How to Set Achievable Goals

April 10, 2014

Do you set goals for yourself, and then fall short, over and over again, week after week? Do you drown yourself in "should's" and "if-only's," and then give up because you figure you're not good enough? Well, it could be that you're trying too hard, and letting the best be the enemy of the good. And a heck of a lot can be built on just five minutes of "good" -- or even just five minutes of showing up.

I'll admit--I used to have lofty goals for my writing: thirty minute writing "sessions," three times a week (spaced optimally, of course, over assam tea with a scented candle and some precious music.) Maybe even a story a week. At the very least, progress darn it, measured by chartreuse stickers in my planner optimistically printed with "writing time." I'm not making this up.

None of this actually happened of course, and so I downgraded to fifteen minutes. And still, no go. I should have printed up other stickers that said "self-flagellation," because I spent way more time berating myself for sucking so bad, for being such a cataclysmic kill-the-dinosaurs level loser as to not even manage fifteen minutes here or there. I could tell myself it wasn't my fault, but that was even worse, because then there wasn't any hope. I'd just sit there and tell myself that Everybody Else in the World Including My Dog will publish a best-selling novel while I cry in a pile of laundry, my brain riddled with empty pathways cleared by years of domestic logistics and misguided efforts at sock retrieval.

So I did what any sane girl would do--I lowered my standards (I do not recommend this for all areas of your life, though I perhaps will discuss this in a future article that I intend to call "Byron Katie Can Bite Me.") FIVE MINUTES. One stinking page. And to make things easier, I copied a writing prompt on the top of each page of a notebook.

Even I can't mess this up. I can do five minutes. This is such a low bar that I can tell myself "I don't even need to think." All I have to do is just show up and spill some ink. It's as easy as breathing.

Suddenly, then, I can play. I can surprise myself. I can write total shit, because it's a game -- which will I hit first, the five minutes, or a page? And mostly it's weird shit, but not total shit. So it's a win, and it's pretty amazing to see what happens when you just show up. And spill some ink.

So if you want your goals to be achievable, don't feel bad about setting them low! You can always set new and bigger goals later.