Are You Building Your Goals on Sand? (You Maybe Should Be)

I can’t lie, I’d rather still be in bed right now. The morning after climbing my first Munro – a 5am start which saw me getting home without much time to spare before midnight – my legs ache and I’m surprised I have any motivation left to spend. Still, I got up around my usual lunchtime mark and knowing I was well behind with the plan I had for this week decided to get a move on.

The decision to go climbing in itself shifted everything forward by a day, and even before that I wasn’t quite ticking every box I’d laid out on my content strategy for the week. All of this to say, I have some catching up to do.

Admittedly, I am lucky at this stage since there isn’t a whole lot riding on me getting things done in any orderly manner or to any real time-frame. Nonetheless I am aware that I’m working towards something even if getting a particular piece of writing done – or whatever it might be – doesn’t feel as if it has much bearing on anything other than getting the thing itself done.

There’s no immediate feedback that I ought to have got such-and-such done because of X, Y or Z. One of the perils of working under your own steam; it’s quite easy to let up when you aren’t actively or effectively managing yourself. When I’m writing out my strategy and consciously bringing to mind the more down-the-line incentives or motivations I have for doing these more seemingly menial day-to-day activities I am actively aware of how they link up.

I can see in relatively certain terms how me bothering to brainstorm a few blog post ideas or put a video out on Facebook ties in to my future goals and strategies – but that doesn’t often work well as an in-the-moment incentive. We do tend to prefer some level of instant gratification.

It might seem obvious to say I should remind myself more of the lofty goals I have, or of how these two ends of the thread are in fact intertwined, and have a bit more motivation to get things done. If I was to manage myself in that way, I honestly don’t think I’d be too impressed or any keener – come on just think of the great stuff that’s riding on this! Let’s get on with it!!

What would get me working then? That’s what I’m in the process of working out – what actually motivates me? What incentives move me? This whole process of doing the work, and discovering in each moment what works and what doesn’t, what feels good and what’s off-putting, is such a vital part of it.

Another aspect of this is going to be breaking down the timelines a bit more. I have my overarching current goals – set for 12 weeks from now – which themselves come under broader umbrellas. Tackling that 84-day stretch and chunking it in to various milestones along the way, and incentivising those to be accomplished, I believe will assist that easily distractible me who bobs along on the daily mostly doing whatever he feels like.

I’ve never been one for setting goals and in hindsight I reckon that was because if I did it was in a very rigorous way – the way most of us think of goals. Essentially I’d be setting up a hit-or-miss, win-lose scenario which to me at least isn’t actually very encouraging. The tendency as soon as something came up that seemed to indicate I wasn’t going to complete it – or even if I simply wasn’t seeing any positive sign that I might – was to say to hell with it, who cares.

I remember playing Need for Speed as a kid back when the PS2 was the in-thing and if I was in a crucial race – the boss battles of racing games – I would reset the race every time the other car got in front of me. In my mind that was enough for me to feel I’d already lost, and had to start again.

I was hyper-reactive to any feedback that indicated I wasn’t going to complete my goal (i.e. win the race) and put myself back at square one every time until eventually I did execute a flawless victory.

It’s not quite so feasible to apply the same strategy to real life. Had I reacted instead by perhaps focusing more, by making sure I nailed every corner, or paid more attention to oncoming traffic when the other car got ahead I probably would have won much sooner. I have to say in the heat of a race where your car is on the line it’s much more intuitive to repeatedly rage-quit instead, but again, in real life these more adaptive strategies are going to be much more practical.

Now that I’m receptive to the feedback I’m much more able to adjust and adapt, increasing the likelihood of hitting the mark. Even if it seems like I’m going to fail – even when I do fail – that’s still giving me vital feedback. As Gary V says, go fuck up.

A spanner in the works of our goals doesn’t always have to be something negative though. The spontaneous trip to the Arrochar Alps we took yesterday meant a whole day of what I’d planned out just didn’t happen and will now need to be squeezed in to the weekend or shifted to next week (which is adaptive).

It’s not unrealistic for me to imagine how I could have just let myself relax and recover today, spending my time instead editing the photos from the trip and watching cartoons until I start work in the evening. Not that there would have been anything inherently wrong with giving myself the day off but in the middle of a week where I’m trying to implement a strategy it could hinder more than help as things play out.

