Goalless Update

At the turn of the year, I wrote about my New Year’s Resolutions or lack thereof. (See “Listen Hard, Love Life.”) I decided that in an effort to reinvigorate my life, 2013 was going to be a “goalless year.” Backed by the latest research, I stated that I was going to love the life in front of me and allow myself enough flexibility to follow my happiness and passion. This was a daring and somewhat frightening departure from the norm for me. My past is littered with goals–those accomplished (but often at a price) and those not quite achieved.

At first, goalnessless was great. Without my daily list of goal-achieving “shoulds,” I moved through life feeling weightless and free. I slowed way down, and since I had no goals, it was okay that I didn’t get a lot done. I caught up on my reading, made new friends, and cut my chores down to the minimum. I laughed a lot, and bit by bit, much of the worry and anxiety that had been shadowing me for the last few years evaporated into thin air. I felt better than I had in years.

slow-down

Yet, after a month of goalless living, I began to feel adrift in my new freedom. It turns out that I have trouble functioning without a guiding list of resolutions tacked to my bulletin board. I was drinking way too much coffee, and my body felt stiff and achy after weeks off from my daily yoga routine. My to-do list around the house read like a novel, and I woke up in the morning feeling aimless. I began to wonder about the meaning of it all. I was like a broken compass that didn’t know where to point.

The most upsetting aspect of my new goallessness was that I wasn’t writing much. In the spirit of my new year’s resolution, I had dropped my short- and long-term writing goals as well as my writing schedule, figuring that my passion for the written word would get me to my desk each day. This turned out not to be the case. Having a passionate idea for an essay is many steps away from actually sitting down and doing the hard work of putting those ideas into words. Whole days passed without me writing a word. In my goalless state, it was much easier to run errands, read a novel, or take a second walk.  As I mindlessly poured myself another cup of coffee, I asked myself: What was my purpose in writing anyway? What did I really want or hope to achieve? Was this my life work? Was I good enough? Would my time be better spent elsewhere?

meaning-of-life1

In the face of these daunting questions, it wasn’t long before I lost all my writing confidence. It was like when you start thinking about the mechanics of walking up the stairs as you take a step and then stumble.  I thought about why I should or shouldn’t write to such an extent that I couldn’t do it any more. I was considering quitting writing for good, even though the very idea of giving up made me miserable.

Here I was, two months into the new year, and unhappier than before, even though I’d stuck to my resolution. I explained all this to my friend Carrie. She and I tended to be mirrors for one another, an invaluable asset in a friend. She, like me, likes to create goals and destinations in her life, and while she was initially intrigued by the idea of goallessness when I broached that subject at the beginning of the year, she had some trepidation about how it would actually work. After listening to my woeful tale of two months without goals, she said thoughtfully, “It seems like what you need is not so much a goal, but a plan.”

In my head, the Answer Jackpot went “Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!” even though I wasn’t exactly sure why.  “Tell me more,” I prodded.

jackpot new1

“Goals are stationary, you move towards them or you don’t,” Carrie explained further. “But plans, plans can be flexible depending on the situation or need. Plus, when you have a plan, you don’t have to think through on a daily basis why you should or shouldn’t be doing what you are doing.”

Over the next few days, I worked on a plan to get my writing life back in gear. Usually, I loved plans. Plans are my forte. Plans are within my skill set, but, as I discovered as I tried to adhere to some simple guidelines, I’d slid so far down the goal-less slope that I couldn’t get anything to stick. I wasn’t able to follow through and show up at my desk no matter how many plans I made.

Then, an article by writer Aimee Bender entitled “Why the Best Way to Get Creative Is to Make Some Rules” fell into my hands.  Bender wrote how she and a fellow author created a writing contract. Faced with the same dilemma as me–balancing the need to follow creativity and passion (the aim of goallessness) with actual writing productivity (a plan)–Bender hired her writing colleague as a contracted writer.  They drew up a formal contract with a beginning and end date, outlined clear guidelines, set up accountability (daily emails upon fulfillment of writing hours), and signed.

contract1

I hadn’t even finished reading the article before I’d drawn up a contract and written out my own guidelines. I emailed Carrie and asked her to hire me. As much as the formalness of a contract seemed a little over the top, I knew that I needed the accountability. I needed someone to hold me to my plan.

When we met a few days later to sign, I was excited to learn that Carrie had created her own version of a contract. Although not a writer, Carrie had taken the idea of a contract and applied it to her own life: She wanted to exercise on a consistent basis. While my friend actually likes to exercise and loves how it makes her feel afterwards, the time for it often gets lost in the busyness of her career. To bring together this passion for exercise with a plan, she wrote up a “Health Contract.”  She outlined a twelve-week program in which she would follow a specified exercise schedule. After reviewing each other’s guidelines, we signed our contracts and were off.

