Thursday, January 13, 2011

Counterintuitive Goal Setting

Current Project:Status: 52,000 words

Last year I wasted a lot of time and effort setting yearly, monthly, and weekly writing goals. I read lots of articles on goal-setting, most of which repeated the same basic, sensible advice:

  • Set realistic-but-not-easy goals

  • Begin with your Big Goal and then break it down into sub-goals and sub-sub-goals so you won’t feel overwhelmed.

  • Track your progress and make adjustments where needed.

Why sensible? Because it seems to make sense, right?
Then why is my success rate so appalling? Why didn’t I achieve more of those detailed, reasonably-difficult goals? They’re intuitive and sensible, right?
For me, not so much.

It’s a mistake to assume that, like a magic bullet or a secret handshake, one method of achieving goals works well for everyone: extroverts and introverts, plotters and pantsers, visual learners and auditory learners and kinesthetic learners, lefties and righties and OMG what about the ambidextrous?

There are a number of reasons the above method doesn’t work for me. I’m an analytical thinker, a left-brainer. Give me something to analyze (say, a Big Goal) and I’ll spend days breaking it down into miniscule chunks of future achievement. Analyzing gives me the illusion of control and an excuse to procrastinate rather than Do the Work.

Never forget that writing is the most dangerous profession. Words are important and risky and scary.

Doing the work requires me to anesthetize my analytical right brain and turn loose the creative left side of my noggin. Who knows how much of what that produces will be embarrassing, imperfect twaddle? Twaddle that I’ll need to submit to my critique partners, and ultimately to agents, editors, and Susie next door. That’s a looming landslide of potential criticism, rejection or ridicule. Of course it scares me!

You’ve probably guessed by now that one of my many faults is a tendency toward self-criticism. Having lots of goals to potentially fail to achieve feeds into this negative aspect of my personality. And giving me free reign to reassess and make adjustments to the goals I spent days setting is like plugging my brain into an eternal procrastination feedback loop. It’s a prescription for failure.

This year, I’m trying a couple of new methods to help me progress toward my Big Goal. Both have shown documented results for many people.

One is Intention. Each morning, I focus for a few minutes on my intention to accomplish a couple of small steps in support of my current Big Writing Goal.

I’m also following writer Lynne Johnston's blog Small Steps to Big Change: A Kaizen Approach to Personal Growth at . This blog leads me through learning a Zen approach to life, change, and achievement (including goal-setting).

Will this approach help me achieve more this year? Tune in next January for a progress report.


Barbara Cool Lee said...

I like that site, Sarah! I need to work on a more zen approach to things, too. I also tend to be so self-critical it gets in the way of getting things done. Keep us posted on how your new method is working for you. It sounds like you're on the right track.

Sarah Raplee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah Raplee said...

Thanks for the feedback, Barb! I'm glad you visited Lynne's site and found it helpful. I'll post updates on my progress.

Genene Valleau said...

Hi, Sarah! I've also read some material lately about intention being the first step in goal-setting. Sounds logical. :)

And, wow, you really can be hard on yourself. Here's another perspective to consider: it's not failure if you've learned something--even if that something is a particular process doesn't work for you.

Hope this Zen approach proves productive!

Deborah Wright said...

Sarah, I love this idea and the website you listed. Boy, do I identify with your description of being an analytical thinker! You've given me a lot of food for thought in how to improve my chances for successfully completing my goal. Thanks!

Sarah Raplee said...

Genene, I think one of the reasons I set goals and analyze results is to gain insight into myself and my writing process - what works? What doesn't? Why or why not?

Debbie, I'm glad this post gave you food for thought. As an analytical thinker, I bet you have an Internal Editor that's extremely hard to turn off. I know I do! LOL

Paty Jager said...

Sarah, You can achieve your goal. Like you said, break it down into small doable chunks each day and don't analyze the progress just put it in a grid and at the end of the month tally up what you've attained.

Sarah Raplee said...

Paty, I like the idea of keeping a record on a grid, but not tracking totals until the end of the month. Thanks for the tip!