So much is written about the benefits and importance of setting goals, particularly with a largely solitary and personal task like writing. But can it be beneficial to not set goals?
Goals, where a combination of achievable and aspirational, help with short-term motivation and long-term vision. They help one to focus and stay disciplined, get organised, manage one’s time. It’s promoted as the key to achievement. Being January, we’ll all have read a lot about setting resolutions for the new year.
And I am bought in to that, I really am.
Generally speaking, I am a goal-setter, an inveterate list maker, and have benefited in moving my writing forward in the context of a busy life thanks to setting myself objectives. These have included self-imposed deadlines, word limits, and a ‘something everyday’ promise to myself.
And I had a pretty good track record on these – particularly the latter, at least a piece of writing, some research, at least one action to further writing or publication of promotion each day.
Then life intruded. Nothing tragic. I have known grief, truly, so I hope this doesn’t sound trivial, but it was due to work imploding. Nothing I’d ‘done wrong’, but it crashed about me anyway. I fought back and maintained energy a while, but then needed all my resources simply to manage daily life.
So writing, after solid daily effort, had to take a back seat. For weeks I scarcely wrote anything, not in terms of creative writing. And it felt like losing the appetite, that nothing would tempt it back. So much for my goals then.
I did finally resume writing over Christmas, even finding the energy and enthusiasm to start something new. However, the goals have not yet followed. They may be back, and I hope they will; they helped. But for the time being, I am taking it easy on myself while I work on getting other life issues back on track. Taking an agile approach, writing when not only time but also mental and creative energy allow.
In the meantime, I have been considering when it may be useful not to set goals. This is when emotional and physical energy are exhausted – the day job, children, looking after parents, commuting, helping friends, perhaps illness… trying to hold to demanding goals will only stress you out if there’s too much going on.
And not everyone is an advocate of constant goal-setting. They can endanger spontaneity and experimentation – two things that creativity may benefit from. Certainly, the idea of setting goals without intent and ambition can leave one feeling a failure. Establishing too many goals at once also is to risk setting oneself up to fail, leaving you overwhelmed.
This doesn’t mean you have to give up on whatever you like doing, creativity, your hobby. Know that it’s still there, you can pick it up when you have the time and energy. Anything else can feel like a relationship of coercive control at times.
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