Riding on the excitement of something new, I was at my desk bright and early the next day.  I have to say that it wasn’t one of my best or easiest writing sessions–just as I’d gotten out of shape from lack of exercise, a few months of not putting the pen to paper had dried up the inkwell–but, I sat and wrote for the allotted contracted time, because I was “hired” by Carrie to do so.  I was relieved when my time was up, but there was a certain thrill in sending her an email confirming that I’d fulfilled our agreement for the day.

writer

Breaking or making new habits is tricky. It’s easy to talk yourself out of following through, and I had to rebuild my writing commitment muscles. In the early days of my writing contract, it was challenging to make time to write. I’d put it off–finish one more email, fold one more load of laundry, take the dog for a long walk–before plopping myself down at my desk leaving barely enough time to complete my hours.  I’m sure that without the accountability to Carrie, I’d have let several more weeks slip by with nary a word. I’m pretty certain I would have quit.

Luckily, each consecutive day got easier. By week three, I was back in the groove. I woke up in the morning excited about what I was going to write that day. I squeezed in more hours than required, and often regretted having to quit mid-afternoon. The structure of my contract gave me room to be creative. Or more accurately, set limitations that enabled me to unleash my creativity.

Because that was the problem with goalless living. There were too many options, too many choices. I needed to narrow the focus of my life in order to be productive, and once the focus was determined, not question it on a daily basis. On the other hand, the writing contract allowed me to sidestep the pitfalls of having a hard and fast goal to achieve at all costs. When some unexpected conflicts ar0se in my schedule, I did a little jiggling of my writing guidelines, emailed Carrie regarding the changes, and managed to stay on track without a lot of extra stress.

Way-to-Success

Carrie found success within the guidelines of her Health Contract as well. I received daily emails from her after each completed exercise session. Occasionally, a little message was attached:  “Finished Week One!” “Got up at 5:30 to fit in exercise but I did it!” “Day 20 and I am exercising consistently!” “Starting Week 5!”

My writing contract expires the week my girls get out of school, but I’m not worried about sliding into a writing funk again. Finishing my contract is not like achieving a goal. While reaching a goal initially feels great, the aftermath can be unsettling. Athletes after the Olympics frequently experience what they call “post Olympic depression.” Said one Olympian, “After winning the gold medal, it dawns on you the most important race of your life is over.”

But life isn’t over when Carrie’s and my contracts end. While goals are finite, our contracts can be renewed and adapted as needed. So at the beginning of June, I plan on asking Carrie to hire me again and will sign a new contract with my summer schedule guidelines. But in the meantime, all I have to do is concentrate on fulfilling the terms of my current contract, and let my creative energy flow.

writing

This is not to say that I have given up my resolution of goallessness. Without the pressure of a long list of resolutions, I’ve relaxed my grip on day-to-day living and do feel much more able to love this beautiful life of mine.  Without the goal-driven pressure to sit down and write a bestseller, I find it is much easier to write with passion during my contracted daily session.  And if that best seller happens, I will have a contract to answer the post-goal “Now what?”

So the update is this. My New Year’s resolution stands firm. I am practicing goallessness, with one important caveat: I have a plan.

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About flyingnotscreaming

My weekly quotes and "Notes from Flights" are my attempt to learn how to soar through life's unknowns with grace and gratitude. Thank you for flying with me. --Melissa Myers Place, writer, reader, massage therapist, mother, wife, and daughter
This entry was posted in Essays and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to Goalless Update

  1. Carrie says:

    Thank you for always help me figure out my way.

  2. corrie says:

    Thanks Melissa, this came at a perfect time for me. I love the plan, not goal idea.

  3. Mary Hirsch says:

    Why did it take you so long to write this essay? But, thank you for finally doing it. In the past two years, since I stopped with the whole goals-thing, I’ve felt guilty. Was I slowing down, becoming too cautious, losing my bravery and giving in to the aging process? But, I’ve always had a plan or two, I just didn’t verbalize it in that manner. Whew.

  4. tinatames says:

    This is a great post! A contract sounds like just the thing. Thanks for sharing!
    Live long and prosper.

  5. Margaret Haynes Meritt says:

    Well done! I’m a huge list maker. They take over my life sometimes.

  6. segmation says:

    I don’t know if it is possible for a person that was goallessness to have a plan. I hope you get to doing your best seller either way.

