Never do we talk so much about goals as in the beginning of a new year. Resolutions, words of the year and complicated planning models circle around. For some it’s a thrilling time, for others it’s a painful, stressful or anxious period.
Are goals really necessary? No, but for most of us, they do help. If we do them right, goals can be helpful creative companions both when you’re high on inspiration and through foggy and fear-filled times.
But goal-setting is an art, and not all goals are good. Since I’m generally motivated by striving forwards, I’ve set many goals over the past years of doing creative work. Some have been helpful, some really haven’t.
I’ve learned that setting the wrong kind of goal can mess with both your process and your head, and it has often ended with me not reaching those goals and feeling like a failure.
For a goal to be helpful, I believe it should:
Live between you dreams and your schedule.
Be specific to the current part of your journey.
Focus on the process rather than the result.
Take your feelings and preferences into account.
Fit your lifestyle.
Let your goal live between you dreams and your schedule
For a goal to be a good one, it should always come from within. Setting a goal to do something because you think you’re supposed to will never work as well as setting a goal because it comes from a longing inside of you.
A goal should not just be a plan or a schedule. If you make it too specific, it’s likely that you’ll just have to change it as the work unfolds.
Choose a goal that balance between your bigger goals and your day to day life, and helps you tie them two together.
Make a goal for the current part of your journey
Goals that are too big aren’t helpful. “Write a book” doesn’t say much about what you need to focus on right now, and can feel too scary to tackle.
Just as unhelpful is a goal isn’t aligned with where you are in the journey. “Learn everything about self-publishing” won’t help you write that first draft.
A goal should help you through the struggles and challenges you’re facing in this specific part of making a creative idea happen.
Focus on the process rather than the result
A conventional goal is a measurable outcome that you’re striving towards, like making a sum of money or finishing something by a certain deadline. But a goal like that doesn’t help you make it happen.
A goal that is focused on the process is more about how you’ll do something, rather than what you hope to accomplish. It could be that you’re gonna work on a skill for two hours each week, or that you’re going to use playfulness to make an idea happen.
When you focus on the process, you’re guiding and supporting yourself, instead of just measuring how far you’ve come. It’s especially helpful if you’re prone to perfectionism.
Take your feelings and preferences into account
Often when we set goals and make plans, we only consider what we need to do. We pledge to simply push through potential fears or resistance that pop up along the way.
But I’ve found that the best way to deal with emotions around creating is to take them into account from the very start. Not to try to avoid them, no, to make them part of the goal.
If you want to start painting but are afraid that you’ll be terrible at it, maybe a good goal could be to be to experiment without judgement for a month. Or if you want to take more photos but never get around to it, plan photo dates with a friend.
Choose a goal that fits your lifestyle
A goal can be highly ambitious, but if it’s not rooted in your life, it’s just empty words on a paper that will stress you out.
In the beginning of a project, many of us underestimate the time it will take and let our inspiration make the time frame. If you want a deadline to be part of your goal, make sure it’s reasonable and be ready to change it if needed.
Instead, think about how the work would best fit into your life. Not just how your schedule looks, but the way you want to live your life. If you’re always tired in the evening, choose another time for creating.
A helpful goal is just the beginning
Setting a goal doesn’t make it happen. When you have a goal that is unique to who you are and what you’re attempting, the next step is to break it down into a rough road map for you to follow. And then comes the actual messy work of bringing an idea to life.
It’s just the beginning, but a well-crafted, helpful and unique goal is a great way to begin.