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How to Know If Your Goals Are Realistic

Switching is not quitting!

Derek lived by the adage, “reach for the stars.” He believed that any position except at the very top was worthless. He did not realize that some of his lofty aspirations were beyond his true capabilities, and he was often disappointed and unhappy.

Many people say: “If you want to attain a goal, go for it! Just do it!” And when people fail to achieve what they set out to do, they are often told, “You’re just not trying hard enough.” This criticism is often incorrect, and sometimes quite destructive.

For example, one of my clients, let’s call him Bob, felt like a failure because, try as he might, he was never able to build a muscular physique or develop into a good athlete. His father and two brothers were all very athletic and well-built. Bob admired them greatly and wanted to emulate them, but unfortunately, he had not inherited their physical characteristics and natural athletic abilities. Instead of deluding himself about being capable of becoming an athlete, Bob needed to stop trying to be like his father and brothers and to pursue goals that lay within his reach.

Another client, Sean, steered clear of the gym and organized sports (despite the fact that his father was a physical education teacher). Instead, he became an accomplished, tournament chess and bridge player.

It is important to strike a balance between perseverance and knowing when to quit. You need to assess your interests, abilities and goals and take an honest self-inventory. If a goal lies within your grasp, by all means go for it. But if the effort and strain is too much, you need to reassess the situation.

The reality is that a person cannot always accomplish something he or she tries to. Like it or not, we all have limitations as well as strengths and aptitudes. While it is often said that perseverance is the key to success, it is more likely that it is only one important ingredient. Genetically determined capabilities are also an essential part of the formula.

For example, a reasonably talented person who desperately wants to be a pianist and composer might practice diligently for 80 years and still not be half as good Mozart was when he was only eight. Similarly Einstein had an innate genius as does Usain Bolt. Thus, no matter how hard or long a person tries, he or she could simply lack the genetic potential to be a world class physicist or olympic athlete and might be better off adjusting expectations or finding another direction altogether.

So, while it is true that "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again," it is also true, as Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." (I hope the political and literary purists will kindly forgive the Emerson quote within this context.)

Hence, don’t try to split a granite rock by banging your head on it! Or, to use a different metaphor, remember to shift gears.

If your plans are not working out and you are feeling tired, discouraged and frustrated, try something else.

A “switcher” is not the same as a quitter. A quitter does not give something a proper try but throws in the towel prematurely, just as soon as the going gets tough. But, if you give something a real effort and are still unsuccessful, taking a different direction can remove your frustration, and you’ll likely grow as a result.

Remember: Think well, act well, feel well, be well!

Copyright by Clifford N. Lazarus. Ph.D.