At the beginning of the year, I set a goal to post on the blog once each month and, as it turned out, I missed the March entry. Throughout the month of March I was actively drafting and brainstorming articles but, somehow, after midnight on March 31, I realized I hadn’t published anything all month.
Each day of April so far I’ve been working on making meaning out of this occurrence. What does it mean for my goal for the year? If I’ve already missed a month, can I still experience success around this goal? What does it mean about what I can expect from myself? I’ve valued spending more of my energy writing and I want to keep doing that.
To answer these questions, and to form my next steps, I have to ask myself the question at the core of behavior analysis: what was the purpose of establishing the goal? I didn't create it to give me a source of “success” or “failure” but to create a structure for deepening engagement with a value of mine that wasn’t as present in my life as I wanted it to be. The point was to incentivize me to engage with writing more regularly. If that is true, then what next steps would make sense?
Good next steps will both acknowledge the ways in which I operated outside of my intentions and facilitate further engagement with those intentions in the future. If I am going to establish a sustainable writing practice, that practice has to have room for me to make mistakes. While I can’t predict the future, I can say with some degree of certainty that I am going to miss a writing goal again, that I am going to set an intention and not fulfill it. How can I prepare for that while also continuing to value these goals? For me, that means holding space for both experiences. Saying to myself “You wanted to write every month but you didn’t publish in March,” while also saying to myself “Missing a month is neither good or bad - it is bound to happen. What can you learn from having missed this one?” Neither element can be left out; both are real for me. I can notice that I missed a month and learn what contributed to that.
So what have I noticed and learned? One truth is that without a specific timeline, it is easy for me to forget to execute a task. I didn’t set a day or date by which I would publish an article, only said it would be “once a month.” For me, that makes it easy to push the task off day after day or to feel like I’m engaging with the task only to miss the month. It would be best for me to identify a specific date within each month to publish an article.
Thinking about other projects on which I’ve had success in the past, pre-planning has been helpful. Conscious decision making is the most difficult task our brain engages with; anything you can do to reduce decision making around the time of goal execution will help you execute your goal. For this goal of mine, that might look like setting topics in advance: for example, deciding that in April I’ll publish a book recommendation and in May a thought exercise.
Finally, I want to hold myself accountable in some way for having missed my March goal. I’m not interested in punishing myself, because that is rarely helpful. Rather, in the spirit of the goal’s motivation, I’m interested in doing whatever will most facilitate changing my behaviors toward writing. In the past, I might have let myself off the hook for the March article and taken the loss. Now, in an effort to push myself and to avoid black and white thinking, I will consider this to be my March article and will publish another in April.
While this isn’t exactly what I imagined when I set this goal, by being gentle with myself and responding to what is, I can still behave in alignment with my values and experience a sense of success now and at the end of the year.