Monday, January 25, 2016

How Do You Eat Your Elephant?

by Suzanne Warr

We're getting to that time of the year when the goals of New Years are starting to feel like the elephant you're supposed to eat, but you can't because who can realistically sit down and eat an elephant?  The fact that I love elephants aside--

>insert highly inspiring obligatory elephant pic<

--eating an elephant one bite at a time sounds easier than it often is.  Yes, you just need to break it down into, ahem, bite-sized pieces, but what if your mouth is already full?  And what if you're getting sick of elephant, and need to eat something else for awhile?

These might be the challenges that you--like I--are facing with your New Years Goals.  However, rather than abandon the goals with a grumble and a sigh, I believe this is the perfect time to fine-tune the plan, and give the goals the extra motivation that will see them become a solid part of our lives.  Here's my plan for how we can do that.

  • Step One: evaluate how you feel about the goal.  I'll use an example from my writing life.  I decided to accept a writing friend's challenge to make this the year I write 366k words.  Or, since it's a leap year, to average one thousand years per day.  For me, this has been a good goal and I'm pleased to say that so far I'm making my goal with a pretty deep cushion.  I've found that aiming to open up whatever project I'm working on--revising counts as writing but at a 50% exchange rate--every day except my day off, of Sunday, seems to keep me in the flow.  Several days I've only hit 500 words, or less, but I've had plenty of days that were upward of 5k, too.  So, this is working well for me and I want to keep this goal.
  • Step Two: evaluate what's getting in the way of the goal, or what needs to change.  While I'm ahead on my word count and loving this goal, I can see the need for adjustment if I want this goal to be something I can do all year.  For one thing, I need to take a deep breath sometimes and let a train wreck day go.  I also need to trust myself--and my 'banked' words--on those days when I can't seem to get more than a few words on paper.  And finally, I need to take a hard look at my other life priorities to make sure I'm not sacrificing things I value to the goal.
  • Step Three: adjust the other parameters of life, including lower priority goals, to help the pieces all fit together.  In my case, there were other goals I made that have been getting the squeeze.  Some I know will continue to suffer neglect.  But, there are others that need to be addressed in order for me to justify the writing time--essential to my goal--without my guilt getting in the way of my reaching that goal.  For example, I have fitness goals, and planned to add a (very basic) muscle-building routine to my daily walk.  Ask me how many times I've managed that goal, and the answer will be a big uno.  One time.  That's it.  Now, I could scrap the fitness plan, recognizing that I can't push on all fronts and sometimes prioritizing means giving things up.  But, I had good reasons for setting it in the first place.  So, instead, I've decided to shift some of my mother-daughter time with my lovely teen to fitness-together time, and adjust my day so she and I can do our exercises together.  She has fitness goals too, and because of her work with a physical therapist they're non-negotiable and high priority.  And we chat anyway, right?  I always take time for her.  So, what's needed is for me to push myself to interrupt whatever I'm doing and take time to do my own exercises while she's doing hers, instead of thinking I'll get to mine later.  A win-win, and something I plan to try.
  • Step Four: remind yourself why this goal matters.  My final suggestion is to take time now to put up some pics, or maybe a quote, reaffirming why this goal is worth fighting for.  You might decide to rotate the motivational note on a monthly basis, if you think that will help.  In the past I've had years where I typed out a bit of text onto an inspiring picture, and made that my background wallpaper on my computer.  It was a nice way to remind myself of what I was working on, each time I logged on.  There's no doubt it will be easier for you to press on if you've reminded yourself what the big win in the end will be, and now is the time to do that!
As I'm sure you've guessed by now, I'm kind of a big believer in goals.  I've had the opportunity to accomplish some pretty cool things in my life, and have also had the chance to reevaluate things I thought were a priority but have turned to be getting in the way of my real dreams, and that's happened because I set goals and then thought through why I wanted those things.  How would you like to change your life?  What would you wish, for yourself, and how can you go about eating that elephant?

Here's a final, huzzah and hurrah thought for you: if you pick only one thing that you'd like to do differently this year, and then do that with only 50% the output you want, you'll still be better off than you were when the year started.  Isn't that a comforting thought?  Here's to goals, and the dreams that fuel them!

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