Tag Archives: Motivation

Understanding future you

With the New Year on the horizon a lot of us will be setting (or meticulously honing) our goals for the next year. As an avid goal setter, I would like to share one piece of advice for when you are setting your ‘achievable’ goals and that is make sure you understand future you.

Time and time again when I set my goals I seem to believe that future me will be somehow more motivated, dedicated and un-distractible than current me. For example; my list for what I wanted to achieve with my week off between Christmas and New Year gave me three tasks to complete on Boxing day, one of which was ‘paint deck’. By the time I had scrubbed the deck, and painted just the outside fence part it was 7pm and I was exhausted.

Current me stupidly took time off for meal breaks, phone calls and sun exposure which future me apparently would have worked through. Current me also only works at a human pace, while future me gets no muscle aches, hand cramps or frustration at having to save so many bugs.

The point is, you should factor in a lot of contingency in your plan. I’m already looking at my list of what I want to achieve in January and it is looking very full. At the same time I know that I have an event on every weekend, not to mention visitors to catch up with, so the *future me* alarm is starting to ring.

So if you suffer from a bit of future me, my advice is take your list and halve it. It will always feel much better to achieve MORE than you set for yourself rather than less. I’m going to take my own advice and put the red pen to my current list, and hopefully I’ll get the deck finished before I go back to work.

Thinking about 2014

I’ve started thinking about my goals for 2014, what I want to do more of, less of, and what I want to achieve. This got me thinking about my 2013 goals and I thought that I should check-off which things I had completed. Only I couldn’t find where I had written them down.

I remember being very motivated when I wrote the list, and I remember being convinced I was going to follow everything through. I think I can even remember signing the goal list, like it was some kind of contract with myself. So I don’t know how I expected to achieve those goals if I didn’t have them up where I could see them.

There is now a space cleared on my wall where my 2014 goals can take pride of place. Better still, I’m taking down some of the noise that is currently up on the wall, if I have too many pieces of paper up there, it will just blur into the background and not be seen.

So I guess I’m already getting ready for goal number one; keep my goals front of mind. If you don’t know what you are aiming for, there is a pretty good chance that you won’t get there.

Goals

I am a huge believer in goals. Every New Year I set my annual goals, and then based on those I set some smaller goals, and then every week I have a list of 20 goals that I wish to achieve. They can be as simple as paying a bill or as significant as submitting a novel.

In September I was part of WriMoFoFo which is all about setting a goal and trying to achieve it in four weeks. There were a lot of us who started the WriMoFoFo journey, but what surprised me was the number of people who dropped off. It made me wonder about people’s relationship with their goals.

Given I have a list of twenty things to achieve every week, I’m quite used to not achieving all my goals, and I’m okay with that. I could count on one hand how many times this year I have been able to cross off all twenty items in a week. I don’t think the point of goals is to make you feel guilty if you don’t achieve them, but rather to get you focused on trying to achieve them.

If I have a goal roll over on my list over four weeks (and yes, if I don’t achieve them they do roll over to the next week) I realise it is too big for one week and on some level I must be finding it overwhelming so I’m not doing it. My response is to break it down into a smaller goal.

Earlier this year, when I was struggling to write anything, I changed my goal to just turning on my computer. I had to turn my computer on four times a week. Yes, some days I just turned the computer on, checked my email and then turned it off again, but some of those days I wrote. The next week I made my writing targets.

Goals should not be set in stone, big goals may not change; I will always want my novel published by an established publishing house, but the sub-goals I use to get there are constantly evolving, and I think that is how it needs to be. Don’t let you goals overwhelm you, let them speak to you, let them guide you about what is enough to expect of yourself, and what is too much in one go.

The most important thing of all about goals is that they should be achievable, so if you aren’t making your goals, break them down. Every journey starts with a first step, don’t make that step too far to take, or you will forever stay standing where you are.

Banishing guilt

Two weeks ago, in an effort to get myself writing, I did something that at first seemed completely counter-intuitive; I gave myself permission not to write. Yes, after so many months of setting weekly writing goals and sometimes meeting them amazingly well, and other times crashing and burning, I finally realised what was really annoying me about the whole process. It wasn’t the meeting or not meeting my targets, it was the constant guilt.

I would be doing something social and feeling bad about not writing, I would drag myself to the computer and feel bad about not having gone there sooner. It all seemed like a sea of guilt that ebbed and flowed but never really disappeared. For a very long time I’ve actually believed that not-writing-guilt is part of being a writer, but a fortnight ago I had had enough. I gave myself ‘the night off’.

It was wonderfully relaxing, I had a good time with friends then came home and went to bed early. There was no hint of guilt, in fact there was even a little spark of excitement knowing that I didn’t have to do anything. The next night I was refreshed and eager to head to the computer to put in a couple of hours of solid work. Why had I not thought of doing this before?

The fact is I’m not a full time writer, but I do have a full time job, and I have friendships to foster and family to support, so I shouldn’t feel like I need to give every spare moment to the keyboard, some of that time needs to be spent on other stuff in my life.

