Do you lose control of your writing goals? Lose control of your self-discipline? Lose control of your life?
Everyone experiences cognitive dissonance, an incongruous rarely-to-be aligned fantasy versus reality. Writers may believe they will meet their writing goals later, or tomorrow, or after they take care of pressing matters—postponing their priorities. Big talk, little action.
Writers are notorious for making lists and setting goals. They have grand expectations that are often so unrealistic there is no way they can succeed. They set themselves up to fail. Repeatedly. Lists are lost or buried, goals are cursed, and good moods morph into monsters.
Defeating the self-defeating behavior of setting unrealistic goals requires conscious effort, a revamping of ingrained habits. It takes brain-power. Commitment. A willingness to try new ways of doing things even if they are dorky.
Sometimes the dorky plans have the biggest impact.
Imagine that it’s a Monday morning and you are developing your writing goals for the week. Research indicates that Americans expect to complete 42% more than they can possibly do in any given timeframe. No wonder people are stressed and depressed. They continually push themselves harder to fail.
How often do you meet every goal on your list? Do you set yourself up to fail by setting goals that will take twice as much time as you have available? Three times as much time?
How can people set themselves up to SUCCEED?
SOAR. Set Obtainable And Realistic Goals
Setting goals is easy. The hard part is making them doable. Here’s the trick--list the ANTICIPATED Length of Time (ALT) to reach the goal by the item. How long do you think it will take you to meet your page quota that day? After you’ve met the goal, then make note of the REAL Length of Time (RLT) it required. Did you anticipate it would take three hours, but you TOOK four phone calls and the cat threw up in your lap and either a) it took you five hours to write those pages, or b) you gave up after two hours and cleaned the garage. Some people will do anything to get out of struggling through a tough scene.
Notice in the above example that the word “took” is in CAPS. Just because the writer received four calls doesn’t mean that he/she TOOK the calls. That requires answering the phone. A writer who is goal-directed will make a conscious choice to let calls go to voice mail and retrieve them after goals are met. Focus. Focus. Focus.
You’ll start with two goal lists: WINNER and SUPER STAR.
Don’t think of these as To Do lists. To Do’s are tasks and errands. Think of these lists as your WRITING GOALS. Identifying page quotas for each day. Writing an article. Polishing a partial for a contest. Researching. Plotting. Mind-mapping. Doing whatever you need to do to meet specific writing goals and move your writing career forward.
The WINNER list includes the items you can reasonably complete in the timeframe available. Don’t delude yourself. Round up the time you think it will take (ALT). Make doable goals and meet them.
The SUPER STAR list contains the items you MAY be able to fit in your schedule AFTER the WINNER list items are completed.
You must COMPLETE THE WINNER LIST FIRST.
THERE WILL BE NO LIST HOPPING.
That’s another place where people set themselves up to fail. They make awesome award-winning lists then list-hop--doing what they’d rather do instead of what they need to do to succeed.
As you go through your week, other items will beg to be added to your lists.
STOP and THINK. Don’t go on auto-pilot and slap it on the WINNER or SUPER STAR list. Maybe it belongs on a third list--the MAYBE list. Maybe you will do it, maybe you won’t. You have it written down. You won’t lose the idea. Maybe you’ll move it on your Winner or Super Star list the following week. Don’t go after it, forgoing the items on your WINNER list, unless it deserves top billing.
Maybe you realize it should be on a list for next summer, after your book is completed. Start that AFTER MY BOOK IS COMPLETED list. Don’t lose a good idea. Get it down in a file or notebook.
Now you know how to set obtainable and realistic goals on two lists. And you know to complete all WINNER goals before tackling the SUPER STAR goals.
Okay. You’ve made lists before. You’re a pro at setting goals and still you get through days and don’t know what happened. You just didn’t get around to the things you intended to do.
Try the DUH Plan: How many of you have ever set NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS? How many resolutions did you keep?
Have you ever started an X times a week exercise regimen and stuck to it for a year or more? How will these writing and writing-related goals be different?
Ta Daa! Margie’s DUH Plan:
1 -- Do It first or as close to first as humanly possible
2 -- Understand that it may be inconvenient and/or difficult and do it anyway
3 -- Hurray, Celebrate! You did it!
See? It is a DUH plan. Duh--if you exercised first every single morning, you’d always exercise. There would not be one day that you went to bed verbally berating yourself because you’d planned to exercise. It had been really important to you to fit exercise in your day and still you “never got around to it.”
If you activate this plan on a daily basis, you can smile and say, “Duh, I knew it would work!” If you choose not to try it, you can kick yourself in the butt and say, “Duh, I’m an idiot.”
Imagine that world-changing moment when an advertising team pitched their slogan to Nike? “Just Do It.” What was the initial reaction reflected on those executives’ faces? Eyebrows up, jaws down? Everyone thinking, “Just do WHAT?” Perhaps someone asked, “Can’t you come up with a slogan that says something?” Yet look how their brilliant idea soared. Just do it. Simple and powerful.
Upon analysis, the “DUH Plan” has several advantages over Nike’s slogan.
1. It tells you when to do it. Do it first.
2. It addresses the cognitive and the behavioral:
Cognitively, it’s understood that the task may be difficult or inconvenient.
Behaviorally, there’s no choice but to do it, like it or not.
3. It reminds you to revel in your victory, reinforcing your success.
As basic and “duh” as the DUH Plan is, it works.
If you set a goal of writing five pages on Sunday morning and you commit to meeting that goal before you do anything else, you will. You’ll have those five pages written before dinner, maybe before lunchtime.
Celebrate the little wins in little ways and the big wins in big ways. Congratulate yourself on meeting every goal. Set yourself up for success by building on manageable goals. Celebrate with the meaningful things in life: laugh often, hug more, go to a movie, take a walk, chat with a friend, power nap, listen to music, do the Snoopy dance.
You can defeat your self-defeating behaviors. You have brain-power. You are committed to change. You are willing to try new ways of doing things. You can DUH your way to success.
Margie Lawson, a counseling psychologist, merges her worlds of psychology and writing. In addition to teaching on-line, she shares her knowledge and energy in person. She presents workshops and motivates audiences as a keynote speaker. Margie offers intensive one and two-day workshops to writers' groups nationally. © Margie Lawson 2004 All Rights Reserved
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