Setting Goals

Setting goals can be tricky.  Personally, I want a goal that I can actually reach.  But I don’t want one that’s so easy to reach that it isn’t even a challenge.

I like to mock my Wii for this reason.  Because it has to be the single worst example of goal-setting that I have ever seen.

For anyone who hasn’t used Wii Fit, it takes your weight and then suggests that you set a goal.  I’m sort of bad at that whole weight loss thing, so I’ll say “I want to lose one pound in the next two weeks.”

And then I turn around and gain three instead.

At which point the Wii suggests that maybe I should’ve set a goal that was easier for me to reach.  (Easier than one pound in two weeks???)  Which it follows up with a note that I could stand to lose somewhere north of thirty pounds and suggests an ideal weight for me that I haven’t weighed since I was ten.

(Even in high school when I played three varsity sports and things didn’t move that shouldn’t move, I was twenty pounds above the weight it thinks I should weigh.)

It gets better.  If I do happen to lose a pound and make my goal before the two weeks is up (which, really, should be possible since it also tells me that my weight can fluctuate by two pounds a day just because), the Wii says that it was getting a little worried about me because I lost weight too fast.  Really?

So, that is NOT how to set goals.  You do not set a goal, miss it for reasons you know could have been avoided (damn you two-bite cupcakes), and then decide that that was far too ambitious a goal and so change it.  And you do not set a goal, meet it ahead of time, and decide that something is wrong and you should now dial back your efforts.

If the only point of making goals is so you can meet them and receive a gold star, then I’d tell the Wii I wanted to gain a pound every two weeks.  Helluva lot easier than losing one.  But the point of a goal is to get you to a destination and you have to keep that end in sight at all times.

The reason this is on my mind is because here we are in the middle of week one of my third year of writing and I already hit my new weekly goal that I’ve set for myself.  I’ve written over 5,000 new words this week AND worked more than eight hours on writing and editing.

Given the past two years, I know that doesn’t mean that my goal is set too low, because I’ve only managed this about one week in five, historically.

What to do now?  I have three more days in the week.  I already made my goal for the week, so that “I can slack a little” thought creeps in.  But I should keep going.  Because I didn’t set that time/words per week goal for the fun of it.  I did it so I could meet bigger goals like, “finalize this damned novel so you can write the next.”

So, even though I’ve met the words and hours goal for this week, I need to look at my long-term goals and think about why I set any goal in the first place and what I’m really trying to accomplish.

Another random example.  I like to hike.  And sometimes I’m a really lazy hiker.  I was once on day two of a three-day hike, halfway up a very steep hillside, when it decided to rain on me.  There was nothing to do but continue, because I had nine hours of hiking to do that day before I could get to my accommodation for the night.  So, I decided I’d hike ten steps and then I could take a break.

Well, ten steps isn’t that far.  But it was my goal.  So, I’d go ten steps.  Stop.  Ten steps.  Stop.  Which was stupid.  Because there were times (not all of them) when I could’ve easily gone 15 steps instead of ten.  But because I’d told myself I’d go ten that’s where I stopped.

Except, that shelter I needed to reach?  It wasn’t moving.  So, whether I went ten steps or fifteen it was still going to be 10, 542 steps away.  (No, I didn’t really count…)

So, sometimes you set a goal and you reach it, but that doesn’t mean you should stop there, because you haven’t reached your ultimate destination yet.

If I lose a pound in a few days, that’s great, but it doesn’t mean I should just sit down and not worry about eating healthy until the end of my two-week goal period.  No, I should keep on going and maybe lose two pounds in two weeks.  (Holy cow, that’d be amazing!)

So, bottom line:  Goals should be motivational.  They shouldn’t be excuses to stop.  And they should be challenging enough that you actually feel like you’ve accomplished something when you get there.  And they should be designed to help you get wherever you want to go.  (That last one seems obvious, but it’s not.)


About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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