Giving Up on Goals

Giving Up on Goals

CW: Some brief weight loss talk.

I know friends, the title is alarming. Giving up on goals? But Jordan, you just posted your 2017 action plan! It’s not even the end of January! Are you giving up on goals you set so soon?

It’s okay, chill. I’m still forging ahead with my plans, if on an unexciting slow and steady pace. But while most of us are still basking in the glow of January and new beginnings and a world of potential, I want to put it out there now: giving up on goals is okay.

The cycle is pretty familiar to most of us now, either personally or through the 10 million think pieces that come out around this time of year on how to set good goals and stick to them. Those are great, and if you are one of the many who has problems making and pursuing reasonable, actionable goals, I encourage you to read some of them! I’m personally making my way through this video course on How to Stop Procrastinating, which will probably help a lot of you with the “why” behind why you give up.

Now with all that out of the way, this isn’t a “yeah it’s cool to let go of all your hopes and dreams and never try anything!” feel good article. If that’s one side of the spectrum and “go hard or go home!” is the other, then this is somewhere in the “you’re human, be aware of your limits and weaknesses so you can do better” area.

Giving up on your goals is okay… IF you learn from it, and try again.

For me at least, life gets pretty miserable if I don’t push myself. I don’t have dreams just because that’s the cool new thing to do, I have dreams because they’re things I want that make me happy. Even the pursuit of them sometimes makes me happy, though it’s hard and scary – those things aren’t mutually exclusive. But even knowing all that, I have plenty of days where I just cannot. I’m tired, or it takes too much brainpower, or my lack of inertia keeps me standing still. Or sometimes worse, I do take steps to pursue my goal, but then I fail one step and decide everything is terrible and impossible and why even try.

But all those states are temporary, and overcome faster or slower depending on what I’m pursuing and why. If I’m trying to finish that goddamn book, it’s easy to not sit down and do the work because my day job, the sheer time and effort it takes to take care of myself as a healthy human, playing with my dog, watching TV, whatever gets in the way. But I want to write the book for the intrinsic value of telling the story (and at this point, being DONE with telling the story), so if I focus on that, on the actual happiness it brings me to write and see it inch closer to completion, it’s a goal I can pursue.

Once upon a time I was also a person with the goal to “lose weight.” Essentially by whatever means necessary, because I was unhappy and I thought being skinnier would make me happy. The pursuit of that goal was miserable, how I treated my body and health in pursuit of that goal was miserable, and my failure was miserable, because I put “happiness” as an end state to only be had when the goal was reached, not something I felt at any point along the way.

If you’re pursuing a goal that feels anything like that, yeah, that’s maybe a goal worth giving up on.

I’m not a perfect goal-setter. I still decide to do stuff with no action plan (I’m looking at you, Japanese driver’s license study guide). But from having bad goals, deciding to stop banging my head against the wall in pursuit of them, and examining why I thought certain things were or weren’t worth pursuing in the first place, I’ve learned a lot about how to achieve actual success and actual happiness. I’ve finished considerably more writing of better quality (though lbr the bar was low) by writing steadily, every day, on a specific project that had a brainstorming and outlining process that worked for me than I did churning out short stories right before the deadline in college. I gave up weight loss as an end goal, worked through some shit and am still working through some shit regarding self-image, and am in a place where I eat healthy and exercise because it genuinely makes me feel good (endorphins man, they’re great).

So if you went a little overboard and have to call it quits, that’s okay. Just ask yourself why, and how you can do better.

And also, don’t wait until next January. Come on, do your future self a favor and if it’s really worthwhile, get started now.


Just Slightly Unreachable Goals

I like to set goals for myself that are just the tiniest bit unreachable. Examples include:

1) Finish the second draft of my book by the end of 2014. (I have a little ways to go and I’m about to go out of town. But it still might happen!)

2) Run my first marathon in under 4 hours. (I’m doing a training plan on Runkeeper and I’m completing my tasks distance-wise, not time-wise. But it still might happen!)

3) Save 1/3 of my income a month. (My fixed expenses are 1/3 of my income, and lately I have been spending over the remaining 1/3 I have allotted, but often for staples that I need to replace things that got worn out/used to death from my student years. So it still might happen!)

If I set easy goals and always met them, I’d get complacent. I’m such a boss! Look at me, reaching all my goals! I don’t need to try harder or work more efficiently.

If I set really, truly, inhumanly impossible goals and always failed, I would tear my hair out. Well fuck it, I can’t manage any of this anyway, why bother with anything, might as well lie around and be a lump all day every day.

But with slightly unreachable goals, even if I fail, I go, I was so close! Soooo cloooose! Let’s just try one more time, and then one more after that, maybe then…

And one day reaching the goal becomes easy, so I nudge the next goal a little higher.

On Disastrous Goal Setting and 761 Days

I didn’t start my successful writing life saying “I’m going to write The Next Great American Novel.” Which isn’t to say I didn’t start my writing life that way–in middle school and high school that was the dream, emphasis on the dreaming and total de-emphasis on the actual writing.

I still harbored some delusions of grandeur in college, not at all helped by being one of the few “serious writers” in my classes that were frequently occupied by premed students looking to boost their GPAs. (Nevermind some of those premed students took the assignments more seriously and produced better stories than I did. That this was not their career aspiration somehow made me superior by default, even when the comparison of our work suggested strongly otherwise.)

Then, mercifully, somewhere in my early working life I realized my lack of writing was getting in the way of that grand dream being a reality.

And the lack of writing, in turn, was a result of that dream being so grand.

The more aware I was of my lack of skill, the harder sitting down to write The Next Great American Novel became. It was so far away. Every step I took didn’t seem to even move me in a forward direction. It was easy to get discouraged and give up.

Another mercy came when I somehow got it in my head to keep dreaming big, but goal wise maybe set things closer to home.

So, 761 days ago, I started writing 750 words a day minimum. I didn’t start out saying “I’m going to write a novel” or even “750 words a day for the rest of my life.” I just said, “Today, I’m going to write at least 750 words.” Then I said the same thing the next day, and the next.

Then it became 761 days later.