  7. Nice post. New Years resolutions are a myth i never understood. 🙂

    http://vacationrentals-home.com/

  8. Love this! I decided this year, for the first time since I was probably ten, not to make a New Years resolution. I was already well on my way to my weight loss goals and refused to spend another year wishing to make a change. I had already been working on it, so I decided to let that one go. Instead, my only “resolution” was to go to California this year. It was my first New Years without a weight loss goal and it was freeing. I totally agree with you about the distinction. I’ve made a plan and I’m going to California in the fall. So excited! Thanks for this fresh perspective.

  9. Kristi says:

    There is a delicate balance in the relationship between goal seeking and just being. You did an excellent job exploring that balance. I, too, am a goal seeker. I, too, decided to give up seeking my goals and to just be for a year. My yearly team is: Thy Will Be Done. Just as you implied, some need structure in order to be productive.

    I came across a quote from my favorite author’s new book Manuscript Found in Accra yesterday. It goes: “Love appears and says: “You think you’re heading toward a specific point, but the whole justification for the goal’s existence lies in your love for it… Ever since your goal found out that you were traveling toward it, it has been running to meet you.” Paulo Coelho

    May you union between your goal seeking and just being be blessed!

    Zen Mami

  10. joshsuds says:

    So true! I quit my job so that I could take the time to finish writing a novel without having any rules about writing it. It turned out that without any structure at all, I actually ended up writing less even though I suddenly had more time and freedom. I finally finished the novel after creating rules and guidelines for myself.

  11. Some good insights here. Thanks for sharing your outlook. I love the flexible structure of your contracting idea. Great post!

  12. Love it. And this: “I’m sure that without the accountability to Carrie, I’d have let several more weeks slip by with nary a word.” Congrats on getting FP’d!!!

  13. luckymckoy says:

    Wow. You may have just solved my unorganized pseudo depression. Although I’ve undergone huge changes in my life the last year (abandoned my career to be a stay-at-home-mom then moved out of state). I believe it’s the goal seeker in me that has been creating all the uproar in my life. Thank you, thank you, thank you! And best of luck to your plan and resolution.

  14. Girlbehindthescissors says:

    This article appeared at exactly the perfect time for me!
    I hate goals/resolutions – I never stick to them and then I hate myself for it, and not acheiving them is disheartening – but I also have regular existential crises when I have nothing to do. Yesterday was a prime example. I had about 4 hours free in my day and I had all these *shoulds* running through my head (go to gym/do a blog etc) but felt the inspiration for none, and therefore felt like there was no meaning to my life!
    However, I play roller derby and we train 3 days a week. I am accountable to my team and coaches and we have attendance records and actually sign a contract! And I somehow manage to stick to the schedule most of the time, turning up when I really can’t be arsed but enjoying it in the end. But many other things I promise to myself I’ll do I cop out, find excuses not to do or cancel.
    I really like the idea of a contract and a plan, they can be altered and changed but also give you a sense of responsibility and commitment but most importantly, accountability.
    Thanks for writing!

  15. CarolAnn says:

    This quote seems to be the key to the whole thing, “I needed to narrow the focus of my life in order to be productive, and once the focus was determined, not question it on a daily basis.” That’s where I get stuck, I question my choices. Maybe my new plan will be to not question it on a daily basis. Thanks!

  16. Jean says:

    If part of your paid job is a freelancer as a writer, then crafting a little contract for yourself is a good idea to keep your writing business on track and for your own professional development.

    For some of us having a job in a workplace building outside of home and reporting to someone, plus interdependent working relationships with other employees / business units, provides more sufficient “structure” to achieve stuff, that to be far looser and almost goalless in person life is a treat.

    I do believe “goal-setting” is different for a parent with the demands of young children or teens. (No, adult children do not count when they live at home. A parent should never orientate their life /goals around an adult that needs to be left alone to “grow up”/become financially independent and responsible.)

    Admittedly I haven’t set out to make New Year’s Resolutions each year. There are some of us, that simply achieve goals, because opportunities present themselves during the year. It helps to have good habits to start off along the year’s journey –saving money, spending time with loved ones and close friends, etc. If these items are not in place, many higher goals cannot be achieved well.

  17. Huffygirl says:

    I need a friend like that. and some of us just HAVE to have goals (or plans or lists or whatever you want to call them.) Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed – now that’s a good goal!

  18. Wonderful insight. Might work for me too! Thanks.

  19. guinifi says:

    The plan is…………..there is no plan! bwaaaahahaha ^o^
    Great post – I am ruled by daily to-do lists…most of which I do not complete due to poor time management so it gets transferred to the following day’s list…it’s a never ending cycle – but I have realized this and I am slowly learning to go with the flow…as long as things get done 🙂

  20. What a wonderful and inspiring read! Thank you for sharing!

  21. Reblogged this on EMPOWERED RESULTS ~ Creating A Difference In Our Communities… and commented:
    I had to share this one! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

  22. The Rider says:

    Thanks, this is such entertaining reading, with such beautiful graphics, I enjoyed it a lot! Planned goallessness- that is a new concept for me… 🙂

  23. The meaning of life is LIFE!

  24. well done! congratulations on being freshly pressed and moreso on sticking to your ‘goallessness’. the title intrigued me and pulled me to read the post and am so happy that I did. I’ve never been someone who makes new year resolutions but I like routine. More often than not, i have thought of giving up my schedule and have an agendaless day but I never enjoyed those days. The reason is clear in your post – we all need a plan and a few milestones and not back-breaking goals.
    Thank you for sharing. loved it.

