Making goals at the start of the year is exciting. “I’m going to do all the things! I’m going to live a better life! I’m going to succeed!” But a month or two into the year it’s easy to figure out all those big plans may not actually pan out. So, what do you do? Give up? Punish yourself? Make adjustments?
I’m an advocate for continuing in the face of failure and realigning my expectations. Realignment can come in a number of ways:
- Trimming out goals that I know I cannot achieve
- Breaking a goal into landmarks so I can check off achievements
- Reducing goals to something that is more achievable
- Replacing goals with goals that better align with how the year is going
Last year I planned to write two novels—one during the year and a draft of a new one during NaNoWriMo 2017. The novel I was planning to write over the year became what I worked on during NaNo. My time just didn’t align for being able to work on the draft earlier than November. Trimming out a new novel was an easy decision for me to make, even though it was disappointing when I looked back on my plans for 2017. But it was the right decision, because looking back on the year, I have no idea how I would have been able to work on another novel during 2017.
For the novel I worked on last year, I kept feeling intimidated by the process. Rather than continuing to look at it as “draft a novel” (which only sounds simple on paper), I broke it into several steps: write a two-page synopsis, draft character arcs for the main characters, re-read what’s been written, write 1,667 words per day during NaNoWriMo. Breaking the task into those smaller chunks gave me a plan for approaching the whole goal, and, even though I didn’t actually finish the draft, I did all of those other things! So even though I didn’t hit the main goal, I feel good about the progress I made.
Last year I planned to write 200K words. That pans out to 548 words per day. I hit the 200K early, but decided since writing was going so well, I should keep writing 548 words per day. Oh. Oh no. That did not work. Instead of beating myself up, I reduced the goal. I changed it first to 500 words per day and then to 400 and finally to writing on a specific project (and at least 100 words). Each adjustment fit with what was going on in my life and it kept me productive on the main goal (writing) without feeling bad about not hitting an unrealistic landmark.
I had every intention of launching my editorial website in 2017. By the time October hit, I realized I was not in a place mentally where I could offer my services to strangers. My friend had died, my cousin was in liver failure, and several other areas of my life were already in upheaval—did I really need to stick to a goal that could easily be pushed to a later date? Instead of pushing myself when I really needed to take care of myself, I dropped my launch goal and replaced it with a goal to take care of my mental health. I started grief counseling and focused my efforts on being mindful of my feelings, my grief, and finding joy. It was quite a switch from focusing on business, but it was the right switch for what was going on in my life.
Your goals should never be static, and they should never hinder you. If your goals are stressing you out and demotivating you, you should revisit them and revise them. Goals are supposed to make us better, to get us closer to the people we want to be, but we have to work with the people we are now and what we can bring to the table today. Realign your expectations, throw out what doesn’t work, but don’t give up.