The guilt I felt about not writing was actually building up the pressure for the times when I did write, so much so that I had trouble writing. I’m sure a bit of a fear of failure was starting to creep in because I worried that when I did sit down to write that I wouldn’t be able to do so. There is nothing like a relaxed, refreshed mind to get the writing juices flowing, and mine was not relaxed.

So I now have three nights a week off. If I feel like I want to write, that’s fine, I can, but no more of this silly ‘I should be filling this empty hour with writing’ guilt (well not on those three days at least). So far it is working well, I’m sitting down more regularly for longer periods than I have in a long time. Let’s see if it sticks.

Intelligent Goal Setting

I learned a valuable lesson in goal setting last month; it is best to set achievable goals. After reading the highly motivational ‘Maximum Willpower’ I set myself the challenge of writing a 30,000 word kids book in 21 days.

The first week I went great guns, I managed to write every day, only missing my daily word target (slightly) twice, but hitting my weekly target due to extra writing on other days to give me 10,000 words. I’ve only ever managed to do that on writing retreats before!

The next week a few unforeseen things came up and I got a pretty bad cold that put me in bed for two days. I still managed to write on five days and came in at the end of the week on just shy of 7,000 words.

On the third week I felt the weight of the outstanding 13,000 words pressing down on me (I could actually tell you exactly how many I had outstanding because I had the spreadsheet set up to track every word). That week I missed four days of writing, and only two of those had anything even approaching a valid excuse. I ended the week on a little over 3,000 words.

I had missed my target by 10,000 words! I felt like I had let myself down and felt totally disheartened by the whole experience. It was only on the following Monday night when I was able to realise the true success of the experiment. 8pm rolled around (my usual writing time for the three weeks) and I felt a strong urge to turn everything off and start writing. So that’s exactly what I did.

So my “failed” experiment not only netted me 20,000 words, which was more than I had written in the previous six months, but it also got me into the habit of writing on a school night! One of my better failures if I do say so myself.

Maybe for me the key to goal setting should not be so much about the word goals, but time goals? Write for one or two hours every day, or every second day and just see where I end up. So that’s what I’m going to trial now.

Just as an aside, the 30,000 word kids novel is only about a quarter of the way through the story at the 20,000 word mark, so maybe I should also give up on predicting story lengths as well?

Happy writing.

Willpower

I think a large number of writers suffer exactly the same problem that I am often lamenting about in here, a lack of progress. We call it different things; procrastination, laziness, lack of motivation, lack of time, competing priorities and even writer’s block. All these things we know we need to take ownership of, but they all come down to one thing, willpower.

The non-fiction book I’m reading at the moment is Maximum Willpower by Kelly McGonigal, and even though I’m only half way through reading it, I would highly recommend you get your hands on a copy. For anyone who is not getting what they want to do done, or if you keep doing something you no longer want to do, this book can really help.

There are so many tips and hints, exercises and honest self-appraisals in here, but perhaps the one that has helped me the most (so far) is the suggestion that next time you want to ‘spoil’ yourself, act as if you will do that thing every time for the next week. So in my case, if I want to just sit in front of the TV and relax after work, I have to ask myself ‘would I commit to doing that every night for a week?’ Suddenly the impact of that action on my long term goal has a lot more weight. If you consider every sabotaging act in this same long-term-effect way, you suddenly find yourself working more toward your goals, and less in favour of treating yourself.

Obviously I’ve tried to express in one paragraph what Kelly McGonigal takes a whole chapter to get across, so if what I say doesn’t make sense to you then read the book. But seeing the impact on my writing productivity from doing the willpower exercises and being aware of my willpower lapses when they happen, just in this week, has made me realise how important willpower is to getting where you want to be. Goal setting alone is not enough.

Whether you want to write a novel, quit smoking, eat more healthily, progress in your career or simply stop watching so much TV, mastering your willpower will make all these things so much easier. By understanding how your brain works in these matters you can minimise the pain of making a change. Don’t believe me? Try it.

Kelly McGonigal Maximum Willpower

Million dollar ideas

In one of the many self-help/motivation/entrepreneur books I read a while back it said that everybody has at least one million dollar idea a year, but most of us ignore them. By this it meant each of us comes up with an idea for something that if built and marketed could easily net their creator a million dollars of profit.

While I’m sure there is no real science behind that claim, I can’t help but think it is true. You just have to look at those just do it kinds of people who have started four multi-million dollar businesses by the time they are 21 to know it is obviously true for some.

I got an idea for an app the other day which I am sure would make millions, it is just working out how to develop it that stopped me following it up (for now). I constantly have ideas for new novels, which I diligently write down in my stories to follow up one day notebook (really, I should say collection; there are five notepads full of ideas now). Could one of those be a previous year’s million dollar idea?

I wonder if in today’s immediate gratification world if we aren’t just a little too lazy to set ourselves free sometimes. Sure, I’ve finished a couple of novels (which will now never see the light of day) but when all is said and done, I really could have at least ten unpublished novels by now if I had applied myself over this past decade.

Do you have a million dollar idea, writing or otherwise, that you never followed up? Imagine if you did follow it through to the end. Imagine how much better the world might be if we all did?!?