Install firewalls to protect your goals

Do you have a firewall to protect your goals? I recently discovered my need for one.

Being self-critical by nature, I find I have a persistent thought that whatever I’ve done, I could have done better. Nowhere does that affect me more than when I don’t do something well at all; when I fail to live up to a promise or meet a goal. It’s at those times that my self-criticism can morph into shame, making me overly critical about everything I do. For example, I might get behind on a client commitment and feel so terrible about it, that it sours my enjoyment in other areas. How I feel about my work in one area ought not to spill over into the others, but it does. That’s when I discovered that I needed a firewall to protect my goals.

Firewalls are barriers designed to prevent the damage of a fire from destroying the whole structure. When it comes to our goals and dreams, installing personal firewalls can be an effective way to prevent failure in one goal from derailing our pursuit of others. This kind of firewall is not a physical barrier like those found in buildings, but rather practices we can engage in when we encounter failure. I have found four firewall practices to be particularly helpful:

  • Affirm the failure. It’s important to recognize that a failure did occur. Doing so affirms your responsibility for it, even if you weren’t wholly responsible for the outcome. Only then can you begin to investigate the source of the fire: What kind of failure was it? Was it a failure to start? A failure of quality? Timeliness? Agreement? The reasons for failure are manifold. Knowing the type of failure you experienced helps you to discern how that failure might also be affecting your other goals. For instance, is your failure to undertake a task in a timely manner true of other pursuits as well?
  • Reaffirm the value of failure. Failure is not saying something about me; it’s saying something to me. The former is shame (I’m a failure); the latter is learning (I failed). There’s a difference. Shame multiplies failure. Learning minimizes it. Recording what you’ve learned can help cement the distinction. Some of the ideas I shared in an earlier post, Recreating your mental culture, may be helpful here.
  • Define the cure period actions. Business partnerships are defined by the contractual agreements between two or more parties. If an agreement is breached, typically the non-complaint party enters into a “cure period.” This is a pre-negotiated period of time by which the offending party can make things right. Usually, it takes an extraordinary response to cure the breech. The same may be true when you’ve experienced a failure in one of your pursuits as well. Evaluate what adjustments you can make to remedy the situation and get back on track. You’ll likely need to set aside time expressly for this.
  • Celebrate successes. It’s terrific thing to celebrate the success of a once-doomed pursuit that you’ve turned around. But it’s also a vital firewall measure to celebrate the successes you are having in other areas even in the midst of a turnaround. Don’t allow failure in one area to rob you of the joy that comes from your achievements in others. Instead, express gratitude for the many gifts and opportunities you’ve been given.

Some fires can take out structures regardless of the number of firewalls installed. There may be catastrophic personal failures like that too, but those are less frequent than the smaller ones we experience. It’s my hope that these simple firewall practices may keep your smaller failures from torching your many other present successes.

Your comments: What practices have you found effective to build a firewall around your goals?

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