The Goal & The Journey


A long time ago I trained for a 5k.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to run that race due to getting sick the week leading up to it, but the fact that I was ready for it was enough. That was success to me.

It is generally accepted wisdom that it’s good to have goals. However, sometimes when we have a goal, it’s easy to obsess over reaching point C, while never getting past point A. Point B is where the journey happens, and it’s the most important part.

This is perfectly human. We all want something and we all want it now. Instant gratification is a universal expectation nowadays. Lose ten pounds, run a marathon, write a novel. These things would be so much better if they were easy and didn’t require the drudgery, the grind that it takes to get to the end.

There are some simple things we can do to make this easier.

Deadlines

If you’re like me, setting deadlines for yourself just doesn’t work. When you have to be accountable to only yourself, when you have to be your own boss, it’s easy to let yourself off the hook, or give yourself paid leave.

But when you’re in school, or in a job where you’re assigned projects to get done by such and such a date, somehow it becomes easier. At least for me. Having a deadline set by someone else, a due date that I have to adhere to or face the consequences of a poor grade or loss of employment, makes it easier to follow through. Somehow, the added pressure actually works for people like me. I’ve written several A-papers the day they were due.

It’s not easy to set a deadline for yourself. If you work with a publisher who sets your deadlines, then you’re probably good to go. When I was training for the 5k, the deadline was not set by me but by the date of the run. I had to be ready by then. And I was ready, sudden illness notwithstanding.

NaNoWriMo is a good program to follow if you need a deadline for your writing, although the breakneck writing pace of 1,667 words a day for thirty days might not be the push you need. This is also only a once a year thing (unless you count the two Camp NaNo months).

If there’s something you want to do or buy, something you want to treat yourself with, then use that as your motivation. Set your goal (a word count, a finished draft, an outline) and the day you want to accomplish it by. If you meet the goal, then you get to treat yourself. If you don’t, you get to decide how harsh you’ll be on yourself. That could mean you’ll never be allowed to have that thing you wanted, or you get to set a new deadline. For what it’s worth, I’d take the latter option, at least at first, because then you still have a reward to strive for.

If you know other writers, you could all agree to have something to share with each other by a certain date, and then motivate each other, checking in occasionally to see how everyone else is doing. Give your fellow writers an elbow if they’re not sticking to the deadline, and expect to get the same if you slack off.

A Little at a Time

When I trained for the 5k, I followed a program called Couch to 5k. I even downloaded the C25K app which gave me the intervals I needed to follow each run, and pinged me when it was time to walk, run, or turn around because I’ve hit the halfway point.

I also only ran three days a week. I knew that between warming up, running, and showering, I needed to set aside about an hour to get through the run. I planned when I would run the night before and stuck with that. All I needed was that one hour, twenty to thirty minutes of which would be spent on the trail.

It took eight or nine weeks before I felt like I could reasonably run a 5k without collapsing at the finish line. But I didn’t think about all that time. Of course I wanted to be able to skip to week nine and be “ready,” but that just wasn’t going to happen. I had to do week one, and then week two. And if a particular week’s intervals just happened to kick my butt, I would do that week over again before moving on.

The point is, I had to build up my strength a little at a time, the only way I could. I had to show up and do my part. The run was never about the next week, or even the next day. It was about the moment. Get it done, do this little bit, and you will reap the benefits in the future. This is what I had to remind myself. It didn’t matter if I wasn’t ready to run a 5k. Today’s goal is today’s run. After that I can think about tomorrow.

A similar thing happened with my writing, in particular when I started doing the Write Chain Challenge. I pledged to work on my novel for just thirty minutes a day. It didn’t matter how much I got done, as long as I showed up and did my part. And I did just that for about four months or so.

I ended up finishing the second draft of a novel I had been rewriting from scratch, then the outline of a new novel, and two drafts of that novel.

That’s just from thirty minutes of work a day. A half-hour. The length of a sitcom, each day. That’s it. It’s so easy a writer could do it.

I totally advocate for what the folks over at Writerology do, and if you need a little boost, just hit the link to get started. It did wonders for me and finally gave me the confidence to call myself a writer without feeling like a fraud.

Advertise to the World, Or Don’t

Think about any time you or someone you know has tried to stick to a new year’s resolution. Maybe you decided you were going to lose twenty pounds, or finally leave your job for a better one, or give up gambling on Twitch gaming streams. What? It could be a thing.

If you’ve shouted your plans via social media or good ol’ actual shouting, you’ve probably met with a lot of non-replies of the “I’ll see it when I believe it” variety.

In fact, you’ve probably had this same reaction to others who have announced their plans in such a way.

And when these plans inevitably fall through, you’re there shaking your head saying “I told you so,” feeling high and mighty and maybe even making some smart remark about “Oh, hey, what ever happened with your plan to get in shape? I haven’t heard you talk about that for a while.”

You’ve probably also gotten these same kinds of responses. And you probably won’t talk about your failure, because honestly, who would? Who says, “This year I am going to succeed!” only to follow up with, “I have given up on my plan to succeed! It is too hard!”

When I was training for the 5k, I didn’t tell anyone at first. I’ve made the mistake of telling people I’m going to get in shape and “Just you wait! I’m gonna be buff by the end of this summer!” only to go conspicuously silent about my future sexy new look once it gets too difficult.

So, I decided that this time, it’s all about me. I need to run for my health, I told myself. There’s no vanity in wanting to take care of yourself, right? And if my plans fell through, I wouldn’t have to lower my head knowing that the people around me are judging me for my failure. They wouldn’t know I had failed, because they wouldn’t know I was trying to do anything at all. The only person I could fail was myself. Somehow, this worked for me.

I think the difference was the awareness that I had been “all talk” before. There’s a huge difference between talking about doing something and actually doing it. This time, I took Nike’s advice and Just Did It.

Then again, sometimes it is better to announce these plans, especially in situations where there’s some kind of camaraderie between you and other people going through the same things as you. Like the Write Chain Challenge. With WriteChain, I didn’t feel like I was alone. I wasn’t the only writer who wanted to write more, and I could participate with other writers who were doing the same thing I was. We succeeded together.

Whether you choose to advertise your plans to the world or not, though, remember that every day the challenge is the same. You have to show up, each and every day. It’s good to have a goal, but it’s the journey that gets you there.


About David Shank

David T. Shank spends most of his time in worlds of robots, dragons, and robot dragons. He gets his cardio vicariously through video game characters while carbo-loading on Killian’s. His perfect vision lets him see everything but the fact that he’ll never defeat those walls he keeps punching. When he’s not doing the novel-writing thing, he can often be found in public reading his Kindle and being antisocial.

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