Things have been a bit crazy lately. The craziness includes being ceaselessly and unusually busy at work, undergoing some unpleasant medical procedures, applying — and waiting to hear if we had been approved for — a new line of credit, helping my mother with doctor’s appointments, and trying to find time to develop our business website, along with the usual ups and downs with the kids and other minor mishaps and inconveniences (losing my debit card, being called for jury duty during a very demanding week at work, having our furnace break), yada yada yada… My exercise routine has completely disintegrated; I’m feeling guilty about not keeping up with my blog or writing poetry; and last week I dreamed that I was trying to drive a car through a snow storm and I couldn’t reach the gas or brake pedals because I was sitting in the back seat. Hmm… But throughout it all, I can at least say that I am accomplishing two modest goals that I set for myself in mid-October. These goals are a bit trivial, and I’m almost embarrassed to mention them here, much less make a big deal about them. However, working on these projects has been a small island of efficacy in a sea of stress and chaos over the past month, so I must give credit where credit is due and embrace the short-term goal!
I started thinking about goals when I read a blog post from my friend writing coach Rochelle Melander entitled, “Why Write-A-Thon? Hard Goals Transform Your Life!” discussing research on how achieving specific goals impacts all areas of our lives. “When we work hard to master a single project, we work our “self-efficacy” muscle, our belief in our ability to accomplish our goals. When we accomplish one hard goal, it has a ripple effect on our life, and it becomes easier to accomplish the other things we want to do.”
I didn’t actually feel up to accomplishing a HARD goal, but I liked the idea of obtaining a sense of mastery by completing a tangible project with clear-cut benefits. To up the ante, I introduced the idea at a family meeting and suggested that we all come up with a goal that we could accomplish in a month or so. We would report back on our progress each week. Amazingly, everyone went for it.
Alexander’s goal was to learn how to clean his fish tank by himself. He and Dirk talked about the various steps involved in cleaning the tank and what Dirk would teach him first. Dirk’s goal was to finish building Zoe a loft bed, which we had promised her for her birthday in July. We set time frames for when different parts of the project would be completed with a target date for installation. Zoe said she wanted to work on earning money to buy Christmas presents. My goals were to do all my Christmas shopping (or making of presents) by the end of November AND to finish Zoe and Alexander’s scrapbooks in the same time frame.
For some reason, maybe because I had stated my intentions “in public” to the family, I felt as though completing my goals was non-negotiable. As they say, failure was not an option.
Both goals were appealing, mainly for the peace of mind they would buy me. By planning and completing my Christmas tasks early, I could be more intentional and would avoid engaging in a consumerist flurry of guilt-provoking spending. I would be able to kick back with great satisfaction when December rolled around and I could relax and revel in the magic of the season (and I actually do love that magic) with no pesky Christmas shopping chores hanging over my head.
As for the scrapbooks, they represent just one of a long list of chores and projects I aspire to complete, but which often remain untouched for months, if not years — things like organizing photos, clearing out the attic, writing letters (yes, I actually hold onto the illusion that I will send letters to friends and relatives some day). As the principles of feng shui hold, clutter drains your energy and immobilizes you. Unfinished projects create not only physical clutter, but psychic clutter, generating distraction, unease and even anxiety. Well, at least for people like me.
Working on the kids’ scrapbooks was a great opportunity to do something tangible and satisfying that also had a definite endpoint. It involved sorting through a wild collection of memorabilia I had thrown into a bin over the past several years, putting things in chronological order, choosing which items would be included, and then placing everything in the books, along with added embellishments to make them interesting and cool looking.
And so, I set about my tasks in a manner probably more plodding and methodical than inspired. Yet, I felt my momentum growing and my pleasure in my accomplishments becoming more tangible with each passing week. For me, the time frame was perfect; one to two months was enough time to do quite a bit without feeling overwhelmed or losing sight of an endpoint. Now, less than two weeks from the end of November, I’m certain I will finish my projects and, crazy as it may sound, I’m pretty excited about it. In fact, it might be only a slight overstatement to say it brings me great joy to have done what I set out to do, and I envision unlimited vistas of accomplishment ahead — not only the completion of mundane goals, but expanding into the arena of loftier achievements. Who knows? Maybe I’ve found a formula for personal accomplishment that will work for my parenting life.
Choose a goal that can be completed in one to two months. Name the goal. Tell other people. Break the goal into parts. Journal your progress (yes, I did that). Stick to it. Voila.