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Happy Goal Setting

It’s that time of year. Resolution time. Do you make New Year’s Resolutions?  I usually do. Lose 20 pounds this year. Keep my house cleaner. Get that novel finished. That kind of thing.

Often resolutions are long forgotten by the end of January.  Ever been to a Weight Watchers meeting at the beginning of the year?  It’s a crazy madhouse! Newly committed dieters everywhere. By the end of the month, though, things are quieting down, there are seats available again and, by February, everything has generally settled back to “normal” as people drift away, resolutions forgotten.

I always used the terms goal-setting and resolutions interchangeably. The problem I have with goal-setting/resolutions has to do with the SMART acronym.  None of those resolutions listed up there in the first paragraph fits the SMART acronym, which pretty much dooms them from the outset.

As a model for setting goals, I totally agree with the SMART method.

Goals should be Specific. Say you’re going to write Novel X, not “a novel” because it lacks focus.

It should be Measurable.  Saying, “I resolve to write” can’t be measured in the same way resolving to write “a chapter a week” can be measured.

Realistic, absolutely!  Stating you resolve to write four full-length novels this year when you’ve never written one before, is just asking for failure.

Timed is also necessary.  If you don’t set yourself a time limit, you can fiddle around forever saying you’re “working” on your goal/resolution.

The part of the system that hangs me up is: Attainable.  Yes, setting an attainable (by you) goal is vital.  You should always set goals within your control, because how would it feel to set a goal of “getting published” (which hinges on the editor/publisher, even if you do everything correctly) , only to not achieve it by the end of the year? Unhappy!

This truth, in practice, makes this the hardest part of resolution/goal-setting for me. Because I don’t want to look at it that way.   I tend to like looking at goals as “Where do I want to be in 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?”  I want to be able to say, “I would like to have a book contract within the year” and “I would like to be a full-time writer in five years.”

But that doesn’t fit the “attainable” part of the SMART model.  That doesn’t make the model wrong, it  means I needed to figure out where my thinking was off.

A Different Way to Look At It

First, I looked up the difference between resolutions and goals:

Resolution:

1.  a resolve or determination: to make a firm resolution to do something.

2.  the act of resolving or determining upon an action or course of action, method, procedure, etc.

Goal:

1.  the end toward which effort is directed.

Ah! So, that’s where I made my error. I was thinking correctly about goals; it was resolutions I had wrong, getting them confused with goals.

The goal is the end. What you want to ultimately occur.  The goals is the end toward which effort is directed…and resolution is the effort, the course of action.

Put all together, New Year’s Resolutions are the goaldirected actions that I choose to incorporate into my daily life for the coming year.

Which means I should have both goals and resolutions.  My vision board (more on vision boards in another post) can reflect my goals of being a self-supporting writer, that I want to write women’s fiction and young adult novels, and that I want to give back to the writing community as a speaker and workshop leader.  There are no real time limits to these goals, as much of the achievement of them is out of my control.

However, totally within my control is resolutions. Looking at the steps I can take to reach those goals, I can set resolutions (yearly, or more often, as I take stock of my progress and revise my procedures throughout the year) as to what my goal-directed actions will be.  For instance I may resolve to devote one hour daily toward my current work in progress or that I will write one chapter a week, submit X number of proposals to my agent per year, etc.

My resolutions fit the SMART model, where my goals are the stars I’m shooting for.

The Importance of Resolutions

Whether you set resolutions only once a year or reevaluate and recommit on a monthly/weekly basis, I’ve found, to be a Happy Writer, that the resolutions are more important than the goals.  The resolutions — the steps — taken daily on that journey toward the ultimate destination/goal/dream are what make me a Happy Writer.

In the introduction of Supercoach: 10 Secrets to Transform Anyone’s Life, by Michael Neill, Neill says,  “One of the reasons you want what you want is that you believe it will in some way enhance your experience of being alive. But as you may have already begun to realize, if you really want to have a more enjoyable life, reaching your goals is not enough. You’re also going to have to find a more enjoyable way of getting there.”

The above quote was pretty profound for me.  Goals are so far-reaching, so out of my control, that they tend to be almost a detriment to my motivation.  I often found myself looking at my goals and thinking, “Great! I want to be a self-supporting writer — I busted my rear yesterday writing twenty pages on my manuscript and today I’m no closer to that goal than I was then. And I could write twenty more today and won’t be any closer tomorrow.”

Feeling anxious and tense about NOT being at my goal yet, made the process much less fun.

This led to my next revelation:  Getting to the goal was less important than making sure I have a good time getting there.

So how do I make the resolutions more enjoyable — and consequently improve the chances I will actually keep them beyond the first month of the new year? Choose to look at them differently, of course.  Look at them as the smaller steps you resolve to take toward your bigger goals.  Then apply the SMART model to them to make sure you’re on target.

If you make only one resolution this year, looking at the first definition of resolution listed above, make it this one:  I resolve to find ways to be happy in my writing life, to free my creativity by letting go of the tension I feel about my yet-to-be-accomplished goals and the things I have no control over.

In the next post, we’ll talk more about why it’s so important to enjoy the journey. It’s all about being a Happy Writer!

So, now that you know the difference between goals and resolutions, are you revising your resolutions for 2011?  I’d love to hear them! What are your ultimate writing goals and what are the resolutions you’d like to work on this year to get to those goals?

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