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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

COUNTER-INTUITIVE GOAL SETTING by Sarah Raplee

Hi, I'm Sarah Raplee, author of surprising romances that cross genres into suspense, paranormal, fantasy and steampunk.

Last year I wasted a lot of time and effort setting yearly, monthly, and weekly writing goals. I read lots of articles on goal-setting, most of which repeated the same basic, sensible advice:
  • Set realistic-but-not-easy goals
  • Begin with your Big Goal and then break it down into sub-goals and sub-sub-goals so you won’t feel overwhelmed.
  • Track your progress and make adjustments where needed.
Why sensible? Because it seems to make sense, right?
Then why is my success rate so appalling? Why didn’t I achieve more of those detailed, reasonably-difficult goals? They’re intuitive and sensible, right?
For me, not so much.
It’s a mistake to assume that, like a magic bullet or a secret handshake, one method of achieving goals works well for everyone:  extroverts and introverts, plotters and pantsers, visual learners and auditory learners and kinesthetic learners, lefties and righties and OMG what about the ambidextrous?
There are a number of reasons the above method doesn’t work for me. I’m an analytical thinker, a left-brainer. Give me something to analyze (say, a Big Goal) and I’ll spend days breaking it down into miniscule chunks of future achievement. Analyzing gives me the illusion of control and an excuse to procrastinate rather than Do the Work.
Never forget that writing is the most dangerous profession. Words are important and risky and scary.
Doing the work requires me to anesthetize my analytical left brain and turn loose the creative right side of my noggin. Who knows how much of what that produces will be embarrassing, imperfect twaddle?
Twaddle that I’ll need to submit to my critique partners, and ultimately to agents, editors, and Susie next door. That’s a looming landslide of potential criticism, rejection or ridicule. Of course it scares me!
You’ve probably guessed by now that one of my many faults is a tendency toward self-criticism. Having lots of goals to potentially fail to achieve feeds into this negative aspect of my personality. And giving me free reign to reassess and make adjustments to the goals I spent days setting is like plugging my brain into an eternal procrastination feedback loop. It’s a prescription for failure.
This year, I’m trying a couple of new methods to help me progress toward my Big Goal. Both have shown documented results for many people.
One is Intention. Each morning, I focus for a few minutes on my intention to accomplish a small step in support of my current Big Writing Goal.
I’m also reading Robert Maurer’s life-changing (according to customer reviews) book, One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way.
From the blurb: “Introducing the practical and inspirational guide to incorporating Kaizen and its powerful principles into one's daily life. Rooted in the two thousand-year-old wisdom of the Tao Te Ching--"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step"--Kaizen is the art of making great and lasting change through small, steady increments…”

My Big Goal this year is to write and publish Book 2 of the Psychic Agents Series.
My Kaizen Goal is to write new words each week. Fingers crossed achieving this small goal will lead to achieving my Big Goal.
Am I the only writer who slows down when tasked with setting goals?
Has anyone else tried the Kaizen approach to productivity? ~Sarah

*** This is an updated version of a post I first published Jan. 13, 2011, on the now-defunct MWVRWA Blog.

14 comments:

Judith Ashley said...

Sarah, I have a few non-writer friends who have used The Kaizen Way to tackle clutter and other challenges that become overwhelming because of size. As for your first question, this past year I did not meet my writing goals at all. What I found is I now go into that negative mindset when I use the word "goals." I've changed my language and now I have a focus for 2018. My focus has at its heart, My Intentions which this year is to "focus" on promotion and marketing while writing new words. We are almost through the first month of 2018 and I've no new words except for blog posts but I am editing two drafts I wrote last year. Promotion and Marketing? The best thing I've done is to team up with you, Diana and Pam in a Master Mind Alliance. Just knowing I'm not in this part of The Business of Writing by myself is a boon and keeps the procrastinating gremlins away.

I've every confidence you will easily and effortlessly accomplish your Big Writing Goal as well as many smaller ones.

Sarah Raplee said...

I go into that negative mindset, too. I like your term 'focus'. My focus has at its heart writing Book 2 while experimenting with promotion and marketing via the Master Mind Alliance (MMA).

MMA is a huge boon for all of us involved, Judith. Thank you for proposing the Alliance.

Linda Lovely said...

I think we all can slip into a negative mind set. Losing weight is my bugaboo. What's the point? I ask. I'll just gain it back because I always have. Maybe I need to focus before every meal!

