On Goals

Goals tend to be important in every aspect of life. These goals might be long term: graduate college with a certain GPA, reach a certain level in your career, or see that your kids grow up healthy and happy. Goals might also be very immediate: answer all the waiting mail in your inbox, practice an instrument for a certain amount of time, or finish a looming project. We all set goals constantly because, whether our goal is to write a certain amount of words, lose weight, or just get through our daily to-do list, we tend to need to track our progress to feel accomplished. Looking back on a day, a week, a year, in which we accomplished our goals tends to leave us feeling satisfied whereas not meeting our goals drags on us and leaves us feeling like we’ve wasted time. That said, setting the right kind of goals is important.

So what makes up “the right kind of goal”?

For starters, a good goal should challenge you. If a goal is too easy, there isn’t all that much a sense of accomplishment at the end. They call it “reaching for a goal” for a reason. If you don’t have to extend yourself, that’s not much of a reach.

But, while challenging, a good goal should be achievable. If you set your goal too high, you’ll become discouraged if you can’t reach it. This is especially true for more immediate goals. I’m going to use writing goals here, because I’m a writer, but these can apply across the board. My daily writing goal on a first draft is around 3k words a day (depending on my timeline). Some days I blow past this amount, but some days I struggle to reach it. I wish I could write 10k words a day, and I have on a couple occasions, but not only do I tend to burn out quick and lose writing days following a 10k day, but if I set my goal that high, I’d hit it so rarely that I’d feel guiltier and crummier by the day. 3k is a comfortable goal for me and a goal I can usually hit. (Comfortable, in this case, does not equate easy.) That means when I close my laptop at the end of the day, I feel like I’ve accomplished something, instead of thinking I fell 6k words short, again. I will hopefully have to up my goal in the coming years, and have upped it in the past as my writing speed has increased, but for now, 3k words a day is a good goal for me. In the past, instead of word count goals, I had writing time goals, meaning my goal was to devote an hour or two hours (whatever I could juggle at that time) to writing. Shape your goal to fit in your life. An impossible goal will help no one.

Speaking of achievable goals, make sure yourgoal is within your control. It is important to distinguish between goals and dreams. Dreams are something you desire, something you want to happen. Goals are something you can make happen. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a hand in helping a dream come true, but you can’t make a dream happen. Being published is a dream. Becoming a major league athlete is a dream. Performing in the Met is a dream. You can structure your goals to work toward a dream, but the dream can’t be a goal. If you are a writer, it is self destructive to make your goal that you will be published by xyz date. That isn’t within your control. Now a good goal might be to have a certain number of queries out by that date, as that is something you can control and works toward your dream. If you’ve never done it before, examine your dream and your goals. Are you working against yourself by considering a dream a goal? Do your goals and dream work together?

I could probably list a few more points, but I’ll end with the fact good goals reap rewards. Okay, that one sounds a little obvious. The sense of accomplishment at the end of the day is a reward, right? And your goals paying off in your dream coming true, that’s a reward, surely? Yes. Yes, of course. But don’t forget to take care of yourself along the way of accomplishing your goals. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the big goals (and big dreams) and you shrug off the littler goals. Met your goals? Then give yourself a minute to enjoy that sense of accomplishment. Take a book in the tub and read by candle light, watch a movie with the family, go out for dinner, or at least do your own private happy dance in your office before diving into your next goal, just so you don’t burn out.

Well, I hope you found this list of good goal traits useful. Anyone one want to share their goals? Progress on goals? How about dreams and the goals you are using to achieve those dreams?

Happy Thursday everyone!


7 Responses to “On Goals”

  1. 1 Terri-Lynne
    July 1, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    YES! The dream can’t be the goal. Too many make that mistake, and end up frustrated.

  2. July 1, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    Yep, ditto what Terri-Lynne said. I still catch myself in that trap every now and then. Fortunately I have a very pragmatic boyfriend who reminds me to take a step back and focus on what’s actually achievable, so that I will (oh hey!) actually achieve it.


  3. 3 the Gardner
    July 2, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Awesome, awesome post. I’ve never thought about the difference between dreams and goals. I’ll have to do some thinking about where I’ve been confusing the two (after nearly a half century on this earth!)

  4. July 2, 2010 at 10:01 am

    Thanks everyone! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I think we all tend to confuse dreams with goals once in a while. Figuring out the difference can prevent a lot of frustration.

  5. July 7, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    I’d say 3k was a bit much for most people for a goal, but I love how you laid this out clearly and completely. I plan to include a link in my next roundup because I think writers can benefit from reading what you put here.


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