Writing has a distinct hurry-up and slow-down rhythm. Every day I set goals and I push hard to achieve them. Every day I feel a pressure to perform on time, to hit those goals. And I feel stressed when I miss them. The funny thing is that I’m the only one who cares. No one is checking to see if I get my edits done on time, or if I miss a deadline for a contest. No one but me and my inner critic.
So why set goals that stress me out, goals that I miss more than I hit? Because I am a procrastinator. If I don’t keep track of me, who will? My brother gave me a book for my birthday entitled The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. The first section is all about defining resistance. Not just in writing, but defining resistance to success in any endeavor. Resistance, in a nutshell, is the manifestation of all the things that keep you from producing. Family, phone calls, taking out the trash.
I’ve discovered that even the things that look like productivity are really resistance disguised. Setting goals can be a form of resistance. I can spend hours setting goals, defining what meeting them means, and waste an inordinate amount of time tracking them. I even have joined multiple yahoo loops for setting and reaching goals. I now can spend hours chatting about not hitting them or blog about how to set them and what it actually means to achieve.
All of that sucks time out of my day and creates a wonderful productive form of procrastination that feels like I’m getting something done. It allows me to report back to my inner critic, no I didn’t get any writing done, but I set goals today. Very productive, to be sure. But at the end of the week is anything on paper besides my goals? No. So what have I achieved? Zilch.
I have to approach goal setting like I approach my internet time. I set a timer. My whole life revolves around the timer now. It is my way to wage the war against resistance. I want to spend time on the internet. My online friends are important, but so is my writing. And all of the people on my goal setting loop would be vying to be the one to tell me to get back to work. So why am I fooling around with yet another goal setting loop? Am I using appropriate motivation or creating resistance?
Not only is the process of setting goals a possible downfall to productivity. The goals themselves can be landmines waiting to kill. Do goals mean anything when you set them high and don’t achieve them? Do they mean anything when you set them too low? Set them too high and you could set yourself up for failure. Too many failures and you tell yourself you can’t do this. You have set your goals to achieve resistance. Set them too low and you haven’t achieved what you could have. You hear a lot of talk about setting achievable goals but when you set them too low you create a different set of resistance: the resistance of not doing enough. So how do you balance setting your goals so high you never want to achieve them and so low they mean nothing?
It depends on learning about yourself and your inner critic. Because I tend to under hit my goals I prefer to set my goals high. If I set ten pages, I’ll do eight and if I set twenty, I’ll do fifteen. So I prefer to consistently not hit my goals. It does mean I sound like I’m hard on myself. Jessica didn’t hit her goal of fifty pages edited this week because of… And that may not be a great way to build self-esteem. But it does work for me. I may not get fifty pages, but I will hit forty-eight. And that is better than setting the goal low and missing it. I trick my inner critic into believing I failed and trick myself into success.
I am sure it can work the other way. Other people like to achieve their goals, so they set them purposefully low. Sally hit her goal of two pages and went on to do eight more! I think that is wonderful. They are succeeding and hitting their goals and they feel great. It doesn’t matter how you achieve your pages, it matters that you foil the evil nemesis of resistance.
Resistance lurks everywhere. It hides in your goals, it sneaks up in your piles of laundry, it lies in wait behind the cookie jar. But if you are vigilant and self-knowledgeable you can fight resistance and get stuff done. Success is also lurking in your vicinity. But its harder to find. Success doesn’t help you find it unless you are actively searching for it. Grab your timer and defeat resistance today!