Friday, January 4, 2019

Goals, Shmoals

I've never been one for New Year's resolutions, e.g. "I resolve to stop doing X" or "I resolve to do better at Y," because I find resolutions to be too vague, too unrealistic, and too easy to give up on, but I have always been goal-driven, so just about every year since I was a child I've set specific goals for the year. When I was religious, these goals would often be spiritual in nature, e.g. "I will spend 15 minutes a day reading the scriptures this year." For many years I set fitness goals, e.g. "I will go to the gym at least 5 days a week this year," but a couple of years ago I realized that I'd developed enough of a gym habit that this was no longer necessary--I was going to work out regardless of any goals. For the past few years my goals have focused on writing, as I've renewed my dedication to become a published novelist.

Image result for goals

This year my goals were to write for at least 5 hours per week (i.e. 260 hours for the year), complete a rough draft of a new book, and then complete a final draft of the book (presumably after multiple revisions). End result: I completed about 200 hours of writing, I finished the rough draft in June, and I'm now about two-thirds of the way through my first revision. Do you want to know how bad I feel about not fully achieving my goals? I feel zero percent bad. I spent 200 hours doing something that gives me a sense of purpose, I wrote my first new book in years, and although the revision process is going slowly, it's going.

I made a conscious decision this summer to not worry about the 5-hours-per-week goal. I took a break from writing for a month because my obsessive drive to achieve goals was turning something I love into a chore. There would be evenings when I had a couple hours of free time but I was tired from a long day and all I wanted to do was lie down and read comics or watch TV, but I felt this moral obligation to write because I had to achieve the goal. When I didn't summon the willpower to force myself to write, I felt guilty for being lazy. Writing was no longer something I looked forward to, but rather a responsibility that I resented. That's when I realized, guess what? No one in the world but me is depending on me to meet this arbitrarily-determined writing quota. So I told taskmaster me to chill out and shut up. When I returned to writing after my month-long break, it was because I wanted to, not because I believed I had to. Over the second half of the year, there were some weeks when I spent much more than five hours writing, and other weeks when I didn't write at all. Choosing to be okay with that was the best thing I could have done for my mental health.

For the past four months I've been meditating every day--not because I set a goal, but because I decided it was something I wanted to do. Most of the time I search for a guided meditation on YouTube. This past Sunday night, the second-to-last night of 2018, I happened upon a meditation about finding one's ideal self. The meditation asks you to imagine your ideal self--the person you want to become--and then imagine a conversation with that hypothetical being. Except when I was told to imagine that perfect me, I couldn't think of a single way that he would be different from the me I am now. After a lifetime of setting goals in order to make myself into a better person, it shocked me to realize I didn't currently have a better me to aim for. It's not that I don't make mistakes--I do all the time, just like everyone else. It's not that there aren't things I want to learn or ways I can be a better husband, father, neighbor, or citizen--there are, and I'm confident I'll continue learning and growing in those ways. But I don't need to strive to become something other than what I already am. In the words of Kesha, "I know that I'm perfect, even though I'm fucked up." I have no doubt that I'll be a completely different person by the end of 2019--experience has taught me this--but that person will be no more or less perfect than I am now, and more importantly, I don't need to stress about becoming that person through resolutions or goals or strict self-discipline. Life is the best teacher there is, and life will happen regardless of what I try to make happen. 

With that in mind, I'm not setting any goals for 2019. I'll keep writing because I love writing. I'll keep going to the gym because it makes me feel good and because I want to be healthy when I'm a hundred years old. I'll keep meditating because it makes my brain happy. I'll keep reading because I love to learn. And I'll probably discover other ways that I can make my life better and start doing those things because that's just what I do. I'm not saying no one should set goals or even that I will never set another goal. I am saying that over the past thirty-nine years I've managed to turn goals into one more thing to obsess about, one more way to focus on what I should be instead of being happy with who I am. This year I choose to be happy with who I am.


  1. .

    Two hundred hours is nothing to sneeze at.

    1. Thanks. :) You probably write more consistently than I do, I'm guessing.