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Posts Tagged ‘goals’

I’ve been thinking about the cliché about how it’s the journey that’s important, not the destination.

I completely believe this. And for me, the fact this is true brings much of my happiness and enjoyment of life.

I’ve been trying to think of what in my life it has ever actually been about the destination, and I am drawing a blank. Even when I travel, it’s not so much about getting to a place as it is about what I do in that place once I’m there. In other words, it’s about the experience of the travel and the location and what I learn while there, not just the achievement of checking it off my list.

This kitten totally agrees with me and wants to take a journey himself.

This kitten totally agrees with me and wants to take a journey himself.

University? Of course getting the diploma has been helpful (although less so than I would have thought), but that’s not what I think of first when I think of my college years. I think of getting to immersively study music, I think of all the life skills I learned, I think about moving away from my family for the first time, I think of my friends and my professors and the university environment.

Career and artistic aspirations? In a writing career, there are various milestones, and I take goal-setting seriously. But each of those milestones is only a blip on the radar, and then everything continues on, and I keep writing. Finish a draft? Great, keep writing. Sell a story? Great, now write another one. It is the enchantment I have with writing that keeps making it worthwhile. And that is all about the process.

Romantic relationships? Well, now that I’ve achieved Girlfriend Status(™), I can cross this off my list of priorities. Haha. But again, this is mostly not about having a significant other or being married or whatever step you’re at. It’s about building something meaningful over time. There is no checking out just because you’ve reached a specific status.

Friendships? Amazing pets? Etc? Same as above.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy reaching a goal or celebrating a milestone. And sometimes, usually when it involves something really unpleasant, all I can really focus on is the end result as I push through the work to achieve it.

But most of life isn’t spent celebrating milestones. Most of life isn’t checking off big accomplishments. Most of life is in the moments in between.

So it behooves us to find a way to make those moments something precious.

It’s no accident that Viktor Frankl’s three criteria for a meaningful life have little to do with materialistic metrics for success. Having work or a project that you find meaningful, having and maintaining personal connections with people and/or communities, and having a positive perspective on suffering and life in general: these three things are all focused on the moments between. They are ongoing. They revolve around fostering a general sense of purpose rather than centering on very specific goals. And, I think, they allow for greater resilience in the face of adversity.

So yes, I care the most about the journey. I care about the hours I spend writing that rough draft, and I care about the time I spend with the people I love. I care about the two weeks I spent in Bali, not just my ability to say I’ve been there. I care about improving at things and learning new things. I care about the regular Thursday night dance and having ice cream and struggling to practice singing as much as I’d like. I care about taking a walk with Nala every day.

And when I reach a destination, I try to stop and appreciate it, but ultimately it is never long before I’m thinking about my next steps. And I’m glad that’s true.

To me, the next steps are happiness.

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Hope as Fuel

Let’s talk about hope today, shall we?

One of my friends posted this great thought about hope on Facebook, which I cannot share with you word-for-word because privacy, but he basically talked about the importance of maintaining a store of hope in order to continue accomplishing things in life. And then another friend texted me about hope a day or two later, and I said, “Yeah, I’m going to blog about this now.”

Hope really can be quite useful, I think particularly for more long-lasting and slow-to-reach goals and desires and projects. I don’t need hope to do small daily tasks around the house, but I do need hope to keep writing, for example. Without hope, it would be so much harder to discipline myself to work and do things that I find unpleasant or difficult.

So then, how do we cultivate hope? And not false hope that might keep us stuck, but rejuvenating, inspirational hope?

  1. We can do our best to be cognizant of progress. Instead of focusing only (or even primarily) on a big end goal, if we can be aware of what we have achieved, this maintains hope. It can be hard to notice these smaller shifts and achievements, but being able to identify progress I’ve made keeps me inspired to keep spending effort.
  2. We can give ourselves things to look forward to. I’m a huge practitioner of this one. If I don’t have anything at all to look forward to in the next six months, something has probably gone horribly awry with my life because I always make sure I have something, and usually the more somethings, the better. I often use trips for this purpose, but really there’s a lot of choice here: events, holidays, birthdays, parties, concerts, plays, movies, food, friend time, books, a day with nothing scheduled, and so on.
  3. We can reframe. Catching our negative thoughts and figuring out how to transform them into less harmful ones (or even actively positive ones) cultivates a smoother state of mind and, you guessed it, more hope.
  4. We can help other people. There is something about building connection that creates hope. It can pull us out of ourselves and remind us of the things we think are important.
  5. We can choose to celebrate other people’s successes. Your friend reaches a goal that you desperately want to hit yourself. Here is your choice: take your friend’s success as a reminder that the goal IS possible and celebrate with her, or feel unhappy with yourself for not being there yet. The first one builds hope; the second tears yourself down.
  6. We can remind ourselves of the inevitability of change. All things change, and so in this sense, there is always hope. Not of a specific outcome, necessarily, but sometimes all we need to is to know that things can be different.
  7. We can attempt to be flexible. Speaking of specific outcomes, the less attached we can be to specifics and the more we can adjust to what’s going on around us, the easier it is for us to maintain a general feeling of hope.

