The Art of Setting Goals

Nineteen days into the year 2015.

Normally, by this time, any goals I’d set or resolutions I’d made for the new year would’ve fallen by the wayside, and I’d be telling myself, “I’ll work on it tomorrow,” or “next month,” or “next year”…

Pretty pathetic–I know. Or, at least, that’s what I would’ve been thinking to myself. And then, of course, finding the motivation to brush it off and follow through on my goals would’ve become impossible. Because what’s the point in trying if I just keep failing myself?

But this year is different. And it’s different because towards the end of last year I learned–and began to truly accept–two very important facts:

1. You’re only as successful as the goals you set.
2. You shouldn’t fear failure.

I’m still working on accepting that second one. I’m a huge perfectionist, so it’s hard, but I’ll get there. And I know I will, because now I know the art of setting goals. And the secret is crazy simple:

Set goals you can accomplish.

Seem too simplistic? Too obvious? Too underachieving, maybe? It’s not, once you understand the most important word in that sentence, and why it’s the most important.

Set goals YOU can accomplish.

It used to be the case that, when I decided I wanted to do something big (like, say, quit smoking, write a book, lose ten pounds, whatever), that’d be it, that’d be my goal. Say I decided I wanted to write screenplays. My goal, singular, would be: write a screenplay.

Inevitably, I’d stall out–usually within a week or two–because no matter how hard I may work, I wouldn’t feel any closer to my goal. I’d consider it another thing I couldn’t accomplish, and blame myself for not living up to my expectations, never wondering if perhaps it were my expectations that were failing me. (Spoiler alert: it was.)

Because I cannot write a screenplay. It’s an impossible goal.

Perhaps, if you’ve already got the characters and plot in your head and you’ve got no need for sleep and you’re more-than-a-little insane, you can sit your ass down and write a screenplay. If you’re human, however, all you can do is write one word at a time until you get a few pages, and keep doing that every day until you’re finished.

If I change my goal from “write a screenplay” to “write 10 pages of script everyday,” it becomes a lot more doable.

And this is where the you comes into play in setting goals: because while one person may be able to crank out 10 pages a day like it’s nothing, maybe you can only do 5. Or one. Or maybe you can manage 20 pages a day… but only every other day. You cannot look at someone else and say, “well, she wrote a 100k-word novel in three months” and then think yourself a failure when you cannot do the same–because you’re not that person.

The trick is to set goals that you can accomplish, based on the time and capability you have. If you decide to write a book, but haven’t managed to write a word in months or years–and especially if you’ve never written at all–don’t tell yourself you’re suddenly going to write 30 pages a day. If you’ve never worked out in your life, don’t tell yourself you’re suddenly going to start each morning with a 5-mile run.

Instead, maybe try 10 pages a day, or half a mile. If you can’t manage that, cut it down to 5 pages, or a couple laps around the block. You’ll work your way up–and because your new goals are doable, you’ll see your progress each day, as you’re able to check “finish the day’s writing” or “finish the day’s workout” off your list, and see the pages pile on, or the pounds drop off.

Start with something you know you can do, but that’s just a little bit more than you’ve been doing. It may (and probably will) seem slow going at first, but as you get in the habit of doing it, you’ll feel the rush of accomplishing what you set out to do on a regular basis, which will drive you to do more. You just need to find that little bit that you can do every day, and start doing it–even if you’re only working on your goal for 10 minutes a day. Just ten minutes.

If you can’t put in ten minutes a day, then maybe you don’t really want what you’re saying you want.

But if you’re trying to devote two hours a day right off the bat, and can’t manage that..then maybe you’re just expecting too much of yourself too soon.

And that’s okay, so long as you reassess your goals, make them work for you, and keep chipping away towards the things you truly want.

 

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2 thoughts on “The Art of Setting Goals

  1. Yeah, a lot of advice sites think organization and priorities can overcome all issues. RL has some issues like family health, and dead harddrive that trump the muse. Forward momentum is the rule.

    Like

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