Success in any area of life isn’t just a result of high personal standards—it also depends on how we react when we fall short of those standards.
For example, let’s say you’ve set a goal of logging 10,000 steps a day, and that after a week of 10,000-step-days, you logged only 2,500 steps yesterday.
One response is to let yourself off the hook completely: “Well, I can’t hit 10,000 every day. No big deal.” This response is too lax—a serious goal deserves a serious commitment.
On the other hand, it’s possible to way overreact: “I can’t believe I screwed this up—I had a streak going! What is wrong with me? I’m never going to get in shape if I can’t even walk 10,000 steps a day. I can’t do anything right.” This kind of self-flagellation, typical of high-achieving perfectionists, is no better. Facing failure is necessary, but beating ourselves up over it is neither helpful nor virtuous. Even when this approach works, it breeds misery.
The key, I think, is to walk a narrow middle path: to take personal failures seriously without reading too much into them. Such an approach might sound like this: “I didn’t log 10,000 steps today. That’s not good—I need to hit this goal every day. What can I do to make sure I get back on track tomorrow?” The idea is to acknowledge and address the failure without fixating on it or attaching too much negative meaning to it.
Our reaction to falling short of our own high standards is just as important as the standards themselves. Let’s deal with our shortcomings, but let’s do it dispassionately.