Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Reaching the Purple Mailbox: The Importance of Goals

About 8/10 of the way through this morning's run, I wanted to stop. I mean I really wanted to stop. My legs felt exhausted, my heaving lungs were throbbing and my muscles burned like little condos afire.

Everything about me screamed, "Stop! Just quit right now and this misery will end!"

But I didn't. I pressed on through even more exhaustion, throbbing and burning. Know why? One word: goals.

A month ago, after losing my second consecutive tennis match by running out of gas in the third set, I decided if winning in my chosen sport was important to me, I must do something to increase my potential to do just that: win. So improving my endurance to sail through three sets became my long term goal.

In order to achieve that long term goal, I set short term goals of: 1) Running 4 days per week, and 2) Start with half my neighborhood loop (about 3/4 mile) and add another block each week. I measure my distance by mailboxes as in, "I can't stop today until I get to the Smith's purple mailbox."

Sounds logical and achievable in theory, right? But when sweat starts to flow and muscles begin seizing in protest, the only thing that keeps me going is eyeing that purple mailbox in the distance and not allowing myself to cave - despite every atom in my body desperately trying to convince me otherwise - before I cross that self-imposed finish line.

My long term goal would end up as a dandilion in the summer breeze without those all-important short-term goals.

Such is the deal in our writing careers. Many of us have the long term goal of publishing a book, or X amount of articles, or just seeming our names in print. But have we spent sufficient time developing realistic short term goals to achieve that end? Goals such as writing 500 words a day, 5 days a week, or submitting one article each month, or attending two writing workshops this year to sharpen my skills so I get fewer rejections.

Reaching those purple mailboxes actually gives us a high. A sense of accomplishment. A boost in the ole self-esteem. We begin to think, "I can achieve this short term goal, and the next one tomorrow, too. And before I know it, that long-term goal that appears so far away today will be just an arm's length away. "

And once that long term goal is in the bank, it's time to set another. When I first started writing seven years ago, my long term goal was to see published during my lifetime one book of fiction and one non-fiction, and 20 articles. To my utter astonishment, that goal was achieved within two years, so I adjusted my goals to double that. Since my 11th book and 90th article just came out last month, it's time to tweak my goals again.

So that as a writer, I can, like you, keep running for those purple mailboxes.