Happy New Year! I extend my best wishes for 2010 to all of you.
As many of us prepare a list of New Year's resolutions (or have one already completed), I reserve mixed feelings about this tradition.
I know some people think it's crucial to start the new year by making promises to do more, be more, give more, to have more. But are those promises truly useful or just another way we sabotage our own happiness? I think either can be equally true, depending on the way the resolutions are made. While it's enticing to think of wiping the slate clean and starting over, we're still the same people we were yesterday; our lives are mostly unchanged by the mere fact that the calendar has moved one day. Still, that doesn't mean we can't make efforts to change the things with which we are dissatisfied, and strive for things we want.
Some resolve to make big changes in their life: lose weight, stop smoking, be a better parent/spouse/friend, stop procrastinating, etc. While these are all admirable goals, if one is not prepared to identify steps to reach these goals, it's unlikely it will ever be met, paving the way for failure and lowered self-esteem.
I'm not anti-goal; they can provide a healthy focus for achieving our life desires. Everyone should want (or need) something; it's the difference between living a life or merely existing.
For writers, who most often work alone, self-motivation is essential, and setting goals is an important part of being successful. Many of us work hard to find and maintain balance in our lives between our writing, our families and friends, and other pleasures and responsibilities. I often feel there should be more than twenty-four hours in a day, as I invariably fall short of the things I want to accomplish.
So, how do we increase the probability of success at reaching our goals? Here are some ideas I find useful:
1) A goal should not be a wish, it should be actionable. Don't choose something over which you have no control, like "peace on earth". While it's true you can contribute to that ideal by changing your own behavior, you cannot control the behavior of others. Select goals in which you are the key player. If you have a goal that must directly involve other specific people, sit down and talk to them and get their buy-in first.
2) Make the goal as specific as possible. "I want to lose ten pounds over six months" rather than "I want to lose weight" or "I want to write five hundred words a day" rather than "I want to write more". Incorporate a time frame into your goal, or achieving it will seem more elusive.
3) Set mini goals (steps) towards reaching your ultimate goal, and reward yourself when you reach them. Rewards can be as simple as a bubble bath or taking a walk; choose something that reinforces your commitment to it.
4) Be realistic; both about who you are and your goal. While it's certainly healthy to dream big, select goals for which you are prepared to work. If you love eating meat, it's probably not realistic to say "I'm going to become a vegetarian". Maybe a better goal would be "I'm going to cut down on red meat and not eat it more than once a week" or "I'm going to prepare meatless meals three times a week".
5) Don't let other people talk you into setting goals you are not prepared to honor. We all know someone who says things like, "You know what you should do..." The best way to achieve a goal is to be committed to it; that's something we each must determine for ourself.
6) Think of your own well-being when selecting goals. If you're trying to find more time for writing, but you know you need eight hours of sleep to be at your best, it probably isn't a good idea to have your goal revolve around getting up at four o'clock in the morning to write. A better idea would be to see what you can cut out of your waking hours to accommodate your writing: giving up a half-hour of TV, asking for more help at home with chores to free up some time (this would involve getting buy-in from others), less web-surfing, etc.
7) Don't set too many goals so they're all competing for your time and attention. Regardless of what I wished for earlier, there are only twenty-four hours in a day, and most of us have lots to get done in the sixteen or eighteen of them that we're awake. Give yourself the best possible chance for success by really considering what you can reasonably accomplish in any given day.
8) Write it down. Goals and mini goals are easier to track if they're recorded somewhere. Even though most of us use computers, I'd recommend writing them on a piece of paper and tacking it up in a prominent place, in addition to tracking them electronically or in a notebook. Even the most dedicated among us have days when we need a little prodding.
9) Be selfish. Well, not totally selfish, but be good to yourself. Make at least one goal totally about YOU. I have become a firm believer that you can't be good to others if you're not good to yourself first. Even a small goal like "I'm going to spend twenty minutes every day with a book and a cup of tea" can be very worthwhile. We all need to recharge our internal batteries on a regular basis to be best prepared to deal with whatever life may bring and to give us our best possible chance of achieving those precious goals.
10) Don't give up. If you decide the goal is worthwhile but the steps towards achieving it aren't working, make adjustments. As John Lennon wrote, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans". Don't let a setback be an excuse to totally derail your commitment. Get back up on that horse, as soon as possible.
For today's prompt write about something you could see yourself working towards as a goal. I'm not asking anyone to commit to a goal, just describe one you might consider for yourself. Tell us a little about it and why it would be important to you. Don't forget to tag your submissions with "fwe".
As always, I look forward to your submissions.