Tilting the Odds: Achieving Your Goals

goal post in the fog

My last two posts on goal setting were pretty heavy on theory, so I’d like to give a concrete example of a time where I’ve set a goal and needed to set up a long-term plan to make it happen.

A way to tilt the odds in my favor.

A Novel Idea

A few years ago someone told me about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I thought it was a great idea. It gives wannabe writers a boost of motivation to go out there and write a (short) novel in one month.

The gist is that you start and complete a 50,000-word novel during the month of November.

Sound hard? Well, it is. And it’s nearly impossible if you decide to just wing it and don’t have a long-term plan for how the month will play out.

Intuitively, I knew that wasn’t going to work for me. I am way too distracted to be able to wing it and hit 50,000 words in one month.

After reading some tips from others that had succeeded, I knew that the key was to write every day and create a habit that would get me to my goal without having to worry about writing 4,000 words in one sitting. Just the thought of writing 4,000 words in one sitting makes me not want to write anything. Ever.

So:

50,000 words / 30 days = 1,667 words

As someone who has written a lot of words, I was surprised that achieving this massive goal would take “only” 1,667 words a day. It’s not that much, and that’s also part of the point of NaNoWriMo: to understand and realize that writing isn’t about how many hours or words you can crank out at one given time, but about creating a daily habit that will get you where you want to go.

As someone once said: “if you want to be a writer, then write.”

So how do you write 1,667 words every day?

You schedule it. I had already set aside that time to write for The Writer’s Coin, so I was set there. I knew I’d be waking up at 6am and that I’d have two hours before I had to go to work. For The Writer’s Coin, I wasn’t writing on the weekends, so I knew I couldn’t rely on those days.

So:

50,000 / 20 weekdays = 2,500 words

That was my goal. Any writing I did on the weekend would be a bonus. And 2,500 days, while significant, is pretty easy to do if you have two hours set aside.

Did I make the goal? No. I came up about 5,000 words short due to…guess what? Bad planning. Thanksgiving threw a wrench into my plans.

Nevertheless, the experience was a life changer for me. Not just because I really felt like an actual writer for a month, it got me on the path of a regular writing schedule.

Going for a Run

This one started very much like NaNoWriMo: someone told me about this race that looked pretty cool. It wasn’t a marathon, but it was a 10-mile race with obstacles sprinkled throughout the course. Things like monkey bars, army crawls, hurdles, and a huge wall at the finish line.

It even had a cool name: The Urbanathlon.

It looked cool.

Being a runner, I figured I could do this without a ton of preparation.
But running ten miles is still running ten miles, especially when you’re doing all kinds of physically demanding things in between.

So here we are again: a goal that we could either pursue at random and hope for the best or actually create a plan for. If you know anyone that has run a marathon or any kind of significant race, you know where this is going.

Planning time.

I had to gradually build up my mileage and I had to build up my high-intensity endurance at the same time, because those obstacles can take a lot out of you if you aren’t ready for them.

So I picked three days a week that were devoted to training. Two of those days were for building up my mileage, the other was to work on short bursts of intensity.

And I did it—I finished the race (though I almost threw up before I made it) and put up a decent time.

Lesson Learned

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? If you want to accomplish a goal, you create a plan for it and then you follow through on the plan.

So if you don’t have a plan and you can’t manage to stick to it, don’t be surprised if you find yourself exactly where you were when you started.

Image by PV KS

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