In life, as in writing, expectations can really trip you up. So I’m starting a series on expectations, critique, criticism, and how to use the opinions of others to your advantage as your power through to your big writing dream.
Every month I sit down and plan out my goals for the month. These are both broad, larger idea based things and simple action-oriented to-do list items. I keep this list in the monthly view of my planner which I look at several times a week.
I just LOVE a good list of goals.
However, this has come back to bite me in the butt more times than I can count. If I had a dime for every time I wrote something down, be it a bigger goal or an item on my daily to-do list, and didn’t do it, I wouldn’t have to work.
Reasons my New Year’s Resolution a few years ago was to stop setting New Year’s Resolutions. Guess how long that lasted? One year.
There is so much importance to writing down goals. I’m sure you know the reasons: writing down your goals makes them much more likely to be accomplished, the sense of accomplishment is the best feeling in the world, having extra goals and to-do helps fill up your planner and make you look pleasantly busy (I’m so guilty of that). Joking aside, setting goals, and writing them down somewhere you can see them will do wonders for your work ethic and productivity.
But too, like everything, setting goals has a shadow side. The shadow side of goals comes in the form of high expectations for yourself. And sometimes these can be the worst sort of expectations.
Today we’ll talk about a little healthy self-love. No matter how many goals you set, if you’re beating yourself up along the way, then something is wrong.
Making goals you can actually accomplish, given the time and resources you have, will save you so much time, energy, negative self-talk, and give you more confidence as you pursue your writing dream. Plus it makes achieving this incredible goal seem less scary and more accessible, rather than a dream that “someone else” could do better. We all have a dream and there is always room for more. Your story needs to be told too.
The acronym SMART goals has been around for a while, but if you haven’t heard of it, let me break it down for you really quick.
Here’s an example of a not-SMART goal: you’re a new writer, and want to make a platform for yourself as you start to publish short stories and articles. You see the blogs of other writers and want to create a blog that looks as polished and impressive as theirs, so you set a goal to learn how to design websites by the end of the month.
Let’s break that down into its basic components: 1) learn website design 2) by the end of the month.
Here are the good things about this goal: it’s timely. You’ve set a deadline for yourself and know when you want to achieve it. It’s fairly specific: you want to learn website design. You know what sort of design you want to learn. It’s also relevant. Knowing the ins and outs of website design is a great skill to have as you move towards your own writer platform, and will certainly put you a bit above the rest.
Here’s what’s not so great about this goal:
- It’s not specific enough. There is a LOT of knowledge that goes into designing websites: HTML, knowledge or plugins, knowing what you need and what you don’t in a functional design, and even the basics of art like the color wheel and what color combos look good together. You could break this goal down even further into more specific steps.
- It’s not very measurable. How will you know when you’ve “learned” website design? I think many designers and artists would say that you never stop learning your craft, so how would you define having learned website design? No answer? Not a good goal.
- It’s attainability varies. If you have art or design experience than learning website design might not be much of a stretch. However, if you can’t quite figure out Facebook, or never took an art class, website design should belong at the bottom of a list of other skills relating to design and function for websites and a web presence.
A quick caveat: there is a bit of a difference between SMART goals and the BIG DREAM goals that we all have. One of my biggest life goals is to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, but I know I have a lot of other smaller goals to accomplish before I’m even ready to set foot on the trail. I know many of you would love to publish a novel, but if all you do is write “publish a novel” on your monthly goal sheet, you won’t get anywhere. Breaking “publish a novel” down into it’s smaller steps, not only makes it more achievable, but it makes it more realistic.
So think of those BIG DREAM goals that you have. The ones that thrill you, the ones you want to reminisce about on your deathbed and brag about to your grandkids. I imagine for many of us this is publishing the novel that’s been floating around in our heads for a while.
Then break it down. Way, way down.
Write out the list of every single minute step you need to do to accomplish your goal. You need to write twenty chapters, you need to decide on the color of the precious gem in your story, learn how to write more active dialogue, you need to find a dream publisher or an agent, you need to write query letters or look into self-publishing or find a cover designer.
The list will be long. And I know it looks overwhelming now. But think of it this way: a lot of those goals are easy. They’re little things that don’t take up much time. In fact, you could probably accomplish five of them in one productive afternoon.
Split them up into the best plan that works for you. I’d do no more than ten a month, just to save yourself a bit of sanity and block out chunks of time to accomplish each thing.
Now you’re probably wondering what this has to do with expectations.
When we set high goals for ourselves, we, especially creatives, have a habit of setting that high goal as a high expectation. If we don’t achieve it, we’re a failure and need to go live in a cave for the rest of our lives. But this thought process is dangerous to your work ethic and what you want to create. Having too high of expectations can do as much damage to your work as having no expectations can. It can paralyze you. And we know nothing gets done when you’re paralyzed by fear of failure.
Guys, I don’t need to tell you that life happens. We have enough going on in our lives as it is. There is no reason to feel that if you don’t publish your novel yesterday, that you’re a failure or don’t have a good enough work ethic. Good things take time. And very good things, fit seamlessly into your life, without robbing your friends and family and fur babies of time with you.
So give yourself a bit of grace. Let yourself learn how many goals you can take on in a month. Learn how much you can accomplish in an afternoon and in a week and in a month. And if it’s not up to par with what you think you should be doing, learn to accept that that is absolutely ok.
Making your goals SUPER specific and actionable will not only make your life easier in the long run, but it will help your own confidence.
As you cross things off the list, you’ll see the items-to-accomplish section get smaller and smaller. The list of things you’ll still have to do to accomplish your dream won’t seem so scary because of everything behind you, already accomplished. You’ll be prepared to continue on to the new parts of your goal. You won’t feel overwhelmed or intimidated and incapable. You can kick the negative self-talk from too high of expectations to the curb.