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The Power to Shine: Practical Goal Setting Tools

This article is a bit of a combination of my previous article on RWBY’s music and Jasper’s about goal setting and the Binding of Isaac. You don’t necessarily have to have read my previous article but I’d really recommend reading Jasper’s. I touch on some of the same concepts here, but I’ll be more focused on a few concrete tools that people may find helpful.

I can sum the part of mine that I want to focus on here: I fractured my wrist in 2018 and fell off writing fanfic for nearly two years. The song Indomitable from the RWBY V6 soundtrack saved me from myself and inspired me to get back into writing. 

Jasper’s article honestly inspired me to go a bit more in-depth with that part and to go into the how of overcoming my own anxiety and perfectionism. 

Honestly, it was this part of the song:

Don’t be afraid! 

Get up, get going, a step everyday

I’ll meet you there

When we strive, we transcend”

It was really that one little verse that helped me the most when it came to getting back into doing anything related to fanfiction writing. It reminded me that, above all, you are often your own greatest enemy. Your fears and insecurities are often your greatest chains.

In my other article, I mentioned the fact that I started focusing on research for a huge AU I’m working on first. And, recently, I started writing again. It was really two simple tools as well as a mindset that helped me get on the path again. 

I have to touch on the fact that I study martial arts (namely bujinkan ninjutsu, headed by Grandmaster Masaaki Hatsumi). We have a leadership program that I’ve been in for four years and it teaches us practical tools for life and being a good leader. We also focus on making sure people understand the philosophy behind what we do and why. It was there that I learned all of these things.

The first of the tools was SMART goals. It’s an acronym for setting the best types of goals possible. It stands for 

Specific

Measurable 

Achievable 

Realistic

Time-sensitive

Of course, there are other variations, but they all essentially boil down to this: setting goals that are extremely specific and on a deadline. 

Here’s a neat little infographic to help outline what each means:

[Image source]

[Image description: A 5-column chart, purple, red, light blue, goldenrod, and dark green. Text across top reads “SMART” in capital letters.

First column: Specific. Do: set real numbers with real deadlines. Don’t: Say, “I want more visitors.”

Second column: Measurable. Do: Make sure your goal is trackable. Don’t: Hide behind buzzwords like, “brand engagement” or “social influence.”

Third: Attainable. Do: Work towards a goal that is challenging but possible. Don’t: Try to take over the world in one night.

Fourth: Realistic. Do: Be honest with yourself—you know what you and your team are capable of. Don’t: Forget any hurdles you may have to overcome.

Fifth: Time-bound. Do: Give yourself a deadline. Don’t: Keep pushing towards a goal you might hit “someday.”]

The reason a lot of people fail at their goals is that they’re too vague. “I want to be more social!” “I want to lose weight!” “I want to write a book!” These are the types of things people strive for but never meet because they lose focus and direction.

Let’s go back to my goal of finishing my research. It might not sound like a lot, but let me show you what I’m up against:

[Image descriptions: Two images, both are badly lit.

First image: Four columns of yellow, light blue, and purple sticky notes against a dark beige wall.

Second image: The same dark beige wall with three distinct columns, marked by blue painter’s tape. Columns and columns of yellow and light blue sticky notes are in the designated areas, in their own columns.]

This is my research scrum board. A scrum board is another tool I learned at my dojo. Basically it’s just a board that helps you keep track of where you are in a specific project. I made one for my research so I know what I’ve done and where I am with each section. 

The first photo is everything of what I haven’t even touched in terms of reading. 

The left section of the first photo is what I’ve simply read. The middle section is what I’ve outlined and annotated. The right section is everything I’ve taken notes on—meaning done to completion.  

That’s 280 sticky notes exactly which means 280 sections of research.

My initial goal was a bad one: “I want to finish my research.” When you look at it laid out like this and think of it that way, it seems impossible to accomplish. 

However, I decided to start using SMART goals in two ways. 

Back in December of last year, I decided I really wanted to start getting this done. So I set the goal that I wanted to finish maybe about 10-15 sections of the research by time the semester started. So that was one SMART goal in and of itself, but I still felt like I was drowning. I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere

Then I had a huge breakthrough. 

I was reminded that the book I was working in had double-columned text. So I thought “What if I timed how long it takes me to do one column?” 

And, from there, everything about my approach changed.

What felt like a slog had suddenly turned into a pretty easy, breezy process. I now had a time estimate of how long everything took me which made it feel so, so much more manageable. I could give myself a rough estimate of how long it’d take me to complete any one section. 