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Like you, Sarah, I can spend a lot of time writing goals and breaking them down into smaller ones, etc. So to streamline a bit, I have basically kept last year's goals and tried not to focus too much on them for this year. I am intrigued by the Kaizen approach, hope you will update us later on your progress or thoughts.

Robin Weaver, Author said...

Interesting post, Sarah.
I use the agile method for my planning. I have long-term goals, but never plan for more than a week or so.
Of course, last year was the first time in five years I haven’t published a book. So you probably shouldn’t listen to me. :-)

Diana McCollum said...

I never heard of the Kaizen Way! I have heard the quote "One thousand steps begins with one." I might have that quote wrong but you get the idea.

I set my goals personal, household and writing, list them in my little black book. As I achieve one I cross it off and relish the feeling of accomplishment. If I ever get them all crossed off in a year, I'll make a new list. I don't agonize over the goals.

I like the word goal. To achieve something I've said and put down in writing. Focus I feel is more for when I'm in the groove of painting a picture or writing or etc. When I'm Focused on the task at hand, not thinking about completing a goal.

Just my two cents!

Maggie Lynch said...

You are not alone in suffering from goal-itis (yes it's a made-up term). I think everyone suffers from this in one way or another. For those who regularly make their goals, they suffer from not having made larger goals. For those who make large goals and don't meet them, they suffer from guilt.

You make a good point about what works for one does not work for another. I am someone who has been known to do 50-70K words in a month on occasion. However, if you ask me to do it during NaNoWriMo I guarantee if I get out 10K that month it will be a miracle. I have no clue why. The first time I did NaNoWriMo was back in 2006 or 2007 --can't exactly remember. And I was successful, particularly after staying up for three nights straight to reach the 50K. I tried again the next year and did absolutely nothing (okay, I think it was maybe 5K words). The next year I got started and then just turned it off.

I don't know exactly what it is, but I suspect it's some unconscious rebellion at living up to someone else's expectation of me writing a certain amount of words in a particular month of the year. Needless to say, I just don't participate at all now.

For me, I think that's ultimately the answer. I don't compare my goals to anyone else, and I do them only for me and what I think I need to do in any one year. Though I do belong to a word count accountability group (which is helpful to me) it is only to keep me reporting honestly. It is not to compare myself against those who write more or less words than I do. It's more of a reminder to myself--that is undeniable when you report publicly--that this is where I am in my march toward the accomplishments I want to make that year.

In the end, goals are as good or bad as you make them. Humans are amazingly adept at self-sabotage, and also remarkably good at rationalization of why something did or didn't work for them. I have an honorary PhD in rationalization of my goals. :)

I think the key to goal setting has everything to do with honesty. That is being honest with yourself as to how much you really want to accomplish that goal. That is surprisingly difficult to do. At least for me it is. It's really difficult to separate they could have/should have self-talk from the "truth" of what is most important. I suspect it is exactly that that finances the multitude of writing coaches, therapists for creatives, and various support group.

My motto is do whatever works. Don't justify it, just do it. If it doesn't work, try something different the next year.

Barbara Rae Robinson said...

I love that Kaizen book, Sarah. I haven't read it in a long time. Maybe it's time to go back to it. I have tried to list everything I need to get done. You know, the master list. I can't do it. I need to "focus" (love your word, Judith) on the most important thing to do each week and simply disregard anything else. I've discovered I can't work on more than one book at a time. I tried it and it didn't work. I can't edit one book and write another. And I love the word intention. I set my intention each morning before I sit down to work. My major problem is not being able to stay focused long enough each day. I'm working on that with Pomodoros and keeping track of how many 30 minute segments I accomplish. Thanks for the reminder about Kaizen.

Sarah Raplee said...

I will keep you informed as to how I'm doing, Lynn. so far I'm a lot less stressed.

Sarah Raplee said...

Robin, I like the flexibility of your Agile Method. :-)

Sarah Raplee said...

Linda, the kaizen way is to take one less bite at each meal for amonth. then take one less bite from that for the second month, and so on. supposed to overcome your brain's resistance to change.

Sarah Raplee said...

Diana, whatever works for you is the best way!

Sarah Raplee said...

I like your motto, Maggie! So far this year I am using the goal reporters group to make sure I get some new words in almost every week. I don't stress about how many at this point.

Sarah Raplee said...

I'm so glad you found the Kaizen Way helpful, Barb! I have a hard time writing new words on one project and editing another at the same time, too.