Sadly, the answer to the last question is either 'very little' or 'not to try'. So what's the solution?
If you've been reading any self-help books in the last few years you likely already know the answer. SMART or SMARTER goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Risky, Time-Keyed, Exciting, Relevant). Such goals allow us to create concrete targets and therefore firm measurements of success. In addition, they can also help us create a path toward reaching them. None of this means they're a guaranteed path to success, but they provide a formalized environment in which to keep moving forward and they help us to understand what may have happened to stop us from reaching that goal. Perhaps, for example, there was an unexpected life change that took a lot of time or resources to deal with, or perhaps you just discover that your goal was unrealistic and you need practice in setting more reasonable goals. In either extreme and all the cases in between, having formalized goals helps in guiding actions in the current year, understanding what happened in the past year, and making plans for the future year.
There are a lot of books and courses out there about setting goals and I'm not going to go through these in this post. Rather, I'm going to discuss the five key blunders that allow people to sabotage their own success, as described by life management guru Michael Hyatt. I learned a lot from taking his Best Year Ever course last year. It helped me structure my year better and, although I still failed at some goals, I was successful at others. More importantly, it helped me forge a path forward, rather than continuing to meander through the wilderness. I highly recommend the course. Regardless, here are five key issues that might prevent you from setting realistic goals or achieving your goals, whatever they may be.
1. Sailing without a Destination
If you don't know exactly where you want to go, it's very unlikely you'll ever get there.
This is a big reason to use specific, measurable, and actionable goals instead of vague resolutions. Even if you don't reach your goal, at least you'll know how close you came and what you might do to get closer next time.
2. Charting an Impossible Course
If I'm honest, this is my biggest problem. I have trouble setting realistic goals. In my case, this tends to mean I think I can do more than I can and I end up planning for too many large projects. However, I'm confident now that I've started formalizing my goals and doing year-end assessments, that my goal-setting will become more realistic as I learn where I'm going wrong. A healthy number of goals is suggested to be no more than 7-10 goals per year (with goals from all domains of life -- see the end of the blog for more on this) meaning 2-3 significant goals for each quarter.
3. Staying too Close to the Shore
After failing at goal-setting or resolutions often, it's tempting to set safe, very achievable goals to build confidence. However, such goals don't tend to move us forward. Michael Hyatt suggests considering goals as falling into one of three zones: the Comfort Zone, the Discomfort Zone, and the Delusional Zone. Effective goals fall into the Discomfort zone, where we're always forced to learn and work hard to achieve them. As he suggests:
"If your dreams are inside your comfort zone, they're not really dreams."4. Losing Your Bearings
It's easy to get side-tracked from our goals. The year is long (although it doesn't always seem that way) and there are many distractions that appear throughout. However, having a well-formulated set of goals, and reviewing them regularly, is a great help in staying focused. This can be aided even further by keeping goals visible, perhaps as a print-out posted on the wall where they can be seen at relevant times. And it helps to review them each day.
5.Sailing without a Crew
Something everyone needs to help them through the difficult and trying parts of being a writer (or any other self-guided career) is a supportive and helpful community. Sometimes this includes friends and family, but not all the time, as (1) they might not understand the difficulties you're going through, (2) they might be unable to be constructive in their feedback. Furthermore, when sharing your goals with your community, you want to be selective. Psychologists have discovered that if you tell everyone your goals (e.g. posting on social media) you're less likely to be successful, possibly because the act of posting the goals itself feels like success. So, they suggest you should only share your goals with those actively working to help you achieve them.
Ensure your Goals Include all Aspects of Your Life.
I'll leave you with one other thought. Your goals should include all aspects of your life in order to create a work-life balance. If they don't, one of the domains you've neglected will, more often than not, begin affecting the other domains. Perhaps your health gets worse stopping you from working, or maybe your relationship begins to fail, distracting you from your writing. Or maybe you just begin to wonder what it's all about and why you should continue to push yourself. Michael Hyatt suggested there are ten life-domains one should consider: physical, work, hobbies, social, spiritual, emotional, financial, parental, marital, and intellectual. Not everyone will have all ten, but most people will have to manage at least eight of these in some way (e.g. spiritual may not refer to a relationship with a deity, but at some point, almost everyone has to come to terms with their place and purpose in the world).
Here is a link to one website for such an assessment. The LifeScore Assessment
It's important to realize that this does not give you what someone else thinks should be good for you, but rather it's an assessment of how satisfied you are with aspects of your life, and thus represents a guide to use when considering what your goals should be.
With the new year only a little over a day away, I wish the best of luck to you and yours and I hope you fulfil your goals and dreams in 2019.
Happy New year!
Edwin H Rydberg is a science fiction writer and futurist. He can be found at his website Alternate Futrues, or at various events hosted by Promoting Yorkshire Authors.