Small Goals

Small goals lead to big rewards.

Big goals can be massively overwhelming. Consider writing a novel. First you have to write it. That’s a lot. That’s like 80,000 different words, all supposed to be making sense. Then you have to edit and revise the whole thing. Over. And over. And over. That journey can often seem insurmountable. It’s easy to look at the end game, a queryable novel, and think that that point is so far in the future that you convince yourself you’re never going to make it. I’ve been there a few times, calling myself a hack and pointless and just telling myself to give up, that I’ll never be able to achieve this enormous goal at the end. It sucks but it’s something that almost all writers will feel at some point.

Something I’ve learned the hard way is that sometimes it’s best to forget the end game. Instead break down that overall goal into lots of little milestones. It’s easier to aim for the end of a chapter than the end of a novel, just like it’s easier to jump a stream instead of a river. It’s not just writing where this is relevant either. There are so many things in life that can be made much simpler by just breaking them down.

Take for example weight – losing or gaining weight is a massive struggle for a lot of people. I know, I’m one of them as you may recall from my resolutions posts. With weight loss I’ve broken my goal (originally huge and terrifying) down into small percentage based goals. Every time I get a certain percent closer to my final goal, it comes with a massive sense of achievement and newfound motivation. With writing, I’ve been breaking down my editing process with chapters. The sense of achievement every time I complete a chapter motivates me more, helps push me onwards and reminds myself that I am getting ever closer to my goal.

Whatever minor goals set, they have to be achievable. Even if that means they’re small. That doesn’t matter. What matters is progress and being able to feel like I’m doing something.

Until very recently I had a lot of trouble finding the energy to exercise and it felt like a huge chore. I felt like a massive failure when I couldn’t accomplish it. I would do really well for a certain stretch of time then the will would collapse from beneath me like wet plasterboard and I’d be stuck, unable to get up again. I got myself a FitBit with Christmas money and it’s done me a world of good. It speaks so much more to how my brain likes to operate. There are lots of little goals to try and achieve and you can work towards them all day. Instead of having the one set in concrete objective (let’s take 45 mins on the exercise bike – my previous aim) I have the goal of a set number of steps throughout the whole day (which I’ve been slowly increasing since I got the thing). Every time I get up I go the long way places, even if it’s just a few dozen extra steps. It all adds up over time. Plus, seeing it progress pushes me to keep trying to hit these goals and achieve past them. I believe this is called gamificiation and it works wonders for me.

Lots of folks apply this to their writing, often with stickers for a certain number of words or something similar. I partook in this for a time but managed to let it fall by the wayside. It seems that particular method wasn’t for me, no matter how fun stickers might be.

The secret is to find that little thing that keeps you going, even if it is just a sense of progress and an imaginary pat on the back. That’s what I’ve found working for me. Not thinking of a chapter or a scene as a part of the whole giant work but instead as a thing all in itself – a thing which I’ve completed, an accomplishment and a job well done.

How do you keep yourself motivated while working? What methods have you found work for you?

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6 responses to “Small Goals

  1. Great post! I’m like you: I like to break things into smaller, achievable bits, and what I also find really helpful is tracking! That way, even if no one else cares about my goals and I’m lacking personal motivation, my tracking spreadsheet/calendar/stickers are always there to nag/motivate me 🙂

    • Yes! I track everything. Words, chapters, you name it! I even have a super colourful weight chart on my wall as well as a spreadsheet with an attractive graph… I’m so cool.

  2. In the words of Anne Lammott, I try to take things “bird by bird” or section by section. The key word there is TRY haha I do tend to focus on the big picture too much and get overwhelmed, but I just keep plugging along anyway because it’s what I love.

    • Ha yeah, it can be really hard to break things down and I have to make a real effort to remember to do so. It works for me though! And you’re so right, without a real deep love of writing I never would have gotten this far!

  3. It’s taken me a while to find this method, but I like to make calendars. (I feel like this says something boring-grandma-ish about me, but oh well.) I write out six week calendars (or eight or whatever) and fill in all my deadlines. And then I write a halfway deadline, and often quarter deadlines as well for bigger projects. Then I’m not allowed to scratch a day off on the calendar until I complete the task. Those unmarked days DRIVE ME BATTY.

    • That’s a really good idea! I use a To Do list on my phone that acts pretty similar (that judgmental little icon staring at me…) but I feel like a visual aid like that would work well for me too. Might steal that idea for my wall! 😀

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