I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had a hard time with New Years Resolutions. I make these loooong lists of things I plan to do–often biting off WAY more than I can chew–and by February, the resolutions are nothing more than a faint memory.
Lately, though, I’ve found a few ways of making New Years Resolutions less of a wash and making them useful to me. After all, what’s the point of making these resolutions if one month later I’m going to break them all anyway? Here are some tips that have helped me set goals and stick to them (particularly as applies to my writing). Not surprisingly, these are all concepts that go hand-in-hand with core elements of DIY MFA.
1) Figure out where you are.
Where are you starting from? Think of this as that big red dot on the map and the arrow pointing to it that says: “You Are Here.” Before you start writing a new big project or attacking any other goal in your life, you need to where you are now. Just like on a road trip, you need to figure out where you are on the map so you can plan the best route to your destination.
2) Where do you want to go?
Once you know where you are, the next step is to figure out where you’re going. What big goal is spurring you on this journey? Why are you taking this trip in the first place? I call this my destination—the big goal that is spurring me on my quest. These are usually the things that end up getting written on my resolutions list.
The trouble with those lists is they usually stop there, with the big goals. Rarely do we sit down and figure out how we’ll reach that destination. We say “I want to write a novel” but once we put those goals on the list, we stop thinking about the how. Then we procrastinate and procrastinate and by the time next December rolls around, we’re still thousands of words short of our goal.
3) Keep goals concrete.
Sure, it’s great to dream big and live life even bigger, but when it comes to setting goals that stick, you have to have some way of measuring how far you’ve come. This means saying “I want to write a novel” can be a great starting point, but to be able to measure your progress, you have to give yourself a concrete goal. Try one of these:
- I will write 1 chapter per week for a year. (That’ll give you 52 chapters… more than enough for a novel, unless of course your chapters are each a page long, in which case maybe you write more chapters per week.)
- I will write 1000 words, two days per week, for 50 weeks in the next year. (You’ll have 100K words by the end of the year and you’ll even give yourself 2 weeks of vacation away from your writing!)
- I will write and polish one short story per month for the next year. (That’s 12 short stories written and polished by the end of the year! Hey, you could even put them all together as a collection.)
Again, going with the road trip metaphor, setting vague goals is like saying “I want to drive cross-country.” But how do you know when you’ve gotten where you want to go? Instead, if you say “I want to drive to this specific address in San Diego” then you have a concrete destination. After that, all you need is to figure out how many miles you need to drive each day to make it to your goal.
4) Keep goals reasonable.
I used to have this crazy philosophy that if I set my goals super-super-high, it would push me to work harder and I’d achieve more than if I set goals that were reasonable and easier to reach. Now, I’m not advocating that we all sit back, drink Mai Tais and not challenge ourselves, but the important thing is to keep the challenges in our life exciting but reasonable.
If we keep setting our standards so ridiculously high that we never reach them, then we’re setting ourselves up for continual failure. This can lead us to give up or feel just plain lousy. Instead, if we make a challenge tough but reachable, and then we actually do it, we’re setting ourselves up for continued success. Then the next time we have a rough road ahead of us, we can look back and say “I conquered that last hurdle; I can handle this one.” This is called building mastery and it’s what helps us keep going even when the journey ahead is a difficult one.
5) Be flexible.
It’s ridiculous to think that the goals we set for ourselves on January 1st will still be 100% exactly the right goals for us on December 31st of that same year. Things change. Life happens. Our goals have to change with it. Lately, I have taken to writing out goals each season, rather than just once per year. Who knows, maybe this year I’ll reevaluate my goals each month. The point is that whatever your goals may be, you need to take some time between now and next New Years to check-in and see if those goals still hold water. Maybe they do, and that’s great! Or maybe you’ve moved in a different direction and you need to tweak your goals accordingly. We are humans, after all. Not robots. Not computers. Things happen and we have to adjust and adapt.