Monday, May 21, 2012

Just Breathe

Yesterday I attended the monthly meeting of my local writers group and was reminded once again that setting goals can be tricky.  Don't get me wrong, the actually setting of a goal, the I'm-going-to-do-this can be fairly easy.  But settling goals without giving thought to how they'll be reached can and often does spell failure, if not disaster.

At the end of last year, as a motivational tool, I suggested to our group that we try something similar to NaNoWriMo, but over a longer period of time.  It was agreed that we give it a try, and the WARA Word Count Challenge was born.

We each set and declared a word count goal for the year, and each month we report how many words we've written.  It sounds easy enough, doesn't it?  And that's where the problem lies. It happens more often than not for a lot of people.  At the beginning of a fresh, new year or at a time of desired change or need, when we're feeling positive and invigorated (or desperate!) to make some substantial progress.  We forget that there will be times when our attention and time must be elsewhere, instead of on our goals.  Family, jobs, even weather can cause us to put our goals aside.  It's life.  It happens.  Priorities shift and change.  And sometimes we just decide that we don't really care about that goal, after all.

What can be done when we fall behind on our goal?  What happens at the OOPS!! moment, when we realize it's going to be a struggle to even come close to reaching our goal?  Is it quitting time?  Not necessarily.  The best course would be to stop and give your goal an honest re-evaluation.  Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Why am I behind on reaching my goal?  Are those reasons within my control or something I have no control over?
  • Is my goal still important to me?  Has something occurred that takes precedent over this goal?
  • Are there changes I can make to help me reach the goal?  Can adjustments be made or do I need to rethink the entire goal?  Is it still what I want?
  • Have I over-challenged myself?  Did I forget to factor in the curves that life often throws when I set my goal?
Not all goals can be saved.  When that happens, don't beat yourself up.  If you answered the first question above, you've learned something for the next time you set a goal.  One of the biggest mistakes people make when setting goals is to set them too high, making them unattainable and doomed to failure.  If you find that this happens far to often for you, remind yourself of a few things before setting the next goal:
  1. Set clear and reachable goals.  Always take your lifestyle and commitments to others into account when setting your goal, especially if you have a time period in which you want to reach that goal.  One of the biggest mistakes new writers make is to set a goal of getting a book published within a specific period of time.  That goal is doomed to fail.  Why?  Because we have no control over what editor buys what book and when.
  2. Set small goals that lead you to a larger goal.  Instead of that goal of getting a book published, set goals that are steps leading to the chance of that happening.  If smaller steps are used, it's much easier to adjust your plan, when something comes along to throw a monkey wrench into your plan.
  3. Build in extra time.  Life really does get in the way of our plans.  It's a fact that we can't change, even if we moved to a cave and never spoke to another soul.  There's always that chance that the cave could, well, cave.  Give yourself some breathing room.  You'll be glad you did.
  4. Make a backup plan.  If for any reason you discover you're not going to be able to reach your goal, instead of beating yourself up and setting yourself up for a bout of depression, create a backup plan when you set your goal and use it.  You might be surprised to find that this is what may eventually get you to where you need to be.
After turning in 12 books on time, last week I turned in book 13 several days late.  I'm the one who set the deadline, and more than likely would have met it on time, if things I hadn't planned on happening hadn't come along and messed up my daily schedule.  It happens.  We learn to deal with it.  The really bad thing is that because I was a few days late with that deadline, I'm going into the next deadline short on time.  I've now made some adjustments---much of them about when I write and do other things---and hope that the June 11 deadline isn't going to be like the May 10th one.  If only I'd known that my youngest would be graduating 3 hours away on June 9, I might have chosen a different date.  But I didn't, and I'm aware of the shorter time, so I'll have to work a little harder each day to get done before that date.  Not the best situation, but I know it can be done, if I put my nose to the grindstone and work.

So if you're partway into a goal, whether long-term or short, and you find yourself running behind, just breathe.  A little adjustment may be all you need to get you going again and on the road to reaching that goal.
"The goal you set must be challenging. At the same time, it should be realistic and attainable, not impossible to reach. It should be challenging enough to make you stretch, but not so far that you break." Rick Hansen 


Joanie said...

Maybe it's my imagination, but it seems like Fate's Goal is to over challenge us on a daily basis. It used to be enough to just meet a goal and sigh that huge sigh of relief. Now, it seems like I don't even have time for the sigh because I'm so focused on what someone wants from me already--and I'm, of course, the only one who can accomplish this job/task/play/event/opportunity -- you name it. I completely blame myself as I overachieve and have always be the *designated go-to person*, but since that's always been the case, and I've only felt this overly-over-stimulated problem the last twenty years or so, I have to believe that a good portion of the problem is also electronic-based. Now that computers have entered every phase of our lives, why is *anything* taking us too long. In response, we ramp up the number of things we think we can accomplish, and as we succeed, we are rewarded with more and shorter deadlines/time frames. Yes, it's already been a tough week for me, and I'll climb down from my soap box now. But truly, your post (and my meltdown response) makes me realize I need to take some pruning shears to my goal/job list, because my *success* is wearing me out. :)

But all that said, this is a great post, with a great roadmap for writers. (Just ignore the woman stuttering behind the curtain.)


Rox Delaney said...

Oh, Joanie, I tend to over-goal myself, too, in just about every area of my life. I plan really well, but getting it done isn't nearly as easy. Something else always comes along that "must" have my attention...and only my attention. Hmmmmm, could it be control issues?

Maybe we should both make a goal to give ourselves some Me Time. I've truly forgotten what that is. And by the way, feel free to step up on your soap box here, any time. :)