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.


2017 Action Plan

2017 Action Plan

Friends, you will recall I don’t like resolutions. It’s not that I’m not about making goals, but that I don’t like setting arbitrary times to start them.

That said, I’ve still got some stuff I’ve been working on and want to keep a priority in 2017:

  1. Finish the goddamn book
  2. Get buff
  3. Remember that complacency is not the same as calm; and the unjust needs to be resisted at all costs
  4. Be thoughtful and organized, because small kindnesses and competencies mean a lot

Do you have any goals in progress, whether or not you want to call them resolutions? What’s in the works? Let me know in the comments, and good luck in 2017.


The Hardest Part is Starting

My particular brand of procrastination is putting off starting a task. Once I get going, the thing gets done–the hard part is over. But if I can put off the start of something, it’s pretty much guaranteed to never happen. I need to write today, but I’ll do it later. I ought to go for a run, but I’m tired so I’ll do it in the afternoon. I should get my lunch ready for tomorrow, but I can do it in the morning. Etcetera, etcetera. You’d think after so many instances of not writing later, of not running in the afternoon, of not putting my lunch together in the morning, I’d know better. And sometimes I do! I’m certainly cognizant of it right now, as I write this post, but me awake and fed and accomplished is a very different me than when I’m groggy or hungry or in the throes of an extended period of procrastination.

So sometimes I play tricks on myself:

1. I use Pomodoro off and on to trick myself into thinking “I just have to do this for a few minutes.” Then it always ends up being more than a few minutes.

2. I motivate myself with streaks. I’ve been getting ready for work the night before for the past two nights in a row, so if I do it again tonight it’ll be three, then the next night four, then five… Don’t break the chain! HabitRPG is my general habit streak tracker, while 750words is my writing streak tracker.

3. Once I’ve started one thing, I use that as momentum to start everything else. Today I got up and went for a run. I got back and started the laundry. I got out of the shower and chopped up salad for lunch. I got all that done and started this blog post that I’d been procrastinating on. Once I overcame the hurdle of getting my ass out of bed and beginning one thing, beginning everything else got easier.

Once I’ve started that productivity, even just for a minute, the next minute is easier, and the next minute after that.

Camp NaNoWriMo

I’ve talked before about how I don’t personally participate in National Novel Writing Month, but I think it can be a great tool in a larger toolbox of getting yourself to write. That is after all what stands in the way of 99%* of us who call ourselves writers. Butt in chair, write, repeat.

That said I AM participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. “Camp” because it’s happening now, July, the summertime, though tragically it is not an actual physical writing summer camp but a virtual one. The plus for me is a scheme called “Cabins,” where you join up with a group of people, can easily see each others’ writing project information and word count, and have a private little forum on which to encourage one another and keep everyone accountable.

I’m still working on the alpha read for my novel, but there are a few contests I want to submit to this summer. The writing just isn’t going to happen if there’s not also a group of people keeping an eye on me – and so, here we are, at Camp NaNoWriMo.

A lot of learning to write daily has been learning what motivates me. In my case it’s essential shiny stickers (the badge and streak system in and assumed deep disappointment (my progress or lack thereof being visible to other people).

If Camp NaNoWriMo sounds like the right mix of psychological trickery that’d work on you, go for it! If not, get in your own head and decide what motivation works for you to accomplish butt in chair, write, repeat.

*So stat, much science.

Things I Read: Once Upon a Time

Hello imaginary friends. I’m still working on how to make this space useful for me and you, and do it in a systematic way. In the meantime here’s some things that I read that I’d suggest other people read too!

Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century and similar lists have become my go-to for “what’s worth reading.”

The Power of Negative Thinking is a good primer for writers like myself having difficulty with the butt-in-chair formula of writing.

Steve Martin’s Advice for Building a Career You Love is one of those lovely pieces that takes the magic and mystique out of creative pursuits: you have to work, and that’s okay.

Want Your Message To Stick? Tell a Story. Though it’s also okay to not have a message.

10 Tips for Generating Killer Science Fiction Story Ideas because 99% of my ideas are going to suck so I’d better keep coming up with more to find that 1%.


How Can You Say You’re Passionate?

Two links for the week, both from the always-useful, often-inspirational 99%:

Are You Trapped in a “Shadow Career”? The Artist vs the Addict, which starts off with a pretty excellent (and relevant) little anecdote:

A few months ago, a colleague of mine told me about meeting a young woman who was “passionate” about writing. He asked her what she had written recently, and she said nothing. In recounting the story to me, he said, “How can you say you’re passionate about something if you’re not doing anything about it?”

I mean, pretty much. This is where I am now, and this is where most of us sit for our entire lives. With books unwritten, stories untold, ideas unexpressed. Because having the idea is the fun part, putting it to words is awful. But, too bad. Worse than the effort and disappointment of putting once-marvelous ideas into their often disappointing corporeal form is never doing it at all.

Cheryl Strayed: On “Binge Writing,” Doling Out Advice & Finding Clarity reminded me of all the reasons I like to write, even if I don’t like (and delete, and rework, and delete) all the things that I do.