From Weight Loss To Writing A Book: How To Set A Goal And Accomplish It
Weight has been a weighty issue with me all my life. As a kid, I was always a little chubby. I never noticed it when I was younger, but as I entered my awkward pre-teen years, body issues introduced themselves to me one by one. I couldn’t rest my legs when I was sitting because my thighs would spread across the seat. I couldn’t wear shorts, even in the hottest weather, because my pasty legs were thicker than my friends’ tan legs. I couldn’t join the popular crowd because popular girls weren’t fat.
My body lost all the baby fat in my teen years, but in my mind, it was still there. I flirted with anorexia, and still thought I was fat as my body shrunk and my oversized clothes hung off me. I think the first time I ever saw myself as thin was at 19, when a year of poverty brought me down to 97 pounds. That’s the same time I found out I was pregnant, and before I really knew what weight issues and baby fat were.
20+ years later, and I’ve gained and lost weight more times than I can count. My biggest success was when I lost weight before my wedding, reaching my lowest healthy weight in all my adult life. But then I went on my honeymoon, and I’ve been eating ever since. Now when I “diet,” I stay good for a few weeks, give up when the results don’t match my expectations, and gain back more weight than I lost. I kept setting an “emergency” weight — the absolute heaviest I could be before taking drastic measures. I’d reach that weight, and then I’d keep gaining. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to lose weight. The desire was there. But for some reason, I just couldn’t make it happen. I was left feeling frustrated and without hope, afraid to keep trying to lose weight because every time I did, I just ended up gaining more. And I’d cling to that wedding weight image of myself, holding it as both my ideal body, and the ideal that was impossible to reach.
The reason I bring up my weighty issue is because I’ve approached weight loss in the same way people approach large goals…and fail. It’s kind of like a New Year’s Resolution:
“I’m going to lose 40 pounds this year.”
“I’m going to write a book this year.”
“I’m going to get out of debt this year.”
Having a goal is a good thing to have. In fact, it’s vital to have something to strive for. It gives you a purpose, a reason for moving forward — a “why.” In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl says, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear almost any ‘how.’” A goal becomes that “why,” whether it’s weight loss, writing the great American novel, saving money, and so on. And yet, if you don’t create achievable successes on the way toward that huge goal, that goal will never be attainable.
“Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear almost any ‘how.’” — Viktor Frankl
Last year I published Numbered, my 11th book in 7 years. I also wrote two complete manuscripts last year, and have a solid plan for this year’s writing schedule. But before I’d ever published a book, I had a wish to write a book. I kept a Post-It note on the side of my dresser with a drawing of a book and my name on it as the author. Every morning, that Post-It was the first thing I’d see.
I dreamed of writing a book someday. But as long as I kept that dream stationed on someday, the book was not being written. The dream felt out of reach. Writing a book seemed too hard, too big, too impossible. It took forever to finally muster up the courage to sit down and start writing. I kept track of my progress by word count. My goal was 50,000 words by the end of the month (those of you familiar with NaNoWriMo know what I’m talking about), which seemed like a huge number. However, I focused on my daily word count, aiming for 2,000 words each day (which would pad my number and allow me to finish early). The first day, I ended with 2,000 words. The next day, I had 4,000 words. By the end of the week, I had 14,000 words. That’s 14,000 more words than I had at the beginning of the week, and 14,000 words closer to my goal.
I finished that novel in 25 days, ending with a grand total of 75,000 words. This set the tone for my writing practice, and gave me a new way to look at goals.
However, I apparently forgot how to do this every time I approached my weight. Instead of setting small goals, I kept looking at the weight I used to be, lamenting the fact that I wasn’t there. By doing this, every small success would never be good enough — after all, you can’t lose 40 pounds in one week.
So here I am, starting another weight loss journey, but implementing a plan of attack in the same way I tackle my writing goals:
- Set a goal and visualize it
- Create smaller, more manageable goals, and then set your deadline.
- Celebrate small milestones.
- Take it one day at a time.
Here’s what this looks like:
Set a goal and visualize it.
Here is where you reach for the stars. What do you hope to accomplish? Losing a specific amount of weight? Writing a book? Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail? Becoming fluent in a foreign language? Going on your dream vacation? What does that look like? Think about yourself being this person or achieving this big goal. Hang photos or place symbols of this goal in random places around your house. Create a vision board or place a Post-It by your bed. Do whatever you need to do to see this is reality and not just a dream.
Create smaller, more manageable goals/set your deadline.
Break your huge goal into bite-sized pieces. If you’re trying to lose weight, aim for a weekly weight loss of a pound or two, and then look on the calendar to see when you’ll reach your goal if you’re consistent. If you’re trying to write a book, map out how many words you need to write each day until you’ve reached your goal. If you have endurance goals, what can you do every day to build your endurance? If you’re saving for a huge expense like a vacation or a car, how much can you realistically put aside each paycheck until you’ve reached that amount? Making a plan and setting a deadline makes your goal feel much more attainable, and seeing the finish line will help you remain motivated.
Celebrate every small milestone.
Lost 5 pounds? Get a pedicure! Wrote 5,000 words? Enjoy an hour of guilt-free TV time! Saved $300? Find a cost-free way to reward yourself! Find little ways to make your accomplishments that much more exciting, and to motivate you to keep going.
Take it one day at a time.
Don’t worry about what you have to do tomorrow to achieve your goal, or how much you’ll have to do altogether. And if you messed up yesterday, let it go. The only thing you should worry about is what you can do this day, or even just this moment. For me, this means knowing about the 40 pounds I want to lose, and then letting that go, focusing instead on what I need to do TODAY to lose 1 pound by next week. I need to let go of the sum total of what I need to do to lose 40 pounds, and just focus on the food I’m eating TODAY, the exercise I’m doing TODAY, and the choices I’m making that support my goal of losing 1 pound this week. It’s just 1 pound, but in one month, I’ll have lost 4 pounds, and in two months, 8–10…and eventually, it will add up to 15, then 25, and finally 40.
The only thing you should worry about is what you can do this day, or even just this moment.
With any goal, it’s about the choices we make in the moment that support a small milestone, which will help to reach that bigger accomplishment. By setting a goal, breaking it up, celebrating milestones, and taking it a day at a time, you can write your book, go on a dream vacation, learn how to run, or lose weight.
What’s your big goal?
Do you lead a busy life and wish you had more time for your writing? Are all the responsibilities of your day eating up the time you wish you could spend on your craft? Do you often wish you didn’t need to work full-time so that you had more time to write? Learn how to have both a full-time job AND a fulfilling writing career with Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The secrets to organizing your full-time life to make room for your craft.
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