Hey hey! Thanks for joining me for our very last episode in 2015.
Today I’m talking about why I stopped making New Year’s resolutions and what I do instead. It’s been an amazing year here at DIY MFA. I’ve interviewed some awesome people this year and have gotten to share some major milestones with you, not the least of which is the DIY MFA book!
OMG, word nerds, I wrote the book this year! How crazy-pants is that?
But now down to business. Let’s talk about goal setting and why I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore. Get all the deets by listening in here:
OK, before I dive in, let me give you some backstory. Once upon a time I loved brainstorming. I would get a huge high from dreaming up new ideas. I had tons of projects I’d started and never finished. But over the years I’ve started to shift away from being a dreamer to being a doer. To get a full picture of then vs. now, check out this chart.
I wish I could say there was a pivotal moment where I realized everything was different. But this shift was gradual. I don’t think I’m finished yet, either. This is just the beginning of a much longer journey. What I’ve discovered, though, is that New Year’s resolutions don’t work for me. Here’s what does work…
Caveat: There are lots of gurus and experts on the internet spouting “best practices” and magic-bullet solutions. But you’re a word nerd, so I’m guessing you see through all that B.S. At DIY MFA we believe that the only “best practice” is the one that actually works for you. So I’ll share some strategies that have worked for me, but it’s up to you to test them for yourself and decide if they work for you. And don’t be shy about tweaking and adapting techniques to your own unique style. That’s the DIY MFA way.
My New Approach to Resolutions and Goal-Setting
In my new approach, the huge leap no longer matters. There’s no more “I’m going to write a book next year,” or “I’m going to lose x pounds.” Instead of making sweeping goals that seem enormous and unreachable, I now set goals to take small incremental steps and repeating that action over and over and over. Where before the giant goal was the focus, now the repeated action takes center stage.
I’ve noticed after working with hundreds of writers, when you stop focusing on the end goal and start emphasizing the repeated action, that’s when you make a breakthrough. Letting go of that end goal gives you the space and focus to do the work and actually reach that goal. As a writer, I find that irony kind of delicious.
These days, I’ve stopped looking at writing as a short-term push and instead see it as a war of attrition. The truth is that the writers who want overnight success are not the ones who will stick with the process long enough to see it through. The writers who have the tenacity to stick with it the writing gets tough, those are the ones who succeed. You just have to survive long enough so you’re the only one left standing on the battlefield.
Writing and creativity might be a battle, but remember that we aren’t fighting each other; we’re all on the same side. In the end, the only person we’re fighting against is ourselves. Our obstacles are internal and the battle is about trying to get out of our own way.
So how do I do it?
7 Simple Steps:
After working at this for a few years now, I have come up with a process for getting through my ideas and my goals as efficiently as possible. Again, this is just my own crazy process. Take in the ideas, test them out, then use what works for you and discard the rest.
- Figure out your big picture.
Lots of people get stuck focusing all their energy on this step alone. While I concede it’s important to know where you’re headed, I only spend, like, 10 seconds here, then I move on to step 2.
- Take stock of recent progress.
If you want to feel successful, you can’t compare yourself to the big vision, to where you want to be. You have to compare yourself to where you’ve been. That way you always come out ahead. Not only does it help motivate you to move forward, it helps you build mastery. In order to succeed, you need to feel that mastery of your craft. Use concrete data here, too. Don’t BS yourself over your accomplishments. How many words did you write last year? How many guest posts/blog posts/freelance articles? That’s the number to beat.
- Iterate, iterate, iterate.
I talked about iteration last year at this time, so I won’t spend a lot of time here. Just remember that iteration is vital and basically boils down to these five things:
V = variables. What will you measure to see your progress?
I = information. Collect your data. Track how much you’ve done each session.
T = tripwire. This is the signal for you to stop and take stock.
A = analysis. Look at the data you’ve collected and find the overall pattern.
L = learning. Take that information, figure out what it means, and then try something new. If something is not working for you, don’t keep repeating it because someone told you it was a “best practice.” Instead, make a small shift and try something a little different to see what works best for you. The key here is to (a) understand your baseline, how you operate in your natural state, and (b) shape your process within those constraints.
- Set your sights on a short-term target.
What can you do in a 4 to 8 week period? Your “big vision” inspires this target goal, but it must be shorter term and more contained. Seriously, if you can’t hit that target within 3 months (tops!) it’s too big.
- Reverse engineer your action steps.
The inspiration for this step came from Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want by Barbara Sher. Her process revolutionized the way I look at setting my goals. You need a plan to get from point A to point B, so take some time and work backwards from that goal.Don’t start at the start, but with the goal, then figure out what you need to do just before you just before that. Keep working your way backwards until you’ve figured out your immediate next step. Remember to break your steps down to the smallest increments.
- Set your ground rules for success.
This is another place you’ll find “best practices” galore, but you need to figure out what works for you.F ind ways to make the most out of your writing time. Remember, your time is precious! Here are some things that work for me:
- I focus on one thing at a time.
- I set a time limit so I know when I can stop and move on to something new.
- I make everything else off limits until I reach my goal.
- I bribe myself with a reward for success.
- Keep future projects on the radar without letting them get in your way.
You want to know what’s coming next, but sometimes holding brain space to remember it can sap your mental energy. So make a space to write down your ideas and next projects and keep them for later. This will free up the brain space you need for what you’re working on right now. And sometimes getting ideas out on paper will help you to recognize what is worth pursuing and what will ultimately be unproductive.
Remember, where you want to be down the road is not nearly as important as the path you take to get there. These steps focus on the day to day process. Getting your head around what you need to do today is vital to helping you move toward your goal without being weighed down by it.
As you look forward to 2016, I want to challenge you to stop dreaming and start doing. Don’t worry so much about the big vision, but focus on one incremental action that you can repeat again and again until you reach your goal.
Ready to stop dreaming and start DOING?
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If you enjoyed this episode, I have included some links below to previous episodes that can help you with building your best practices. And if you want to dig deeper, join me for a “Stop Dreaming, Start Doing” workshop on January 12 at 8pm ET. You can find more information at DIYMFA.com/openhouse.
It’s been a great year for DIY MFA Radio and we’ve had some great episodes. If you want to check out some past episodes but don’t know where to start, don’t worry. Here are a few best-of-2015 solo shows that will help you get that book from dream to done.
- Episode 23: Make Writing Resolutions that Stick
- Episode 24: My Go-To Productivity Tool
- Episode 26: Write Your Book This Year
- Episode 31: Finding Your Focus in Writing
- Episode 47: Honor Your Reality
(Right-click to download.)
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Until next week, keep writing and keep being awesome.