intentions

31 days: Writing Goals, how to achieve them & what if you don’t

This series of articles running through January will explore ways of keeping our head above water in physical, mental, emotional and creative areas. There will be creative challenges, competitions and giveaways. For the full background see here.

To receive all the 31 posts, sign up for email notification on the sidebar. On twitter it’s at @31HAW or @alisonwells. Hashtag  #31haw and #headabovewater.

Aims and intentions – direction but not dictatorship.

There are many blogposts across the internet about setting goals this January but the emphasis I want to put on this post is yes, on achieving goals but not beating yourself up in the process! Speaking from experience I know how we can scupper ourselves by getting frantic, confused and guilty so this is what I’ve done that helps me.

1: Write a desire manifesto
Write what you want to do/achieve most of all. Under that write your lesser aims. You will know what’s most important to you and what you need to put ahead of everything else.

2: Be optimistic

There is tremendous energy in intention itself. I talk about intention in this post and how Orna Ross says that aims are not about ‘should’ but come from a more positive position. So set out what you would love to achieve in the coming months. We want to give ourselves parameters within which we can organise our life, we’re not talking sticks and sadness. We want to get away from a vague sense of dissatisfaction and see what kinds of activities and achievements will give us energy and makes us happier. At this stage jot down your wildest dreams.

3: Be realistic and specific

We’ve all heard about making aims SMART, specific, measurable, achieveable, realistic and timebound. Again, we need to set the parameters. It would be marvellous if we could write 3 novels in a month but it probably won’t happen. Subject your wildest dreams and aims to a reality test. Could you finish your novel draft by next month? Do you hope to start your next project by March. Do you need to fit in smaller projects along the way? Can you assign specific time slots to these?

Note: This is not set in stone! Your projects will take longer or less time than you think, family issues will occur. You DO NOT NEED TO FEEL YOU HAVE FAILED OR SHOULD BE GUILTY. So what if you’re 20 years too late to be considered for the 30 under 30 prize, is that really what you wanted anyway? And what would you be happy with instead?

4: Keep a ‘to do’ journal and track progress and achievement (this is magic!)

Get an A4 book into which you write your monthly, weekly and daily aims. Each day or week tick off what you’ve done (a big enthusiastic tick). If something is left undone add it in to the following week. Periodically (monthly, quarterly) write a list of achievements such as submissions made or pieces accepted, words written, ideas gathered. (There’s more on this below!)

What I find so good about this practice is that it gets everything out of my head, my to do list is not circulating in my mind and causing anxiety, I can clearly see what I want to do, what I have done and what I need to do to finish what I set out to do.

3: Regig your schedule regularly.

Based on the information you discover see where you need to add effort, prioritize or take away goals altogether. Again this is a rational and clever thing to do. There is no shame in not achieving everything. (Even superheroes have to send their costumes to the dry cleaners every so often!)

4: Set both tiny goals and marvellous ones

If you set tiny goals you can build on them. If you aim to write 500 words a day you will energise yourself by your success rather than disheartening yourself by your aim to do 2000. The energy of your achievement and it’s confidence will make it more likely that you can achieve 2000 words. Didn’t you know you had wings and could fly?

But equally big goals like the 50,000 word writing challenge Nanowrimo can work. If you see yourself by steady progression scaling the heights of such a challenge (through effort and camaraderie) you will forever know what you are capable of and that is a certainty that cannot be taken away from you.

5: Write an achievement manifesto

When I arrive at the pages where I write my quarterly summary of successes I am always surprised. It’s so easy to forget what you have achieved, even if it’s something quite significant. We often have a tendency to underplay success and focus on what we haven’t done yet. So writing down what we have achieved from solving family squabbles to winning the local poetry competition to writing your first flash fiction to winning the Booker prize is very important. We can take some time to see how these achievements reflect what we set out to do or whether some of the things we did took us in new directions that turned out to be rather wonderful. You can even go a bit crazy and write compliments to yourself on this page. I’ll be talking about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques to help stop negative thoughts more fully in a future post and the positive feedback we can give ourselves in this achievement manifesto is an important part of that. This is our feelgood CV, imagine listing your achievements for a job, you can make yourself sound very impressive!

And what if you don’t succeed?

Psychology and Weiner’s attribution theory tells us that we attribute our own success to our efforts and other people’s success to luck. Failure works round the other way. I’m not so sure that those of us who feel responsible for everything, don’t attribute our success to chance and our failure to ourselves. There are those of us who set such high standards that we are bound to fail.

