon in under 1:45:00.
If I had managed to hit the target (I didn't), then I could have counted that as a...
I could have celebrated the fact that I set a target, that presumably I trained to make it happen, and that I was ultimately able to do the thing I set out to do. In winning, it is still important to evaluate how appropriate the target was. Did I forgo other obligations to train and nearly hurt myself in the process? Then perhaps the target needs to be expanded into not only an outcome goal but also the way I approached my target. Or if I easily finished the half marathon in 1:35:00 (10 minutes less than expected), then perhaps I need to stretch myself in the target I set.
But as I mentioned, I did not hit my target last year. Therefore I had the opportunity to...
I learned how hard it can be to train for a long race in a fast (for me) time without much direction or planning and how challenging it can be to train without a race date on the calendar. I also learned that I didn't truly put in the time after setting my target to figure out how I wanted to make it happen, and why making it happen mattered to me.
I have so much fun learning because I now have the opportunity to apply all that I've learned to set a new target and give myself another chance to win. Not only that, but this learning will extend far beyond the athletic or running targets I set for myself, it will extend into all future targets I create.
Though I don't wish to blend tools too heavily today, the missing of this target provided me with data as to what does not work in hitting a target. We'll now switch to a more mundane example of how my girlfriend and I use the data we receive from our puppy Leon to iterate and improve moving forward.
Gathering Data Like a Scientist
This is our first time raising a puppy together and my first time having a dog. In that, Andie and I acknowledge that we won't always hit the mark when it comes to raising our very energetic puppy, Leon. Because of that, we're willing to bring levity to raising him, understanding that we won't always get things right.
But when we set targets for him, we're running experiments in which we gather data on what works and what doesn't.
These examples are going to be excruciatingly mundane, but I will aim to make sharing them worth your while. (Setting targets in this article!!!)
Leon is sometimes a picky eater, yet we have a target for him being big and strong when he grows up. Because of that, we're willing to experiment with how, when, and what we feed him. Over time, we've gathered data on what works for him and what doesn't.
Eating from his bowl while it's in the bowl stand doesn't work, eating directly after a run doesn't work, eating plain dog food by itself doesn't typically work...in experimenting with each of these things (and countless other permutations), we've gathered data on what doesn't work. Fortunately, we've also gathered data on what does work: eating from his food bowl on the ground, after a walk, with small bits of treats occasionally mixed in to maintain his curiosity.
Why am I sharing all of this? Because as Leon's data scientists, the data Andie and I receive in running these experiments is neutral.
By neutral I mean that the data is what it is and it isn’t packed with some hidden agenda. We try X, and Y happens. Does that help us all move closer to the target? Yes? Great, let's do more of that.
There's a reason a puppy was our subject here...it's because it can be very hard to be both the subject and the scientist at the same time. Why? Because we like to be hard on ourselves. The data doesn't feel neutral when we are examining our own behaviors, but I encourage you to make your future experimentation as neutral as possible.
Back to my half marathon target, after consideration and more planning, I decided to set the same target for myself again this year. As I work towards my goal, I'll be gathering as much data as I can and aiming to use it as neutrally as possible to create a plan moving forward.
How are my training times? Am I on track? When I eat this before a run, how do I feel? When I sleep more or less than this amount, how does that affect my run? How do I feel during and after an early morning run?
And most importantly it’s about gathering data neutrally when I might otherwise be upset with myself. It’s about turning what could be shame in skipping a training run into curiosity. Instead of “Lazy me, of course I skipped my run, I’m never going to hit this goal”, it’s “Interesting, I wonder what led me to not be up for my run today. Could X, Y, Z have played a role? I wonder if I had approached my morning differently, how that could have played a factor in this result. I wonder, when could I plan to run next?”
Gathering data allows us the opportunity to take our next steps with alignment and confidence.
Set a target, run some experiments, and use the neutral data to take the next (targeted) steps towards your target.
The Creator's Question
In both tools above, the target remained the same after some learning and gathering of data, but this won't always be the case.
So the next time you miss a target, use the data to learn from it, and remember that you are not a victim to having missed the target. You are a creator of what happens next. As you may recall from prior articles, the creator has a question it likes to ask: What Do I Want?
You may decide that you still want to hit the target you set, and that's great. You now have learned from missing the target once and have useful data that can help you approach the target better this next time.
You may also decide that the target you set was not appropriate, and that's great too. Now, what do you want?
Remember, for the application and benefit of these tools to be possible, we have to have targets in the first place. That could be a target for how you wish to be remembered, or what you hope to accomplish in 2021, or how you wish to spend the next hour of your life.
What do you want?
What's your target?