Speaking to a couple of writers recently another example of a good time leading to unproductivity came up – not having the fuel you need from negative or dramatic things going on around you. For some people the inspiration or motivation for what they do comes from being stimulated and aggravated by their surroundings or circumstances, so when things are all rosy what the hell do you write about?

In those sorts of scenarios we have a default to change our attitudes over our behaviours – resolving any cognitive dissonance – by saying oh this thing isn’t so important perhaps and therefore we’re quite happy to let the goal of writing more slip our minds. It’s unlikely to be an entirely conscious shift in our priorities, we simply go with what’s easier – which is easy.

The more difficult option of intentionally maintaining our attitude relating to the behaviour and changing the behaviour instead takes much more attention, energy, and planning – it is much less likely to happen by default. This is why I find it invaluable to spend time working out what exactly your motivations are, conscious or not at the time, and evaluate what it is you’re working towards – what your goals are, whether you’ve set them down as such or not.

I’m finding just having this strategy in place – which isn’t even very well fleshed out at the moment – is having an impact on keeping me on track and consistent enough in my behaviour. The old approach I had to goal setting was fragile. If I’d fallen behind after a few days, and then put off a whole day for the sake of a trip, I feel I’d have likely slipped in to somehow justifying to myself that the goal was less important and subsequently giving it less time and attention. Perhaps I’d just have forgotten about it all together – the glass would have been shattered, as it were.

Now my approach is different, and the relevance of this idea of building your goals on sand hopefully makes some sense to you. Make them adaptable, allow them to shift and take new shapes as necessary. You build a sandcastle not for the sake of having the thing forever but for the joy of building it – knowing full well it will fall apart. Most goals are transient and never an endpoint in themselves, and don’t need to be so black and white.

My goal to have 1000 followers by the end of 12 weeks is like that sand castle. I don’t want to have followers for the sake of having them, or to just keep that 1000 and settle with that. It’s part of a bigger plan and even if I don’t hit that target I’ll adapt and allow myself to shift. Primarily I want to enjoy doing it, not having it.

If I fall short, I won’t say to hell with social media and convince myself I don’t need a following. If I somehow hit 10,000 I won’t say well I can call it a day with the whole social media thing – job done!

It’s part of an interconnected and always shifting intention to build myself a business online: to be free of a day-job, to enable myself to travel and spend time writing, contributing to the world in the way that makes the most sense for me.

I know what I want, roughly. I know the sort of lifestyle I’m aiming for and the means by which I hope to achieve and sustain it. I know that what I plan for the next week, or month, or six months, is building towards having those means in place. I’ve intentionally broken down and built up this strategy to know what is worth putting my time in to right now, and not at the expense of enjoying myself along the way – in fact I’ve gone out my way to include things I enjoy.

I’m far from having everything ‘figured out’ – whatever the hell that means – or knowing what I want to do with my life. What I do know is what I want to do with my time when it comes to some particular goal I’ve decided on.

While writing out the goals for the content strategy I’m developing I decided to put down some just for fun goals as well. The first one that came to mind was to start climbing Munros –Scottish mountains over 3000 feet – so I jotted down that I wanted to climb 6 within the next 6 months.

Admittedly an easy enough goal if remember to do it. The easiest thing is often to forget to do what we enjoy.

The record for climbing all 282 is a little over 39 days, so I’m going pretty easy on myself to start with. I’ve wanted to go climbing for a while now but just never bothered to prioritise it. My girlfriend and I have been trying to get in to the habit of getting up earlier and a few days before I put that goal in my planner we’d decided to get up early with the intention to climb Arthur’s Seat – an easy climb in Edinburgh an hour from our flat. We thought it would give us the motivation to get up – or at least go to bed early – but instead we stayed up watching Vikings and slept through most of the morning.

It was uncanny, but the day after I’d written down that goal my girlfriend turned to me and suggested we aim for something more ambitious and get up really early and head to the mountain range north of Glasgow – which just so happens to be littered with Munros.

The challenge of the climb ahead, our commitment – assisted by pre-booking the coach – and the way this intention aligned with what we both truly enjoy meant it was a sure thing. The ache in my legs feels pretty worthwhile in the end, and despite the day away pushing forward my content plan I’m feeling more inclined to do the work to fit in those missed tasks and adapt to the situation.

That was only one climb though, so if I want to at least hit my personal goal I have 5 to go (and maybe another 277 afterwards). This is only the third post on this new blog, the quarter-way mark for phase one of my content strategy. I’ve still got a lot of writing to get done after that.

Image by Alex

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Reality Hack™ 2020

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