I’ve always been a perpetual starter. So many hobbies, instruments, sports, arts, languages, begun but never mastered. Yet I’ve just finished the third draft of my first novel, and have completed numerous half marathons and two full marathons. I don’t think I started out particularly better at these two things than any of the others, so what’s the difference? I tried to piece together the differences and approaches that have allowed me to reach the ‘end’ of these things, while not getting past the starting point with so many others. What I discovered is that there is a definite pattern to it, and that (in theory) it could be applied to, well, anything.
What are you aiming for?
The nature of the task itself is bound to make a difference. While both my achievements were pretty long (26 miles and 92,000 words!) they do, at least, have an end. And on the way to that finish line, measurable steps. It turns out I’m pretty motivated by goals, and by competition. When I was making a myriad excuses about running (it’s cold, I’ve just eaten, my ankle feels a bit wobbly, my kit is wet, I can’t be arsed) I put together a training table (yeah, I know, loser) that allowed me to tick off the runs I’d achieved, how quick I’d done them, all that stuff. With the book, I did a tally of words that I did each day, then did a weekly/monthly tally – and my March self did significantly better than my January self.
As we’ve been telling the Year 7s this week (being a teacher means you get two goes at having a New Year, when it’s not as cold and you aren’t feeling as fat from Christmas) goals need to be measurable, with a specific time frame, in order to for them to be tangible. And for me, motivational. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started learning the guitar…
How can what you want to achieve be measured?
Well, the above is obvious, but for a while now I’ve been ‘learning French.’ What that means, in reality, is that I chat with my boyfriend when I can be bothered (not that often) make promises to go on Duolinguo every day, that I then don’t keep up with, and then get annoyed with myself every few months for having had a French boyfriend for over a year and a half and still have the French ability of my sixteen-year-old self. So yes, dammit, I’m making a table. Something I can tick off, like engaging with the language for 10mins every day, even if it’s just reading a French website, having a fortnightly tally of conversation practice and at least one dull grammar exercise. Hopefully, my January self will be ‘le merde.’
So break down your goals into manageable and measurable chunks, and let the awesomeness commence.
What are your incentives?
It’s all very well to want to get politically active in order to be a better person, or to want to learn the guitar because you think you’ll look bloody cool, but just like measuring how to get there, you need to know what success looks like, in a tangible way, otherwise you’ll give up before you get there. Another of my fantastically vague goals is ‘I want to be a writer.’ But what the hell does that look like? Here, I reckon simple carrot and stick approach is the way forward. When I finished my first marathon, I ate an enormous steak and drank a lot of Prosecco (champagne was 100 Euros) and felt bloody marvellous. If you’d give your six-year-old a sticker or a gold star, why not try the adult equivalent? Choosing a measurable point of success (being able to have a ten-minute conversation with someone in French without swearing and getting annoyed) and assigning something pleasurable will make it far more likely that you’ll get there. In fact, I haven’t really assigned something for my rather large milestone of finishing my novel, and as a result have been floating about feeling vaguely anticlimactic all week. Should have had another steak.
Write down the thing you want to be able to do, the date you want to do it by, and what the reward will be. Through this method, you’re more likely to reach your target, and be happy about getting there.
Are you being realistic?
For me, this is a very important question. I’m a terrible ‘should-er.’ On the (rare) occasions I waste time, I’m consumed with huge guilt at what productive, life-affirming, healthy, wonderful thing I could have been doing rather than watching Netflix or pissing about on Buzzfeed. Take now, for instance. It’s 8pm on a Friday. All sensible people are in the pub by now. I’m writing a blog post and making granola.
If your goals are too unrealistic, they will be unsustainable, and before you know it you’re berating yourself on the sofa, having once again failed to learn Chinese/the piano/how to make an origami frog. And at the same time, give yourself a break. It’s a fine line between slacking off and resting, but do allow yourself days off (I made the mistake of scheduling in a load of Sunday tutoring when I first started. Terrible idea. I hated everyone). That way, you actually want to do the things you’ve given yourself time for.
What are you waiting for?
I could write some life-affirming claptrap here, perhaps a motivational quote, but you probably get that stuff so much on Facebook you don’t need it here. You get the idea; you’re brilliant, seize the day, etc.
Having achieved one of my goals for the week (more regular blogging – this is my 45th post!) I’m off down the pub. Achievable, measurable goals, with positive incentives once they are achieved. I could get used to this.