Handle With Care: Four Tips For Anyone Who Has Failed

We all know that missing a goal feels bad. Like really bad. And it’s easy to feel like we deserve beating ourselves up or ruminating on a particular shortcoming for far too long.

Before we know we it, we're believing all the negative thoughts we're thinking. But when we feed our failure with our doubt(or low self-confidence or disbelief in our intelligence or…)we’re only feeding a monster that’s lying to us and trying to create even bigger problems for us in the end.

Okay, right. We may “know” this, but how do we actually stop internalizing our failures?

We tend to see our own goals as a simple equation:If our drive exceeds the challenge of a goal then we have success, and if our drive doesn’t rise to the occasion, we have failed.

Will Power > Challenge = Success

But there are so many more factors beyond our own drive as to why a goal will be made or missed. Sure, our willpower plays a significant role, but what about the other factors that go into it. Things like our environment, support network, resources, amount of time we have, natural ability. Is our goal too high, too fast, too broad?

Say it with me,

Our goals are fragile."

We believe our goals are actually pretty fragile and could benefit from a shift in how we see success and failure. Self-reliance is one thing, but what about self-reflection? 

Here are four times our goals are at their most fragile.

1. Our goals are fragile when we lack clarity
2. Our goals are fragile when we don't understand our motivations
3. Our goals are fragile when we feel fatigued
4. Our goals are fragile when see failure as final

We know it can be painful, but spending time examining our failures, specifically so we can shift how we react to our failures, will help. 


1. Our goals are fragile when we lack clarity

An undefined goal is one of the biggest reasons a goal will fail. January is the perfect time to throw out new visions for ourselves. “I want to lose weight” “I want to read more” or “I want to be more intentional” but without clarity, that ‘goal’ is little more than a wish.

We need goals that make us feel in control. The more specific you are about the goal, the more control you feel, and the higher chance of success you have.

The more specific you are about the goal, the more control you feel,
and the higher chance of success you have.

So instead of “I want to lose weight in 2022” we say “I want to lose 10lbs by May.”

Instead of “I want to read more” we say “I want to read 12 books in 2022.”

Instead of “I want to be more intentional” we say “I want to volunteer at a community center,” or “I want to get to know my neighbors more.”

You get the idea.

A goal without specifics, without a framework, gives you little information if you’re on your way to failure or success.

Defining your goal grants clarity because it provides deeper knowledge of the situation, the ability to access what’s in your control and what isn’t, and gives a clearer picture of when to pivot.


We may set goals that aren’t achievable due to time constraints, lack of resources, or other commitments, so it’s helpful to pause and reflect on the bigger picture to learn what will affect your ability to make your goal. Questions to ask yourself: What do I need to complete this? When will I have time for this? What am I willing to give up to make this happen? As you address these questions, keep in mind that it’s okay to take things slow and steady. You need to feel in control and if that means taking things a bit slower, that’s okay. It will just increase your chance of success.


 With every goal there will be certain aspects that our outside of your control, and finding clarity over those things is vital to understanding what you do have control over.  Say you have a goal of  losing weight or developing a better relationship with your partner. Each of those have some pretty big outside components: your metabolism and a whole other person, so to be successful you have to know what is within your ability to change. Things like the amount of sleep you get, how much water your drink, and the amount you exercise are things you can control to lose weight. How intentional you are in showing love, reading to get better at communication, or learning how to offer a sincere apology are all things you can control to better your relationships.


We’re giving you permission to see your goals as fluid. Maybe you wanted to save $5,000 by April, but working that gig job was taking a bigger toll on you than you expected. It’s okay to lower that goal to $2,000. Or maybe you wanted to jump off the high dive by March, but upon remembering you’re not that strong a swimmer you think maybe you should change it successfully swimming 10 laps without stopping. Pivoting is not failure. It takes courage to look at where you are honestly and adjust to a new end goal. In fact, spending some time analyzing along the way only increases your likelihood of success, as you become more engaged in the process.

2. Our goals are fragile when we don't understand our motivations

And by motivation we don’t simply mean your willpower or drive (we already said that alone isn't enough), but knowing the reason behind why you started your goal in the first place. 