  25. ahhhpoetry says:

    I enjoyed reading your post…you have a good voice….I agree, we all need a goal, it’s what keeps us pushing forward.

  26. Amy says:

    I love this idea of a contract with a friend! I see what you mean, that it might be over-the-top – but it’s just the right amount of accountability & motivation. You and Carrie are very lucky to have each other.
    I sort of like the idea of mixing a contract with a goal. I had set a goal at the beginning of the year to doodle every single day. I stuck to it through the better part of January…but of course real life gets in the way of just-for-funzies creativity. But, if there was a contract attached to it, and I HAD to share my daily doodles…it would make my goal just as real as any other obligation.
    Thanks for sharing, and congrats on being Freshly Pressed 🙂

  27. msperfectpatty says:

    This is something I needed today. Thank you for the message! I love to write but find myself getting lazy, or thinking too much about what to write. If you look at my blog you’ll see how inconsistent I have been. I want to get into my groove and write a novel. I’m going to make contract too! Just gotta find someone to “hire me.” 🙂 Thanks again!

  28. msperfectpatty says:

    Reblogged this on Ms. Perfect Patty and commented:
    Plans…not goals should drive your success

  29. rvanhalm says:

    Great idea to contract intention.

  30. Girlbehindthescissors says:

    Reblogged this on girlbehindthescissors and commented:
    Great post about goals and how they SUCK! 😀
    It’s also about how plans are better and that rules facilitate creativity. Having no structure stifles creativity by breeding procrastination. I am an Olympic standard Procrastinator and I work better with some kind of pressure – a deadline, a contract, someone relying on me – and I think so do most people.

  31. This sounds like something my best friend and I should do. We have the same problem with goals. But a contract could totally work for us. Thanks!

  32. franhunne4u says:

    When colleagues retire they pass by my office for some formal obligation. I always ask them if they have plans for retirement. Something that schedules their day. Most say they have a house and families, a garden, and that they want to travel. Very rarely one has a project.
    Call it goals – plans? I’d say something that gives the day a meaning.
    I think everyone needs some appointment in the day. Charming point about that is you set your own rules, bind yourself. What we do not need is overplanning, minute to minute guides to our lives. No leisure-stress. Just a goal to achieve or a plan to fulfill or a project to do – a few hours set aside for something that is never ended, like writing or painting or sports. There is always more to write or to paint. There is always a reason for living.
    Some people need lists to confirm that to themselves, others make an appointment with the digital world – like bloggers who blog about their activities. Others just tell family and friends – knowing very well they will be asked again. You call it a contract. All is well what works out!

    Lists stress me – cos you focus on the things not done – and there is always another thing to do. I feel like a failure then. So I went the path of blogging. Which brought me to your blog:

    Congrats on Freshly Pressed!

  33. jamharl says:

    I’d rather say, it’s an inspiring update…

  34. artsygenius says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m going to pass it on to my niece who has a lot of trouble with her goals. I’m usually a planner but this was still helpful for me. Best of luck with your plans!

  35. This seems an interesting way to go about a goalless lifestyle. I may well try this out someday as I have always been goalless. Right now I’m trying the “river” approach, whereby you find your “river” (whatever you love doing) and just jump in and trust it wherever it takes you. I may do a blog about it but I’d have to see where it goes first though.

  36. bdh63 says:

    My friend and I make a pact — we will each write for at least two hours during such and such a day. It usually works that once I’m really started, I don’t want to stop, and I just keep going. It’s a big help when so many other demands on my time are always pressing on me. Especially if I haven’t even started but my friend emails: “done already!” Somehow it’s easier to wrap my mind around eking out two hours from my day rather than, “Okay, now I’m going to write.” It’s so open-ended that way. I like your contract, it’s a huge refinement on my pacts. 🙂 I might upgrade!

  37. alesmoody says:

    That was really great, it helped me rethink some things in my life. Thanks for the share.

  38. Davina Lyons says:

    Reblogged this on Pain, Passion, and Purpose and commented:
    A plan is essential!

  39. Joseph C Kim says:

    I feel that life has gotten faster and faster. We are never unplugged.

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