Why You Should Scale Down Your Goals and Lower Your Standards

Goals are too high

I should just come out and admit it. I have a real problem with goal setting and accountability. It’s not that I don’t set goals or that I’m not accountable, it’s that I set too high goals and beat myself bloody when I don’t meet them. Which, if you’re hugging a bottle of wine in the middle of the night because you haven’t written your novel yet (mostly because you’ve been trying to look after a child full-time and keep your family and your workaholism fed through your freelance work) is, oh I don’t know, a wee bit crazy. Not to mention counterproductive. (Or so I’m told.)

So if you, like me, are an overachieving freak (and you’re self-employed, so of course you are) and like to beat yourself up because you haven’t written the 5,000 words you promised you would write today, here are my tips on how to give yourself a break, gleaned of course, from three decades of self-flaggellation.

1. Give yourself a break!

2. Okay, let me be more specific. Lower your standards. (Did I just hear a collective gasp?) I’m not saying turn in shoddy work or god forbid, not edit that tweet twice. That’s just who you are as a writer, unfortunately, and I can’t ask you to change that. But perhaps you don’t need to revise that first chapter forty times until you’ve finished the entire first draft. Maybe instead of writing the perfect first draft of a novel, you can just write a novel and leave the perfection for when you’re editing?

3. Set “Do” goals, not “Be” goals. “Be a bestselling author” means nothing. “Send information about my book to five new media outlets daily,” on the other hand, is an achievable and measurable goal.

4. Speaking of achievable, are your goals achieavable? Mine certainly aren’t. I’m going to put a deposit on a house in London with the money from my Booker prize and be a New York Times bestselling author by the end of this year. I, of course, haven’t yet finished the novel that’s taken 2 YEARS to get to the 50,000-word mark or have a nonfiction book deal because I haven’t sent the sample chapters to my agent. (Five points to you for picking up on the self-loathing in that sentence.) But it’s okay, because I have dreams, yo! Seriously though, I need to get real and so do you. Dreams are good to have and I have lots, many of which I do really hope to achieve. But this year, my only goals need to be to support my family with my freelancing, get a book deal for my nonfiction work, and finish my novel. Achievable and realistic. If I manage to get all that done (and it’s quite a bit, I just realized) I should be proud of myself, not giving myself thirty lashes for not having done more.

Maybe for you, like me, it’s time to scale down on your goals and start thinking realistically. What have you been beating yourself up about lately?

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