This piece of the series was not in the original article. As a project manager of both my own life and quite often the workflow of my friends and family, I’ve come to appreciate this aspect of goal-setting even more since I first wrote about this topic. I have literally watched stress leave people’s bodies because of the goal-setting and scheduling sessions we do together.
I live a life of uncertainty. The Mister’s academic career has taken us across the US and across the Pacific a few times already, and I doubt we’ll truly settle for years to come. People sometimes ask me about writing routines and I have to laugh because I have not had a semblance of a routine that lasts more than a few months at a time in the last 7 years. Flexibility is the name of my game, which means any opportunity I have to feel like I can exert control over my output, I’m going to take it. And this can be as simple as writing something down rather than holding it in my head.
I first discovered how much of a stress reliever it could be to externalize my worries over my workload during my MA program. Up to that point, my Masters Thesis was the longest thing I’d ever written. (My novels later blew it out of the water, but it’s all relative.) I had a detailed outline complete with bullet points and deadlines already, I had a concrete plan, but I still could feel the anxiety coursing through me.
I was so familiar with my outline, in fact, that I could easily recreate it on a fresh piece of paper. I was having trouble concentrating in class, so I wrote it out again, circling the spots that still needed my attention. And low and behold, it made me feel BETTER. Even though I was identifying more work that needed to be done, I was also showing myself that I had a plan with concrete steps I could take. **I** was in control of the project, not the other way around.
And that’s the thing about the process of goal-setting. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, and certainly the process of assessment before you set your goals can feel daunting, having your goals OUTSIDE of your head and accompanied by concrete actions you can take to reach them is less stressful than never setting goals. In fact, setting and RE-setting your goals on a regular basis allows you to feel like you hold the reins. No, not just feel like it, to ACTUALLY be holding the reins.
Fight or Flight
One of the most popular questions in online writing groups is “How do you get past Writer’s Block?” I was lucky enough to discover a wonderful website and book by Rosanne Bane. She looks at what she called “writer’s resistance” from a neuroscience point of view. (And we all know I am a sucker for science!) To Bane, writer’s block is just one form of resistance, but all of our resistance comes down to our brains viewing a situation as a threat and shutting down our executive functions to deal with it.
The same fears that can keep us from starting a writing project, such as fear we will not succeed, can also come into play when it comes to setting and keeping up with goals. If you never start, you can’t really fail, right?
WRONG! The only way to guarantee failure is never to try. So try.
(Ahem. Excuse me for shouting but I wanted to make sure I reached the people in the back.)
Even if the idea of setting goals and coming up with the steps to meet them may feel like having a tiger on your tail, it’s not. You are not going to be eaten for having aspirations. I promise. (Well, unless you are John Hammond and your goal is to have an amusement park full of dinosaurs.)
I am struck over and over again how powerful it is to get something out of my head and into the world. This could be saying something out loud or writing it down. Either way, getting it out of my brain (and so by extension, out of my adrenal system) always makes me feel like I am better equipped to deal with any issue because the act of externalizing is an act of control. When the invisible becomes visible, it loses power.
Tune in for my next post where I will start to give you the tools your brain needs to get all of that junk out of your head and working in your favor.
Until then, stay splendid!