Did I do it? Yes or no! It’s a powerful question.
Did I accomplish what I said I was going to accomplish?
Did I measure up? It’s judgment day. The hook.
For many of us, this is a challenging maybe even scary question.
Did I do it? Yes or no!
We struggle with the potential judgment embedded in the question. To answer yes is good. To answer no is bad. Right?
The threat to our wellbeing looms in the question’s specificity. You can’t wriggle out of it. It’s black and white.
For those of us who struggle with this question, there are two classic strategies to avoid it.
First, don't set goals. Then you never have to ask this question, which is pretty convenient.
If that doesn’t work, and you are forced to set goals then deploy the second strategy. Choose a goal that you're guaranteed to hit. It’s a classic response. If you put a target 2 feet in front of you, bullseyes are the most likely outcome.
But, what if this question has nothing to do with your wellbeing and happiness? What if it’s a question that, if asked correctly, will help you become happier?
The key is to learn the practice of non-judgmental evaluation. I admit that sounds like an oxymoron. Evaluation is judgy.
Non-judgmental evaluation is the process of evaluating your results without engaging the GOOD/BAD distinction.
Hitting your goal is no longer the definition of good. Missing your goal isn’t bad.
Both are data.
When we teach non-judgemental evaluation we still use the Green Light, Yellow Light, and Red Light system to evaluate outcomes. But this is a metaphor.
Are Red Lights at intersections bad? No. Without them, you’d have chaos, wrecks, and inefficient traffic flows.
When using non-judgemental evaluation we still check in with our progress and evaluate our results. How did it go?
The key is the next question. We avoid assigning moral value to the outcomes. Green might not be good. Red might not be bad. We don’t know yet.
Instead, we ask a second question.
What did you learn?
And learning is helpful. Not learning is unhelpful.
Think of it this way…
Let’s say last year you hit all your goals. Green lights all the way. Is that good? I don’t know. What did you learn? Maybe your goals didn’t stretch you at all. Maybe you left a lot of opportunities on the table. Maybe you lived in fear last year.
Or, say you hit a big red light. What did you learn? Maybe an idea that you thought was brilliant turned out to be ineffective, and now have the data to pivot to a more productive option. Isn’t that how innovation works?
So, I encourage you to set goals that matter to you, that stretch you, and that come from an intrinsically motivated place. Because the underlying question is not “Are you good or bad?” It’s the pursuit of learning and we all want to be lifelong learners.
And, here’s a little secret that might help. There are no bullseyes in goal-setting.
Let me say that again. There are no bullseyes in goal-setting. It’s not what targets are for.
We’ll talk more about that next week.