In the modern day though we have this impression that everyone can succeed if they just try. There is truth to the idea that if we start off more optimistic we’ll be more alert to opportunities and we’ll try things, whether it’s enter competitions or self-publish, become entrepreneurs or apply for a job that’s a little too far out of our reach (or is it?) It’s also true however that even if we’ve written a brilliant book for example or have been writing solidly for 20 years, there is a chance we’ll be unlucky and just won’t make it or perhaps we’re not as good as we hoped.

BE CLEVER!

If we are not getting where we want to we might need to get some constructive criticism. We might have to decide whether the love of writing is enough beyond financial success. We might take joy from other aspects of our lives that can make a rich cloth in its entirety. We can hope for posthumous fame. We need to figure out what aspects of life make it just good enough, what small pleasures add up into a satisfying whole. There has to be balance between making our goals and dreams strong enough and big enough to make us work hard & commit to our own success and also realising that to make one ambition the be all and end all is to set ourselves up for misery.

YOU HAVE NOT FAILED!

We need to become good not beating ourselves up about not meeting targets. We need to be clever and reassess, not take it as failure.

What do you think, is there a way to maintain our optimism and intention while not beating ourselves up for the things we don’t manage to do?

The energy of intention & where the river of stones went

Hands up! Here’s a message from a mum of four who’s blog is about headspace and finding time to write and paying attention and who said she was going to participate in the River of Stones Project this January (posting a few lines of a mindful meditation or observance every day) but hasn’t had the time! The message is Sometimes you can’t do it all. I started on Jan 1st with a stones post, on the second day my computer ate my post, on the third day I mentally wrote a post and even took a picture (it was about the dumplings that I’d cooked in the stew). The next day I thought about what I might write about but none of these observances made it to the computer, which in a way doesn’t really matter. And here’s why.

I met many new people on the blog last year who enjoyed reading my Jan 2010 stones posts and I in turn enjoyed the observances blogged and tweeted by others. However the main point of the project is to orient ourselves towards small observances and mindfullness of place, time or emotion and as a whole, I’m doing that. In December, through Barbara Scully’s wonderful blog At My Kitchen Table I won a Thank You book created to raise money for the Irish Hospice Foundation. The book is on my hall table and just seeing it reminds me to be thankful for something even if I’m having a rotten day. I also encourage the children to write in it or remember what is good. So my orientation is towards reflection, observance and gratitude.

I read earlier in the month an article by Orna Ross on her creative intelligence blog about resolutions vs intentions and firmly agree when she says that

New year’s resolutions are often framed as negative injunctions (giving up, never again) and based on self-judgements and -criticism. Creative Intention is framed as a positive proposal, moving towards something you’d like to see more of in your life.

I particularly identify with the idea that there is movement involved in intentions, that you are orienting yourself towards how you want things to be and even in that first initial orientation is the energy that will propel you along the route you have turned towards. I’ve talked about this before in relation to identifying yourself as a writer – the act of turning towards writing in a positive way puts your mind in the frame of taking further decisions and achieving further momentum along that path.

It’s a question of putting yourself in the mindset of what you want to be engaged in. If you’ve ever been in the process of buying  a house you know that you suddenly see For Sales signs everywhere. Once you are in the mindset of an endeavour, signs and opportunities will become more obvious. Not miraculously of course – you are putting yourself in the way of them. For me, a serious orientation towards being a writer included being involved in blogging, twitter and a writer’s group as well as submitting more of my work. These actions in themselves have generated further connections and opportunities. Learning about flash fiction through #fridayflash (click the image on the sidebar) led me to blog about it, then to be quoted in a national newspaper, then to get involved in the National (UK) flash fiction day, for example. Blogging here led me to be asked to blog for the Irish writing website www.writing.ie.

What is important when you orient yourself towards something, when you have an intention rather than a resolution, is that it is a positive thing, an action that has energy. Sometimes a resolution has an ‘ought’ quality and ‘ought’ means guilt. Resolutions may sound firmer – the stuff of Antarctic explorers but to me they can be ‘all or nothing’. Intentions can bend with you and work with you. In this case, I’m not really letting anyone else down – which is another matter and perhaps a topic for another post (saying yes to too much at once). So it’s okay that the stones have disappeared. It’s wonderful that I’m writing other stuff that I hope you’ll soon be able to read. It’s great that I’m still making still moments and observances in my own life and I may still have some stones for you before the month is out.