The start of the year is a traditional time to set some goals, announce our intentions, decide on our resolutions, and set ourselves up for failure. Harsh, perhaps, but we’ve all been there. Full of beans for living our best lives in January, wilting under the pressure of our self-expectation by February.
There is a way around this cycle. The solution is to choose better goals, build good habits, and make it easier to stay motivated.
Step One: Make Better Goals
A goal is not about kicking a ball into a net (especially for me). A goal is a measure of success, and success can be either handed to us by someone else or conjured from within. External success for creatives usually means getting that grant, landing a client, winning an award—all amazing moments, but all dependent on someone else to make them happen. We have no control over that outcome, we cannot force the hand of that grant giver or award judge or customer.
Internal goals, on the other hand, are much less sexy but totally within our grasp. Success could also be fixing up our website, finishing our taxes, organising our files, or improving our business plan. Maybe not triumphs that we post about on Instagram, but much more likely to get done. Plus, we don’t have to wait for someone else’s approval. We make a self-determined goal, and then create the habit that will see it through.
Step Two: Build Good Habits
Any habit you currently have (good or bad) is a decision you made at some stage in the past. You decided to get up at 7am, or have a glass of wine after work, or go to the gym every day, and now it’s so routine you barely think about it.
Habits and goals are two sides of the same idea. Without habits, goals are essentially meaningless. In his best-selling book Atomic Habits, James Clear outlines the importance of turning intentions into tiny steps. “Continuous improvement is a dedication to making small changes and improvements every day, with the expectation that those small improvements will add up to something significant.” This ‘Power of Tiny Gains’ is hard to manage at first, especially for those of us creatives who are challenged by the need for big dramatic outcomes.
If your internal goal is to build your own website, don’t imagine you’ll get that all done at once. Set aside a small amount of time regularly, and work on each component in a small way, patiently plodding through the process until you’re done. Slow, self-determined success is very boring and distinctly unglamorous, but it works.
Step Three: Stay Motivated
If you don’t know why you’re chasing this chosen version of success, it becomes impossible to stay motivated. Enthusiasm can be hard to muster at the best of times, but without remembering the outcomes you want, even tiny habits are hard to keep.
Your goal may be to improve your website—but why? Is it a knee-jerk reaction to doing what you think you should, or do you have a clear achievement in mind? If your ‘why’ is to attract new clients, build your business, and make more money, your enthusiasm for the goal may be easier to maintain. (If you want to find out more about the why, check out our masterclass).
A little cheat for maintaining motivation is to share your goals with others. Find a supportive group of fellow creatives and meet up regularly to discuss your intentions and how you’re tracking as you move slowly towards them. We can lose enthusiasm when our goals become lonely. Sharing with others creates community and helps us to maintain our small habits—we won’t do it for ourselves, but we might do it if we’ve told our peers. Silly perhaps, but it works!
Finally: Be Kind.
The small and slow path to our versions of success means being nice to ourselves. If we lose track for a bit or have to focus on other goals because our priorities change, giving ourselves a hard time won’t actually make it easier to get back on track.
Be kind to yourself and remember that this goal is your decision. You’re allowed to change your mind, change direction, take a break—but if this version of success is what you really want, and you know why you want it, every day is a new opportunity to start again.