Take Stock of Your Successes
I’m very big on goal-setting.
I set five-year goals, then annual goals to achieve my five-year goals, then monthly goals to achieve my annual goals, then weekly goals to achieve monthly goals, and daily goals to achieve weekly goals. I haven’t started planning by hours and minutes just yet. But because so much of life is unpredictable and out of my hands, I am a firm believer in planning for what I do have some agency over. This is all fine and good. Until it’s not.
One problem I’ve noticed is that I don’t stop often to consider what I’ve already accomplished. First of all, I don’t start my year in January. I plan from July to the following June. So when June rolls around and I know it’s time to buy a new planner, I just do it and get right into it without skipping a beat.
This year I bought the Simple Elephant planner. (This is not a plug for it, I promise. Although I do highly recommend it.) It’s similar to my old one with a few differences. Right in the beginning of it is a section that says, “I’m grateful for…” I thought it was a good idea to fill out. I began with the low hanging fruit: my wife and kids. But then I moved on to what I accomplished over the past year. To my delight, it was more than I expected! I wrote and published my second novella, Cain’s Confession. I recorded and released three seasons of The Story King Podcast. I secured a bunch of interviews for that show. In fact, I’m currently a year overbooked. This is significant because prior to this, I could not secure a single guest except for two cousins and some old friends. I’m making progress. This is not to toot my own horn. It’s only to say, if I didn’t stop to be grateful for the little wins, I could easily make the mistake of believing I’m not winning at all.
Though my context will primarily be about writing and creative endeavors, most of what we’ll discuss here is transferrable to many—if not all—aspects of life. So here are three things we can do to take stock of our successes.
1.) Don’t Confuse Dreams For Goals.
Wanting to be a well-known and financially successful author is a dream of mine. Writing a good book is always my goal. See the difference? There is no actionable steps with wanting to be successful. That is why it is a dream, not a goal. But writing a good book is. I’ve written long enough that it is perfectly plausible for me to write a book that’s aesthetically perfect as I can manage at my current skill level. Perhaps I can even get a few strangers to agree with that statement. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, and so it’s achievable. I’m able to write competently. I can edit and show others my work for constructive feedback. If I do this enough times, perhaps I’ll accomplish even my dream. But if I don’t do the work, I won’t accomplish anything.
Why did I bring this up? Because so often we interpret our failure to realize our ultimate dreams as evidence we are not making progress in our lives. That simply isn’t true, is it?
Perhaps I’m not making a lot of money as an author. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t celebrate the fact that I wrote a book I’m proud of, or that I’m making some money. Maybe I don’t have as many podcast listeners as I would like, but I certainly have more than last year. If you’re accomplishing some goals, take a moment to celebrate that. You are making progress. But don’t confuse dreams for goals. Then you will constantly feel like you are under-performing and never quite making the cut. It reminds me of that cartoonish image of a rabbit chasing a carrot on a string that he never quite catches. The goal just keeps moving a little further, making it impossible to reach.
2.) Celebrate the Little Wins
I once heard someone ask, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer? One bite at a time. This is similar to the advice given in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Big goals are accomplished by breaking them up into smaller ones. Writing a novel might seem like a daunting task. But how about a chapter? Or a single scene? As I mentioned in my post about word count, I try not to be so hard on myself about how many words I’ve written in a single day. Instead, I focus on something I can finish and leave unfinished for the next day. For example, if I’ve finished a chapter, I’ll write the first few lines of the next one to continue working on the following day. I may be a long way from finishing the whole book, but if I’ve finished a chapter or a scene, it’s worth stopping to celebrate. Big goals are made up of smaller ones. So if you’re accomplishing those smaller ones, you’re on your way to accomplishing the bigger one. That is worthy of celebration.
So how do we celebrate the little wins? Basically, you give yourself some small treat. For me, it might be watching a show on Netflix. I won’t watch it until I’ve accomplished the small goal. This way I associate the treat with the accomplished task. I’ve essentially turned myself into one of Pavlov’s dogs. The point? Don’t forget to celebrate the little wins.
3.) Have an Attitude of Gratitude
Okay, that sounds cheesy. But I stand by the sentiment.
I write out all my big goals for the year. Now I started writing down everything I’ve accomplished the previous year. I like to compare my output at the end to my expectations at the beginning. There are things left undone. Some goals get pushed to the following year. Some get scrapped altogether, as I come up with better goals. I never over-perform. There are always items I did not accomplish. Some of that is because I had too many big goals and underestimated the amount of time and resources it would take to actually achieve them. Sometimes life gets in the way. Other times, the goal just isn’t important enough to pursue. All of that is okay. There is no reason to be over-critical on yourself. Life can get busy, messy and difficult.
Besides writing down accomplishments, another good habit is to wake up with gratitude. This is whether you feel it or not. There is always, always, always something to be grateful for. Even if it’s just a new day to work on those dreams and goals. It’s a good and positive way to start each morning.
To sum up, we need to take stock of our successes. We do that by not confusing our dreams with goals, celebrating the little wins along the way to the bigger ones, and maintaining a posture of gratitude.