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Last month, I signed up for a major goal: write a novel in a month. I have done this before and I’ve also failed to achieve it before. But, unlike quitting smoking, or having children, this wasn’t an either/or outcome. In reality, each day that I worked towards my target was a step closer to the goal in a measurable sense. I even used a spreadsheet to keep track. I guess the same could be said of quitting some destructive habit, like expecting a member of family Stark to get to the end of an episode of Game of Thrones emotionally or physically unscathed.
Each failure to achieve the entire target is a win in the same way that if you smoke a pack a day, cutting down to half a pack is a win. As I said, I’ve written 50,000 words in a month before, so to add extra spice this year, I signed up to coordinate the event. These are the things I learned.
One: If you can’t be a good example, you’ll have to serve as a horrible warning. On my first day of leading eighty-six writers in penning (so to speak) 1667 words each day for thirty days, I achieved zero words. This was like declaring myself a health guru and then being caught on camera scoffing four bars of chocolate. I wrote zero, not one, not twenty-eight, not three thousand words. Apart from losing the contents of my hard drive or sustaining a head injury, I couldn’t have done worse.
Two: It is better to set a positive goal than a negative one. If I had been quitting chocolate, for example, the next day I wouldn’t have been able to go back to my zero chocolate state (no, purging is never an option), or if I had been attempting to kick my True Blood habit, there would be no erasing those mental images of Erik the Vampire with no shirt on. However, since my goal was positive, I could catch up (although writing 3,334 words on day two was a daunting prospect). This brings me to my next lesson:
Three: Positive, measurable goals must also be achievable. If your goal is to climb Everest and on day one you attempt Dhaulagiri II on the basis that it is only the 30th highest peak, you are destined to fail. Of course if you have been on a lifelong mountain climbing mission and anything under eight thousand metres just isn’t challenging enough, then knock yourself out. There are some achievements that would be difficult to repeat daily. For instance, years ago when I was training for triathlons (sprint distance, don’t get excited), I heard of a diet that provided all of the nutrients that a triathlete required. It consisted of one litre of milk, three oranges, an egg and thirty-eight pints of Guinness. Day One sounded like fun, although I’d have to pace myself across the whole twenty-four hours. But imagine waking up to Day Two! This brings me to lesson four:
Four: Motivating others to achieve their goals motivated me. If you want to achieve something, join a group and cheer everyone else on. There’s bound to be someone who serves as a horrible warning (see point one) and someone who inspires you to do better without making your paltry goal look pointless. Like the fourteen year-old Darwin girl on The X Factor is enough to make any child who enjoys belting out ‘Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree’ with inventive lyrics give up on a life of vocal mediocrity. By the same token, if you are achieving your daily targets and someone in your group is struggling, then an encouraging word might be just the thing to get them over a rough patch. This is not pointless altruism. An increased pool of competitors makes you work harder too. Competition is healthy, and healthy competition raises everyone’s game. The converse of this is also true, which brings me to lesson five:
Five: When you help people, they support you in return. During our writing exercise, one of our members became sick enough to visit the hospital. Because she had been entertaining us all with inventive ways of reporting her daily achievements (this is a word-count remember, difficult to make fun), the messages of support flowed to her inbox and instead of becoming discouraged by repeated setbacks, she continued with the challenge and wrote more than she had ever written before in one month. This is why groups like Weight Watchers and AA work.
Your goal might be to: get fit, meet that special someone, run a marathon, take better photographs, meet other mothers of young children in your area, or just put your makeup on better. One of the wonders of the internet, apart from a million downloads of last season’s finale of GoT, is that there is a tribe) for everything. Find yours and achieve your goals sooner!
Do you prefer to meet people face-to-face or online. Do you disagree entirely? Do you simply have some blue pills for sale that I’d surely love to hear about? Making that sort of friend is covered in another post. Tell me about your experience when being part of a group helped you achieve your goal.