This week the question that struck me the most was: How do I stay on target when the going gets tough and I get discouraged or just want to give up? I think we’ve all had the experience of working towards a goal and being very pointed about it, giving all of our time and attention to the achievement of that goal, and then something occurs that reminds us that all of our hard work isn’t quite panning out how we thought it would and it’s going to take so much more of ourselves to complete this than we initially thought. I call that discouragement. And I think it’s normal and even expected in the course of any long-term goal, especially one that we feel is very worthwhile. We begin to question ourselves and the folly of our grand schemes. We may have even planned for low points or be realistic about what it will take to accomplish our goals, but how it feels when we think about it and how it feels when we’re in the thick of it are really quite different.

One of the best ways I know of getting encouragement and accountability is to elicit feedback from people in your life who know you and support your goals. Feedback gets a bad reputation because a lot of us have seen it used badly, so it’s important to get it right. People use the act of giving feedback as a way to criticize or give unsolicited advice. I believe the real purpose of feedback should be to let us know what we are doing well and to help us figure out our own solutions to the parts we aren’t doing so well. If both of those don’t happen, I’m not sure you can call it true feedback.

I also believe that we often allow our fears and biases get in the way of the feedback we are giving to someone else. I don’t know that this can be avoided entirely, but if we can recognize that, at least we can allow it to become part of the discussion.

And it’s important that we choose carefully who we ask for feedback. If the purpose of asking is to get encouragement and support as well as accountability, we need to start with a person who can really provide us with both of those things. In most people, this is not our partner or spouse. It’s probably also not a parent, and may not be other family members. This should be someone who can be more objective about us, who is aware of our limitations and our potential and wants us to succeed, but is concerned enough about us to express that, too. It also has to be someone who we respect, so that we will take them seriously because their ideas matter to us. This could be a mentor or a good friend or someone we know in a professional capacity like a coach. This is a tall order, so choose wisely. And, possibly, choose a couple of people who can do this for you, because you might get different but no less important information from more than one source.

Tell the other person the purpose of the feedback you need and be specific about what you are requesting. Would you like to re-evaluate a business plan or figure out where you can find more time to do the things you enjoy without neglecting your responsibilities? Do you just need to touch in to see if you are still on the track you thought you were on or if you’ve gotten distracted? Do you want advice or simply a listening ear? All of these are important and necessary at different times. Be sure you know what you need so you’re more likely to get it.