Saturday, January 5, 2019

new year's resolutions


In a talk I made to the Irmo Shepherd’s Center in November, I advised my audience to seek out experiences that take them beyond their comfort zone—not just to enlarge our understanding, but to provide a foundation for our imagination and intellect. This morning I was outside my comfort zone for an hour when I appeared on Kasie Whitener’s radio program WriteOn SC (100.7 FM). It was stressful, but not as difficult as my first time on the program.

We talked about goals for writers. It benefitted me perhaps more than our audience. I had decided to make no New Year's Resolutions this year. I was discouraged that I hadn’t succeeded in keeping my 2018 (and 2017) resolution to complete a manuscript. I have learned that this goal—to complete a manuscript—is a weak, if not ineffective, one. It doesn’t change my behavior in a way that encourages me to achieve the goal. Yes, I want to finish it, but to get there, I need more productive habits not verbalization of the goal. For 2019 I’ve changed my goal to: write (not research nor revise) for an hour each day on the manuscript.

Worse than helping me, the “finish manuscript” goal became an impediment. It caused frustration and disappointment with myself. What we need with goals is incentive. The definition of an incentive differs for different people. This gives rise to a couple of approaches to writing goals. On the one hand, you can make time-defined goals (an hour a day) or, on the other hand, output goals, 200 words a day.

If you are motivated by challenging or hard to achieve goals, you might go for six hours or 1000 words a day. However, not everybody (read Bonnie) is motivated by exhortations such as Steve Jobs’, "We're here to put a dent in the universe."  

Unrealistic expectations make me nervous. To begin with I fret about whether I can reach the goal. Fret turns into anxiety as I try harder and harder. Trying too hard impairs my ability to write. I am better off with targets I feel more confident about.

An important point I learned this morning—I need my written goals pinned in sight of my computer. Last year, the resolutions I made in January were forgotten by February. I have a better chance of reaching the finish line by consistently remembering and sticking to the list.

Some of my friends have given up making New Year’s resolutions, which makes me sad. One reason for making resolutions is to take stock of yourself and aim to be better. I think we’re getting old when we give up trying to better ourselves.


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