At the beginning of this year I was rethinking my goal-setting habits, and I decided to set creative goals that involved time spent (“spend x number of hours on this project, each week”) rather than vague notions of progress (“improve painting skills”). Now that I’m two months into the year, I’ve realized some things about these goals.
First, the 45/15-minute work session breakdown is fabulous. It got me through a record amount of work on the family history, early in the year, and I’ve been very excited about that. However… that achievement has not been without its disadvantages! Doing more than I thought I could, in a shorter amount of time than I anticipated, has scary ramifications. After the first couple of weeks of lightning-speed progress, I started procrastinating on the family history, because (without consciously thinking about it) I realized I could be getting into the real writing and drawing of the book much sooner than I originally planned. I suspect I am ready for it, but it’s a yoga-handstand situation: my muscles can support me, but my mind can’t get around the concept of I can do a handstand, and so I balk whenever the teacher suggests it! So February has been a month of gently talking myself down, while simultaneously putting energy into other projects (like the valentine, and another workshop application).
Second, time goals are practicable, but they don’t provide much motivation. I may know intellectually that putting in three hours a day will result in improvement over time, but when it comes to actually getting off my butt and doing, a generalized wish for “improvement over time” does absolutely nothing. (I’m the same way with exercise; just knowing “this walk will make me healthier” isn’t adequate to get me out of the house!) I need to feel like my time goals are going toward something specific, otherwise it’s hard for me to invest that time. I wrote earlier that specific goals have discouraged me in the past; it’s very hard to set realistic ones. Modest specific goals (which I can be sure of achieving) don’t galvanize me, but ambitious ones overwhelm me, and nothing makes me feel more hopeless than setting goals and not meeting them.
I’ve decided to set some specific goals — as a road map for where my time goals are going — using a three-tiered approach. I thought of the way high school students are told to choose colleges: “safety,” “match,” and “reach.” I’m calling my three safety, reach, and dream. A safety goal is one I can meet easily; if I don’t, there are bigger issues I need to address. A reach goal is one that’s doable with some effort, but not so crazy that it feels impossible. A dream goal is one that feels quite challenging, but would be a real dream to achieve. For instance, if I were setting goals for yoga (which I’m not), my time goal would be to take 5-6 classes per week, and my specific goals for the next three months would be as follows: hold L-pose at the wall for 2 minutes (safety), get both feet to touch the wall when attempting to kick up into a supported handstand (reach), be able to kick up into handstand against the wall (dream).
The time goals are still the main practice, but the specific goals give me something to envision at the end of the journey. It’s like our road trip, really: knowing we need to be in Valley Ford on Wednesday night, and back home again sometime on Thursday, gives us a reason to get in the car and drive. The three-pronged specific goals give me something to work toward, but because they represent a range from easy to difficult, they’re not as daunting as a single ambitious goal.