Throughout my life, I always snubbed my nose at the idea of creating New Year’s resolutions. I felt like that was something that only occurred in the movies and that anyone with enough ambition could easily accomplish all of their dreams without resorting to something as simplistic as writing down their goals on paper at the beginning of the year.
And wouldn’t you know it, but each year that I failed to write down my goals, I always ended up feeling like I didn’t accomplish anything come the following New Year’s Eve.
When I began my 2012 (the supposed last year of existence), I decided to make a change in how I approached my goals. If the world was going to end, then I wanted to be able to look back at the past year and be proud of what I had accomplished, instead of regretting all the things that I failed to accomplish. So, within the first few weeks of the year (sorry, but I can’t remember the exact date), I sat down, and I resorted to the simplistic banality of writing down my goals.
Now, I plan on doing this every year for the rest of my life!
I think that one of the most important reasons why actually taking the time to write out my goals was so effective was that it allowed me to really think through what I wanted to accomplish over a very specific amount of time. Instead of just having lofty ideas and dreams, thinking about what I could accomplish in a restricted twelve-month time span forced me to be logical about my goals. By knowing that I only had a small amount of time to work with (because come on, a year flies by before we know it), I forced myself to be realistic. I didn’t know if I could pay off all my debt, but I knew that I could pay off one credit card. I didn’t know if I could afford a trip to Europe, but I knew that I could at least figure out a way to take some kind of vacation. I didn’t know if it was possible for me to sell a screenplay or a novel, but I knew that I could at least write one.
To some people, this “dumbing down” of my dreams may seem like I was selling myself short, but the truth is that I am self aware enough to know how I operate. If I don’t set realistic goals for myself, then I will set unrealistic ones in my mind that will surely result in letting myself down. When I was working in Los Angeles as a writer/director, I always kept my eye on the lofty end game – winning an Academy Award or seeing my film at the top of the box office. This is a great dream, but it’s one that few people accomplish. So, each year that this didn’t happen, I was disappointed in myself, regardless of how many projects I had written and directed or how many screenings my films had at festivals. By focusing only on the dream, it prevented me from appreciating the reality.
But this year, for the first time in my writing life, all I focused on was the reality. It removed some of the crushing expectation that I placed on myself and gave me the freedom to succeed.
This year, my goals were:
- Complete a graphic novel with a friend of mine
- Write my first young adult novel
- Finish a screenplay
- Meet people in the writing community here in Florida
- Start a writer’s group.
- Pay off one credit card
- Take a vacation
- Lose ten pounds
Well guess what. I accomplished every single one of those goals except the graphic novel. To be fair on that one, the friend that I was working with on it started a new company, and that really kept us from moving forward with it. I don’t blame her, but I’m okay with the fact that we didn’t get it done. But it’s staying on the list for next year, because it’s something that I would still love to help her accomplish.
And considering that I did everything else on the list and more, I’m ridiculously proud of how I succeeded this year. I finished my screenplay, started my writer’s group, made some great friends at the Florida’s Writer’s Conference and lost those extra pounds. I didn’t only pay off one credit card; I paid off two. I didn’t only take a vacation; I was able to save for four of them (the big one of which is going to London this summer!).
And I didn’t only write my young adult novel; I also got an agent for it. And considering that she wants to start shopping my book around right away, who knows. It might even sell before the year is done!
But that’s pie in the sky thinking again, and while it’s a good dream, I don’t want to set myself up for disappointment (although boy, isn’t it hard to stop once those dreams start taking off?).
Okay, okay, okay. But isn’t “I’m going to write a novel” a bit of pie in the sky thinking, you might ask? Well, yes, it is – especially since I had never written one before. However, I knew the only thing from stopping me from writing one was myself. So, to make that dream-thinking become ration-thinking, I created a month by month schedule for when I would have items done. I would start with one month for world building (which primarily consisted taking a bunch of magazines, cutting them up and then taping the pictures into a composition book). After that, I moved onto writing my treatment (something left over from my screenwriting days), and then I moved on to my chapter by chapter outline. After that, the writing began.
I am fortunate enough to be a relatively fast writer, so I can usually crank out about a chapter of a first draft quality book per week. Knowing this about myself, when I got to the writing stage, I changed from a month by month schedule to a week by week schedule. If I fell behind in my schedule, I promised another writer friend of mine that I would mail him a check for ten dollars. Fortunately, money has been a pretty important motivator for me this past year so thanks Eric for that motivation! It may sound like “over-scheduled”, but that kept me on track, and my dream of writing a novel became reality!
I want to set myself up to succeed once more in 2013. So, as you can imagine, I have every intention of writing down my goals come January 1st. I want to force myself to take my dream and break it down into something I can put my hands on when I wake up. I want to have a fully developed list of rational and achievable goals.
Goals need to be born in dreams, but they have to exist in reality. There are rational and scientific studies about goal making that show us that, if we plan them correctly, we increase our chance of success. For a really great breakdown of how goal setting works on a scientific level, please check out my friend Belinda Nicholl’s blog post here.
I call everyone out there to write down your goals as well. Whether you write them down on the comments of this blog or in the privacy of your own home, do it! Make those goals real and achievable. Expect to win.