by Jenny Hansen
I started January with something a little different this year: a workshop about goals. I have a confession to make... I struggle to meet my own goals. Constantly.
Notice I said "my own goals." I am aces with outward-facing goals. Work projects, family projects, Writers In the Storm three days a week. I nail those suckers. But my own goals tend to fall far behind the rest of my life's commitments. Perhaps this happens to you too.
This month's goals class delved into two things that gave me "a-ha moments" of epic proportions.
Let me explain...
The class began with the instructor saying: "Joy. Progress. Power. Fulfillment. Learning. Impact. These are the important qualities about goals."
(And then he got to the parts I really needed to hear. The magic is in easy-to-find blue font below.)
"Your brain is meant to solve problems, not just store a bunch of to-do's. You can’t get clarity while you’re mired in a to-do list."
And that was my first "a-ha moment."
I have grand lists that I misplace or get overwhelmed by. Those lists often feel like running through molasses. No joy, slow progress, no fulfillment.
I think this is the true reason so many writers (especially slightly ADD writers like me) get procrastination paralysis on their projects. It's those huge to-do lists with no action plan. There is a how to some of these to-do's, especially big to-do's, that must be respected.
Organizing is a project as well and it takes time. And sometimes it helps to decide in advance what "done" looks like so you don't get lost inside that jar.
Perhaps we cannot really manage time - perhaps we can only manage priorities.
Think about a website. Perhaps the name of the goal is "Finish Website." But the actual goal looks more like this:
Give the Goal a Realistic Deadline.
Brainstorm a list of steps (this lets your brain solve problems):
The list is much larger than this, but there's no need to bore you with it. Organize those steps into sequential tasks. Schedule some time on your calendar. Work on them several times a week.
Here's a goal we can ALL relate to: "Finish Book" (or even "Finish Chapter [fill in the blank]")
Y'all know that's a terrible goal, right? Not only does it fail the SMART goal test, it's the kind of goal that's sure to send any insecure writer screaming from the page. At the very least, there will be questions like: Where do I start? How will I know when it is done?
If you have any hope of finishing something as big as a book, your list of goals has to be broken down into much smaller steps that might look something more like this:
Chapter 1 To-Do's
If you're a plotter...
If you're a pantser...
Our friend Laura Drake is a pantser of the highest order, but she has an Excel spreadsheet of what happens in every chapter. She updates it as she goes along. She might not know everything about where she's going when she sits down to write, but she knows where she's been and it helps her move forward until she can fully see the story.
Plus, she knows the big secret of goal achievement: What gets scheduled gets done. If you set a habit of achievement in place, you will make progress on those goals.
Since achieving a goal or making progress releases dopamine in your brain, this one really is true. Setting yourself up for success is the best way to keep moving forward on your writing goals.
This LifeHack.org article , The Science of Setting Goals says it better than I do: "Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains, and we feel good."
When you set a goal and keep your word to yourself, your reward is a nice shot of dopamine. Woo!
And here was the second lightbulb moment for me:
Not breaking down my goals into manageable pieces hurts more than my work in progress.
In other words, it's highly expensive to your writing confidence to break your word to yourself. If you are scared or shamed about meeting your writing goals, you will get stuck. It's human nature. Plus, you don't get the lovely dopamine.
I had to take a break and a deep breath after the instructor dropped that bomb about keeping agreements with yourself. Because often, I just ...don't.
I'm so busy meeting the demands of others in my life that my dreams get shuffled to the back of the line. Instead of those dreams getting a luxury lakefront view, they're being relegated to the seat in the back next to the trash can for days or weeks at a time.
My dreams (and yours) deserve better treatment.
If this breaking your word to yourself thing is a pattern, you can make the choice to put it behind you and move forward differently. The same as it does with our characters, a misbelief can create anxiety and procrastination. It can erode our confidence in ourselves.
When you keep your word to yourself, you are better able to keep it to others. In other words, prioritizing your goals helps the others in your life too.
Where focus goes, energy flows.
What gets scheduled gets done.
FEAR = False evidence (that) appears real.
COURAGE = action in spite of fear.
It is not the stars that create light but rather light that creates the stars.don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements
Go forth and embrace your light, y'all. I believe that every one of you has the power to illuminate the world through your writing.
What "a-ha moments" have boosted your writing confidence? Do you break your word to yourself or do you keep it no matter what? Please share your story with us down in the comments!
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By day, Jenny Hansen provides corporate communications and LinkedIn advice for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 20 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.
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