The crazy thing is that’s the actual psychology behind goal setting. It’s a bit much to go into in full here, so I’d suggest looking at the article on Positive Psychology about it, listed at the bottom. It’s a long read but a good one if you’re interested in the mechanics in full. But to sum at least some of it up: the more achievable goals we set, the more fulfilled we feel, and the more positive an outlook we can obtain. It becomes a self-rewarding system that makes us push and nudge ourselves into making our invisible dreams into tangible rewards.

To bring this back to my research, my goal is still “to finish it.” I admittedly have no set date for when I want it done. So it’s not a good goal and I acknowledge that. However, my scrum board allows me to determine what I’m going to tackle next. Each sticky note is a tinier sub goal that’s Specific, Measurable, Achievable, and Realistic. My scheduling is when I get to the Time-sensitive part of the goal.

[Image description: A schedule showing Monday to Sunday at the top. Down the left side are times listed in half-hour increments, ranging from 8:00 AM to 11:30 PM. Various blocks are colored in times, each labelled.]

The other major tool I’ve been using are 50-minute work blocks. The idea here is to work for about 50 minutes, take a 10-minute break, then start working again. I think I remember them saying that the main point is that for the first and last ten minutes of the session, you tend to be a little unfocused, so you get a solid 30 minutes of focused work.

Obviously, this isn’t something I adhere to 100%. There are some things I’ll set aside about 15-30 minutes for rather than a full 50.

I’m also not advocating anybody keep as rigid a schedule as I do; this is just what I do that helps me

And, honestly, that’s an important thing to mention: SMART goals, scrum boards, the 50-minute work blocks are simply tools. They’re pretty flexible things that you can make and adapt to your own needs. I’ve figured out how to make them work for me and they’ve put my life in a very positive direction. 

They may also not work for everybody either and that’s okay. I’ve found they work for me and they might work for others to varying degrees of success.

To bring this back to the Indomitable lyrics, all of that above stuff was mainly the “Get up, get going, a step every day” part. By laying out all of these tools, I help myself take steps toward my goal each day. 

The other major components of this is “Don’t be afraid” even though I was. I was so afraid. I didn’t want to prove to myself that I had fallen from grace and was now a bad writer. Whenever I sat down, my heart would race and I’d feel an aversion to putting stylus to tablet.

I decided earlier this year to try to get into writing. I had no excuses to not be writing since I was managing to fit so much into my schedule even with writing for AAOG and school. I got like one chapter up and it was horrible! 

I stopped writing.

I didn’t post again for like two months.

That was when I decided to really recommit myself.

And so I set aside 45 minutes per day to write…and it still didn’t go well. 

Oh, I could write but for maybe about 10-15 minutes before the anxiety got too much. 

I decided to work with it. 

Instead of setting aside 45 minutes in one time block, I set aside 15 minutes of prose then wrote for another 15 for the purpose of character development. 

My writing was still horrible but that actually did the trick. Through those shorter sessions, I’ve learned to just enjoy the act of creation again. I’ve had to let go of the worries, doubt, and desire for perfection in my writing. And I’ve been able to write longer and longer because of it. I also crave just sitting down and putting a pencil to paper.

I literally needed to give myself permission to suck again, to literally be a beginner

Yes, I’m a skilled writer of 20 years. I understand character development, plotting, worldbuilding, and all of these other things that make me hold myself to this high standard. But, sometimes, you just have to let all of that go and be a beginner again.

Which brings me to shoshin.

[Image description: Two purple kanji. Sorry to TTS users; I don’t know how to describe these.]

Shoshin is a concept in Zen Buddhism which means “beginner’s mind.” It’s the ability to allow yourself to look at things through the eyes of a beginner even if you’re studying something at a high level. This is exactly what I’m having to do right now. I have to just let go of my desires for myself, my thoughts of how ‘good’ I am at writing, and just write. I simply have to enjoy the act of creation again and my prose will return in time.

Admittedly, I am no scholar or expert on Zen Buddhism so my limited knowledge comes from what the head instructor at my dojo has told me. But, even so, this has been such a powerful lesson before.

In my first article, I mentioned I had a breakdown about being so bad with the actual prose and it was because I forgot about this. I just wanted (and frankly still do) to be back where I was. But I was starting from scratch more or less. You have to crawl before you can walk and walk before you can run.

Going back to square one is sometimes not a bad thing. Who knows what I’ll discover as I begin my journey as a writer anew.

Right now, all I know is that I shouldn’t be afraid and just need to take a step each day. The power to keep moving onward is mine and mine alone even if I’m not there yet. 

Sources:

A Look at the Psychology of Goal Setting (Incl. 3 Research Findings). (2019, May 2). PositivePsychology.Com. https://positivepsychology.com/goal-setting-psychology 

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