Be it external or internal, our goals are going to be challenged, and we need something big to keep what’s important in perspective. We need to really believe in the goal we’re chasing. Which means we have to dig deep to learn Why We Do What We Do.

But how do you know what really drives that dream, that goal? And how do you increase your belief in something? This is where the practice of self-reflection is beneficial because it can help us grow in both areas.


We do a lot of things for reasons we don’t fully understand. And that’s fairly evolutionary. Our brains automate a lot of our decisions to save time, save us from fatigue, or save our lives.

So it takes a little work to uncover the deeper meanings to why a goal or a dream is important to us, beyond the surface-y answers (whatever those might be.)

As a journaling company, we think everyone should spend time getting to know themselves, but especially when it comes to changing how we tackle goals and failure.

In a previous article, we wrote about five practical ways to begin self-reflection that are really transferable to help us uncover our desires and you can check that article out here.

The benefits of self-reflection and journaling are numerous and well studied. It’s why we started Restwell and why we create our journals and prompts. In preparation for talking about goals, we’ve partnered with Eli Carrier to create a journaling prompt that helps you explore past goal attempts, your motivations, and helps you set your intentions as you approach your next challenge. We created it as a help to you as you reflect through your “why.”

While we hope to be a resource to you, you certainly don’t need our journals or prompts to reflect on your intentions in setting a goal. We’d love your support, but ultimately what’s most important to us is that this is a good process for you. All you need is a pen, paper, and some honesty with yourself as you explore the motivations that led you to set the goal in the first place.


Any time we begin processing something theoretical or intangible, like a future goal, our brain forms neural pathways just like it does for real-life events. This process takes something that’s not quite a reality and begins to integrate it into our lives, increasing our belief in and desire to do it. Writing thoughts down is one of the best ways to form those pathways in your brain and we’ve written about this in a previous article that you can check out here.

3. Our goals are fragile when we feel fatigued

There is simply no way around it, change just takes time. But it’s really hard to live in that space between the Now and the Not Yet. If you’re doing what you need to be doing there’s nothing that speeds up this process, but having a sense of progress can keep you from feeling that mental and emotional fatigue.

After extensive study of the knowledge workplace, author Teresa Amabile concludes that “Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.

Basically, our perception of progress is very important. But how do we see our progress when it’s microscopic?


Small wins allow you to remain in control of varying environments and keep a sense of momentum. Your small wins should be something you can achieve multiple times and something you control.

Let’s refer back to our earlier examples:

Instead of “I want to lose weight in 2022” we said, “I want to lose 10lbs by May.”

Now we say “I want to lose 10lbs by May by running 4x a week and cutting out fast food.”

Instead of “I want to read more” we said, “I want to read 12 books in 2022.”

Now we say, “I want to read 12 books in 2022 by reading 1 book a month.”

Instead of “I want to be a more intentional person” we said “I want to volunteer once a week” or “I want to invite my neighbors over”

Now we say, “I want to volunteer once a week at the community center” or “I want to invite each neighbor over for dinner once a month.”

At the end of the day, it’s those successfully accomplished small wins you should celebrate. It’s what will give you the motivation to get through the difficult times where your reality hasn’t quite caught up to the effort you’ve been putting in.

4. Our goals are fragile when see failure as final

So it’s halfway through February and all your energy to manifest ‘New Year New Me’ is beginning to wane with each passing day. You’re 6 days behind on doing whatever you said you were going to do, and even the 20 minutes spent journaling hasn’t done enough to keep you from spiraling. Those feelings of guilt and inability are creeping in and you feel like a failure, but you’re definitely not going to confront them. You turn on another season of Survivor, grab that bag of Veggie Straws, and defer your shame for another day.

This is a dark tale we’re weaving sure, but also honestly accurate (I mean, we didn't just make up that watching Survivor / Veggie Straw binge bit.) 

But let's ask a question here: what is failure? As we know it now, it’s a motivation killer, confidence thief, and self-worth annihilator. It’s a brick wall. A period. Something to hide and forget.

