Goals vs habits

Last week I talked about the way having and failing in my goals partly worked for me and partly kind of broke me. It can be daunting and sometimes even have a debilitating effect on productivity.

Around this time last January, I realized that I was telling the wrong story in my novel. After I had already written some 40 000 words. I have to tell you, dear listener, that hurt. A lot. There were some isolated scenes from the draft that I could retool and use moving forward, but really, though, it was about 35.000 words that I’m never going to be able to use anywhere else. By the end of January I had already planned out the stuff going forward and on the border between January and February I grieved for the words. (Grieving is too drastic a word, but something like that.)

The thing is, it took me until the beginning of April until I actually started to make any progress on the next draft. At the beginning of January, I was already behind from where I wanted to be so that I could get in a second draft before I needed to send the book in for Blue Heaven. When I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to make my goal of two drafts before Blue Heaven, I froze. I froze for literal months. I lost all that time that could have been productive to faffing about. And I didn’t have to.

Toward the end of last year, I read James Clear’s Atomic Habits and it has honestly had a massive effect on the way I’m approaching this year, to start with at least. When I was reading, this quote hit me especially hard:

You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems!

James Clear – Atomic Habits

And holy shit, that is so true! He also talks about how goals are about the results that you want to achieve and systems aka habits are about the processes that lead to the results. Last year, I broke myself, twice, trying to reach the outcome I wanted instead of focusing on creating the systems that would lead to that outcome. This year, I want to get much more done. So instead of focusing on the outcome, I’m going to focus on the systems.

What I’m doing

I’ve gone back to my morning writing sessions. I hate it. I am not a morning person and any day I have to get up before noon is a bad time. So why would I bring this pain upon myself? Well, it gets me to show up. When I write before work I get words my words in. Otherwise, I often end up just trying for the entire evening. And most of the time, I end up failing.

On top of this, I’ve gone back to Habitica. I’ve reduced the number of dailies from what I used to do and added more in the habit column. This is to prevent myself from clicking “wrote 250 words” on days when I’m editing. My one actual daily is a 10-minute declutter that just needs to get done every day. The actual habits are also mostly measurable stuff like “spend 1 pomodoro on fiction”. Stuff that should work whether I’m drafting, editing or even plotting.

Clear makes a lot of how habits influence identity and vice versa. So this year, I’m working on changing my identity in a number of areas. And I’m doing that by showing up, five minutes, ten minutes, 25 minutes and one day at a time.

What are you working on this year?

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