Hope without action is empty, but hope combined with action keeps us motivated to continue working towards our goals.

What do you do to replenish your stores of hope?

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Now that I’m back home from ConFusion, and after talking a bit about impostor syndrome, a few of you might be wondering how my panels went.

Short answer: I had a great time!

Longer answer: Once I was at the convention, any nerves I had melted magically away. I had been afraid I’d be that panelist who sits there silently while everyone else talks, but that didn’t happen. I always had a lot to say, and most of the panels went by very quickly. Plus I had the great fortune to share the panels with a lot of intelligent and well-spoken people, talking about subjects that I am very interested in.

My favorite panel was “What Does Rejection Mean?” Not surprisingly, I can talk about the psychology of being a writer (or more generally, being an artist) all day long, and I also really liked what my fellow panelists had to say. I moderated three of the five panels, having only prepped to moderate one of them. I’m a planner so the idea of moderating on the fly is one that filled me with a certain horror, but as it turned out, I was able to improvise without too much difficulty.

Getting ready for battle

Getting ready for battle

I decided a couple of months ago to set myself a few goals that I could have confidence in my ability to complete while definitely still stretching myself. So many of my goals are long in duration, very challenging, and involve a lot of me stumbling around and making mistakes. This is necessary; I am ambitious. But sometimes it’s good to balance all the striving with achievement I know I can reach quickly if I commit myself to it. Participating on these panels at ConFusion was one of those short-term achievable goals, and it was a welcome change to try something that made me nervous but that I knew I had the skills to do. (I have another of these goals coming up in a few weeks, so more about that soon!)

More generally, I always have a great time at ConFusion, and this year was no exception. I was struck by how much value I receive when I have the opportunity to spend time with my fellow writers, whether they’re just starting out, have been around a few years like I have, or are at more advanced stages of their careers.

I’d been feeling a bit bummed out ever since my last novel fell apart, operating under a cloud of discouragement. I didn’t let this feeling stop me from planning my next novel project or continuing to query agents, but it’s been there, and it hasn’t been pleasant. For lack of a better way to describe it, I haven’t been feeling writerly. ConFusion reminded me of who I am and what I’m trying to accomplish, and talking to other writers about our projects and our processes has given me a renewed sense of focus.

Being writerly at the ConFusion barcon. Photo by Al Bogdan

Being writerly at the ConFusion barcon. Photo by Al Bogdan, 2014

More generally, I’ve been thinking of how important my writer community is to me. As a consequence, I’m bumping a Seattle visit up the priority list this year and considering the possibility of scheduling some Skype writer dates. Too much creative isolation does not a happy Amy make.

All in all, it was a very successful and productive weekend.

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I made a hard decision on Friday.

I decided to abandon my current novel-in-progress.

Currently at 61,000 words in length, this novel represents a large amount of my time and effort. It is about 75% completed.

It is also not working. And I don’t mean that in a rough-drafts-suck kind of way, but in a there-are-several-deep-systemic-problems-here-and-most-of-this-needs-to-be-thrown-out kind of way. So I am putting it aside. Maybe at some point I’ll know how to fix these deep systemic problems and I’ll return to the project. Or maybe I won’t. It’s hard to say.

Scott Adams had a good point in his widely shared article about failure: that there are people who focus on goals and people who focus on systems, and it is the people who focus on systems who tend to do better.

Don’t get me wrong; I think having goals is important. I’m a planner, and goals help structure planning. But ultimately, we want to have goals that support our system. When the goal no longer supports the system, it is time to change the goal.

My system is to be continuously improving myself as a writer while looking for opportunities to advance my career. My goal was to complete this novel. When I started the novel, the goal was in line with the system, but that is no longer the case. Being aware of the broken aspects of the novel, at this point I’ve been going through the motions, which isn’t teaching me all that much. (If I didn’t know how to finish projects, or if I felt I could learn a lot about endings by finishing, this might not be the case. But neither of those applies this time.) And finishing a novel this broken won’t do anything for my career except take time I could be using elsewhere.

That’s not to say I haven’t learned a lot from this project because oh wow, have I ever. I’ll take all of that knowledge and experience with me to the next project, where I’ll put it to good use. But sometimes it’s important to be able to figure out when to cut your losses and walk away. My own personal tendency is to hang on too long. This is another opportunity to practice not doing that.

If you’re wondering how I’m feeling, well, I just put 61,000 words into a drawer, which is not the most pleasant experience ever. But at the same time, I do feel good about this decision. I am excited to have more time to work on other projects that I believe in. I’m happy to be moving forward.

