What If "Doing Your Best" Isn't The Ideal Way To Reach Your Goal?

Aug 06, 2022

What if "doing your best" isn't the ideal way to reach your goal?

(Photo by Pixabay)

When to do your best

"Do your best" works for complex tasks that are unfamiliar to a person and require them to learn. It's better for a new trial to be presented as a challenge, rather than pass/fail.

The freedom to use a trial-and-error strategy allows for exploration. It creates an environment that's more open to risk-taking. Being able to learn while trying something new can reduce performance anxiety. 

These are situations like: "Find as many ways to solve this problem as you can." Or "Learn as much about this program as you can."

Challenge yourself

When setting an unfamiliar goal, it should be framed as a positive challenge. Especially if it involves a lot of learning or practice.[228] You don't want to commit yourself to being an expert at something in a short amount of time. That’s too much pressure. But, you could challenge yourself to do it for a certain amount everyday. 

Let's look at someone who wants to start playing the guitar. They could commit to 30 minutes of practice a day for 3 months, then evaluate their progress. This would be more helpful than setting an initial goal to be a professional player in 3 months. With the first goal, it leaves room for learning, trial-and-error, and takes some of the pressure off. They can get a baseline (or bass-line... sorry, I couldn't help myself) of how quickly they're picking it up.

Focusing on your achievements will keep you from feeling like trying to change is a lost cause. Word your goals as challenges, something to be better at or to improve in a positive way. Negative goals can focus your attention on what you aren't doing instead of how you’re improving. Everyone has a little slip up every once in a while, but that shouldn't keep you from continuing to try.

When not to do your best

What if you're familiar with the task? In this situation, it would be best to have a clear goal or challenge.

Let's look at someone who has been playing guitar for years. They usually jam and now they would like to put together a whole album. Since this is a space they would be mostly familiar with, they could set specific milestones. Such as having an outline of the theme by a specific time, or finishing one song a week. But if they try their best in this situation, they may not finish as quickly. Why is that?

The reason for this is that we're not good at recognizing or measuring what our "best" actually is. Trying a bit harder than average might be what we think our best effort is. A specific goal requires that it must be complete, by whatever effort it demands.[228]

When you have experience, you have the ability to make specific plans. When you know exactly what's expected of you, you're more likely to rise to the occasion and get it done. Every goal will vary in difficulty, so there isn't a direct connection to performance.

Making a plan

When planning a familiar goal, make sure you're as specific as possible. Both about what you want and what steps you need to take to get there. Each small step on the way can be seen as its own mini-goal. You can count each one as a win as you reach them and get closer to your larger goal. So instead of one big goal that hasn't been reached yet, you actually have a lot of little wins. These will act as evidence that your work is actually paying off. 

With an unfamiliar goal, keep the mini-goals a little more loose. Look at them more like opportunities for evaluation, rather than hard goals. Make sure you don't put too much stock in X amount of change by Z time, and look at it more like X-Y amount by Z time. Work a little wiggle room into the goal steps.

Either way, time spent thinking about and planning your goals can improve your performance. And it can also increase the likelihood of success.[221] Planning is the key to reaching your goals. Write down your goals and mini-goals, and look at them often.

The choice is yours 

To recap: If you need to learn more about the subject, then focus your goals on learning. If you have knowledge in the space already, then set concrete goals with achievable steps. 

Sometimes it's not up to us which path we go down. Work sometimes makes us feel like time spent learning isn't time spent working, but that's not true. Learning should be considered working. Especially if what you learn will make your working time more efficient. 

Like we said, it's not always up to us, but when you can choose, you should. Don't be so hard on yourself, remember that any progress is good progress. Even a misstep is a learning experience.

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