I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
Following on from my previous post about celebrating our creative achievements, I’d like to talk a bit about goals.
There is a lot of talk about setting goals and resolutions for the New Year around in the blogosphere at the moment. I’m a sucker for all kinds of productivity systems, believe me. I’ve got a cupboard full of Filofaxes, and I’ve read David Allen’s book ‘Getting Things Done’ more time than I can possibly count. (I still don’t really understand it, though. But that’s another story.) Anything that requires a list, a planner, a diary, a system, I love it.
The thing about goals is that they are just another tyranny of the Scarcity culture, the trend in society that persuades us that we are not enough.
Meet your goals and you will be enough, they say.
What if they are not the right goals? What if they are someone else’s goals that you are just pursuing because you feel you have to in order to please them? What if life gets in the way and simply prevents you from completing them?
Once you have achieved your goal, there is always, always another one. One goal is never enough. Because you are never enough.
What if you were enough?
What would you do if you couldn’t fail?
More importantly, what would you do if it didn’t matter if you failed?
The Catch-22 is this: Our success-oriented culture tells us that we must have goals in order to be successful. (For a very narrowly defined value of success, that is.) If you don’t achieve your goals, you are a failure. If you do achieve your goals, then you have to have more goals. We are on a twenty-first century hamster wheel.
Let me illustrate:
Your goal is to write a novel. How do you measure that goal? Is it to write 50,000 words, as NaNoWriMo would have it? Is it to complete a first draft? Is it to get to a drafting stage where an agent accepts your work? Is it to get it to the drafting stage where an editor is satisfied? Or to publication?
And when you get there, what next? Write another novel? Does this one only count if it wins the Man Booker Prize? Or if it tops the Amazon bestseller lists? Or if you make your first million from it?
You see what I am getting at? When do you say ‘when’? When is it ‘enough’? When does the goal, the To Do list, end?
Yes, goals motivate us. They help us to get things done. They help us build businesses and careers. They help us expand our expertise, our creativity, our skills and range. As creative people, goals help us to plot a course of where we want to go with our talents, what we want to explore. And that is all good.
Except when it isn’t.
The Douglas Adams quote at the top of this post says everything I feel about goals. For me they are stressful, and because of my health, I need to eliminate all the stress from my life that I can. That’s why I set intentions.
Intentions are gentler. Intentions allow room to grow and explore. They don’t stop me from achieving things. They allow me to achieve far more, in fact, because they allow me space to find out more about my creativity than a narrow, specific goal might. They also take account of the times when my health does not allow me to pursue timed objectives. Intentions are better for my kind of creativity and my own personal challenges than goals. And they take account of who I am as a whole being. They allow me and my creativity to grow at a slower and more mindful pace.
If you are wondering what an intention might be, how about this illustration: This year I decided on the Intention to make our home a calmer place filled with light and peaceful colours. Now, I could make a whole To Do list based on this intention:
- Paint bathroom white
- Buy new living room rug
- Sew new curtains and cushions
- Declutter every room
And so on. These might be classified as goals. They might even be timed, with one goal set for every month of the year.
Instead, this Intention can evolve over the coming months. Each of these items may indeed be included in the things I do to fulfil my Intention, but they are part of a wider, more fluid way of living that allows for evolution and expansion. Intentions don’t stay still. They move and change shape. They allow me to go at my own pace, a pace that I can afford, both in terms of personal stress, time and finance. If I decide an action doesn’t fit with my Intention, then I am at liberty not to do it. And I know I am not going to wake up the morning after I have put up the new curtains and realise they are completely horrendous in the light at this time of year!
Perhaps the two things I like most about Intentions are that they are:
Perhaps you might feel that Intentions are a luxury that you cannot afford in your time-pressured, stressful existence. If you feel that way, I invite you to consider seriously how you are living. If you are all rush-rush-rush, how are you ever going to have time to notice and experience your life as it passes?
In the next few posts I am going to talk about the process of setting (particularly creative) intentions. And it is a process, something that evolves and takes time.
In the meantime, take some time out with your journal to think about what goals mean for you. Are you one of those people who always fails with their New Year resolutions? Do you have goals, and if you do, do you achieve what you set out to do? Do you consistently set them so high you can’t but fail to achieve them, or so low that you don’t value them because they take no effort to achieve? How do you use goals to beat yourself up, to tell yourself that you are not good enough? Where do you fail, fizzle out, fall off the waggon, and do you know why?
Alternatively, how do goals motivate you? What have they helped you to achieve? How do you feel when you complete a goal –are you proud of what you have done, excited about the next step, satisfied that you did what you set out to do, or disappointed because you don’t feel as if the result is quite what you expected or wanted? Was it the right goal for you in the first place? (Indeed, whose goal was it?)
While doing this exercise, be kind to yourself. Don’t judge. Be gentle. Treat yourself as if you were a dear friend whom you want to support to the utmost. Be patient. Don’t rush. You are not seeking to punish yourself. The goals have done that effectively enough already. You are on the journey to find a new way of being. A new way of sparking your creativity and enriching your life.