Failure is hard, but it’s also necessary when we’re trying to push our limits and become better. So this is not a horribly discouraging thing. I’d feel a lot worse if I no longer believed in my system, but I do. Nothing fundamental has changed. I’m just moving on to the next stepping stone.

What is your system? Are your goals in line with it? How do you feel about failure?

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I have a friend who occasionally requests blog posts, and her ideas are always so good. It’s actually quite a talent to come up with good topic ideas. I know because sometimes I’m completely stumped, and I ask someone what I should write about, and they can never come up with anything good either. So obviously from now on I should ask Danielle.

This time she asked me to write about intention. (See what I mean? That is exactly the kind of thing I write about.)

Intention can be one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. It’s good for change, for achievement, for opening ourselves up to possibility. It’s a way of resetting old beliefs, world views, and limiting thoughts that might or might not have had a good reason to exist in the past but are definitely holding us back now.

Photo Credit: CarbonNYC via Compfight cc

Of course, in order to work, intention has to be an active process. Take my intention at the beginning of last year: I wanted to have more friends, so I set the intention to be open to new friendships. From that intention, I decided on concrete priorities and actions. If I told myself, “It would be nice to have more friends” and then proceeded to sit on my couch every night and not talk to anybody, then nothing would have happened. Instead, I accepted invitations, I invited people to do stuff, I traveled to various events, I texted and wrote emails, I sometimes went out even when I didn’t exactly feel like it, I practiced healthy boundary setting. In short, I put in a lot of effort.

I find that when I set an intention, it helps me better focus on what I need to do next. In the case of socializing, it means I’m paying attention and making or inviting that overture of friendship. Maybe it was there all along, but I’m much more likely to notice it and make that little extra effort required. In the case of writing, it means I keep plugging away, even if that means only doing a little work each day. I remember that I want to live a literary life and it informs the choices I make on a daily basis.

Our intentions join together to form our vision, both of who we want to be and what we want our lives to look like. Vision is an interesting thing because I think we have to believe completely in our vision for ourselves at the same time as we doubt and question it. It’s like reading a novel, being completely immersed in the world of these characters and events while simultaneously knowing that it’s fiction.

I believe completely in my vision for myself. I also think it might not happen. But I do believe it could happen, and perhaps that’s the important distinction–the belief in what’s possible and the willingness to commit ourselves to finding out.

What intention(s) have you set for yourself recently?

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Does publicly stating our goals make us more accountable and therefore more likely to achieve them? According to some recent research, no, not as much as we may think. Apparently sharing a goal publicly sometimes actually decreasesour commitment to it. In addition, we feel we’ve made more progress towards the goal just through the act of sharing it, without taking any other action whatsoever, therefore making us more likely to feel complacent or like we don’t need to work as hard.I bring up this little tidbit of research because I’ve seen lots of advice saying the exact opposite. I’ve been advised that sharing my daily word count, both target and actual number, can help my productivity. I’ve seen people sharing their monthly fitness challenges and their target weight numbers. Even my routine of blogging twice a week is a public commitment of sorts. The tried and true advice seems to be that if you wish to finish a project, tell someone about it and that way if you don’t do it, you’ll feel bad–hopefully bad enough that you’ll actually push yourself through it.Yeah, and that works so well with New Year’s resolutions…

Increasing accountability can be a wonderful tool. I have many friends who take exercise classes or work with a trainer on a regular schedule to keep themselves exercising. Music lessons work in the same way; after we have paid the money and form a working relationship with our instructor/trainer, we have greater incentive to “get our money’s worth” and work harder for our instructor’s praise. Other people make their business goals public and are thus able to gain valuable PR, build tribes (aka fan bases), and raise capital. Sharing goals can also be a great way to bond with a community.

However, I question whether external validation, pressure, and support are enough. Perhaps they’ll give us a boost when we need one and help get us through the hard times. But we shouldn’t forget the importance of internal commitment. How highly do we value our goals, and do we value ourselves highly enough to see them through? What do we actually care about? How can we best support ourselves? And at what point do we need to reevaluate our goals and adjust as necessary?

I don’t think the answer is to eschew public goal-making altogether. Rather, I think it’s important to pay attention and make sure that stating our aims publicly is having the desired effect. If we realize that telling other people what we mean to do is making us feel like we’ve accomplished more than we have, we can compensate for that fact by giving ourselves “extra” to do. If we realize that we often share plans that we don’t follow through on, then we can stop sharing and see if there’s a noticeable difference. If we have systems in place that work well at increasing our accountability, then we can keep on doing what works.

We are not cookie-cutter creatives; we are not one-size-fits-all human beings. As a result, so much advice and so many rules turn out to be over-simplifications. When thinking advice over and deciding on a best course of action, here’s what I try to remember: do what works.

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