Straight up–that definition of failure is wrong. Yes, failure can be a dead-end. We aren't suggesting that you can always realize every dream. But that point we're trying to make is that it isn't always a dead-end. Failure can be a speed bump, ellipses, or comma. A resting place or a fork in the road. 
I mean this in the least cheesy way I possibly can (and a past more cynical me wouldn’t believe it), but every failure is genuinely a learning opportunity that can turn out to strengthen your ability to complete a goal, instead of undermining it. And before you write me off (as I would’ve!) check out the well-researched idea of “intention implementation,” which puts “failure” in a healthier, reality-based, light.


Interestingly the strength of your desire or intentions only accounts for about 20 to 30% of the variance in success rates of completing a goal. A better indicator of success turns out to be past behavior.

Think of it this way, each time you set out to complete a goal there are a number of obstacles that pop up. Things like: mental fatigue, emotional stress, competing desires, bad habits, and rumination all tax our decision-making capabilities and can derail our new goal.

If we spend some time learning from our “failures” and examine what derailed us, we can begin making what Gollwitzer calls “intention implementation.” This is where you couple an understanding of how you’ve failed in the past with a detailed and practical application of a new goal. This is the real strength of our “failures.”

For instance, when you tried to get up at 6 am for that first missed run and didn’t, you originally blamed it on your lack of willpower. But upon further examination of your “failure”, you realize that you’ve been having a hard time getting up at 6 am because you’ve stayed up late the past few nights on your phone. This time around you decide to turn off your phone an hour before you sleep and wear your running clothes to bed. This helps you get up on time while cutting down on the time it takes to get ready in the morning, allowing you more time to attend to your running goal.

Intention implementation takes an understanding of self (I’m prone to sleep in & have little time in the morning) and creates a practical path (I’ll go to sleep early and put on running clothes the night before) to automate decisions. That way, in the morning you don’t have to make the decision to get ready to run, you’re already good to go, increasing your likelihood of success.

This also works with bad habits that will inevitably pop up during your goals as well, like staying up too late on your phone. You’ve done some self-examination and know you tend to spend extra time on your phone, social media in particular, when you feel disconnected from your friends. This time you decide to use intention implementation. When you’re feeling a little disconnected or left out, you decide to text a friend to set up a time to catch up instead of your normal habit of getting on social media. This too takes an understanding of self (I’m prone to feeling lonely after my work is done) and creates a practical plan (I will make plans with friends, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out).

The most helpful part of this method is that it automates decision-making in the moment and increases your likelihood of success. While your brain is busy attending to other things, the solution remains available to you. So next time you begin feeling lonely after work, you’re no longer wondering how to fix it and go for the easiest (but usually unhelpful) solution of social media. Instead, you’re able to skip the decision-making process and go straight to the desired action. You already know exactly what you’ve decided to do (text a friend) because you made the decision earlier when you were clearer-headed and not feeling lonely.

Perhaps all this seems a little convoluted when considering a running habit, however, it is often the case that other habits will take attention from the new ones we are trying to establish. In such cases, a plan like this goes a long way. Yes, it takes some time to understand yourself and the nuances of how you pursue a goal, but it’s worth the effort. And examining our failures to create a map for how we respond in the future is perhaps the most beneficial thing we can do for our pursuit of goals.

Stay Encouraged

There’s seldom a better teacher than failure if we are brave enough to face it. Don’t waste those past attempts at achieving a goal, but examine and learn from them. 

Remember, change is complex. There are so many nuances to pursuing your goals that past failures should not have much sway (if any) over your view of self.

Finally, all of this takes a good deal of self-examination. It’s for this reason we’ve partnered with Eli Carrier (slow goals extraordinaire) to create a journaling prompt that helps you explore past goal attempts, your motivations, and helps you set your intentions as you approach your next challenge.

Slow and steady wins the race.

We'll leave you with this quote from Eli because she sums it up best,

"Whatever your goal is, it's going to require change and effort to get there.
Progress does not require perfection. Change does not require perfection. habits to not require perfection. They just take trying again and again. Practicing over and over, until it gets comfortable. Until it's less effort and more autopilot.
It takes time, and giving yourself grace to get up and try again when you slip up, over and over. Which you will do, because you're human.
But every effort you make is a brick on the pile, and one day, you will step back and see you built something."

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