Whenever January rolls around and we begin a new year on the calendar, the mind naturally takes an inventory of all that came before. Not only have I considered the goals I’ve met, but also those I haven’t, so I can plan and prioritize all I want to accomplish in 2017.
Sounds easy, right? Think up a goal and make it happen. Not so fast…
Thinking about goals, even listing them, doesn’t mean we’ll do anything to actually achieve them. This is because goals is that they aren’t concrete things. In their most raw form, they are ideas…comparable to clouds passing in the sky. We can see them, but they’re not immediately within our reach. And if we take our eyes off them for too long, they can drift. When a goal suddenly feels too far away, it might seem like we just didn’t try hard enough, or make the necessary time, but really, the problem is that most of us don’t factor in the vital step in the process, which is building the ladder to get what you want. You might call it a plan, or a map, but realize that it’s critical to turning those wispy, wandering goals into something you can grab.
Step 1. As you might’ve guessed, creating a ladder to your goals takes a little bit of thought and homework. First and foremost, you’ll need to define your biggest goal. You know…the one that keeps you up late at night, hoping and dreaming. This is your chance to write it down without thinking of the limitations or fears or pitfalls that may get in your way. It can be large or small, concrete or abstract. Don’t think about how to get there—that’s coming later—just think about what it is you want most and write at the top of a blank page.
Step 2. Now that you’ve got your goal in mind, the real thinking begins. To reach this goal, we have to build a ladder. Every ladder has rungs on it to support our steps, which is why we’re going to define additional goals. The image below will help you envision your goals in a hierarchy. You’ve already defined your top-level goal, and now you must consider what your related mid-level goals might be—in other words, the specific actions you’ll take to get to your top goal.
Begin each item with an action word, such as “write” or “schedule” or “draw.” For example, if publishing a short story is your top-level goal for 2017, your three mid-level “ladder rungs” might be: 1) Write a short story draft; 2) Research literary journals that accept children’s literature submissions; 3) Read short stories by authors I admire and break down the plot structure. With these solid actions, your ladder is beginning to grow. Your mid-level goals support your top-level goal.
Step 3. The more rungs to get us there though, the better. That’s why you’re going to break down your mid-level goals even further by defining low-level goals. These steps are small, actionable items that you can accomplish right now. Using our short story example, you might define your low-level goals as: 1) Time myself for fifteen minutes and jot down as many story ideas as I can think of; 2) Choose a story idea and expand on it by adding character names and defining the conflict; 3) Write from 7pm to 8pm four days a week; 4) Complete 300 words per writing session for a 3,000 word draft after ten sessions; and so on.
When filling in all the rungs of your ladder, moving from top to bottom, the key is to get more and more specific with the actionable steps you can take. If something seems too overwhelming, then it’s likely too large of a step. Break it down some more. Think challenging, but attainable. Some steps may take longer to achieve than others, but they are moving you forward, getting you closer to your goal.
While you accomplish each step and work up the rungs of your ladder, you’ll find yourself getting closer to the goal that felt so lofty at the beginning of this year. You might decide to revise some of your low-level or mid-level goals, or even replace them as you notice achievement. There is no timeline, only forward progress, which, I might add, includes rejection. Anyone who has been rejected took the time to put their work out there, so this might be a goal on your ladder rung—get rejected by a literary magazine/agent/editor/publisher.
As you consider this new year and your goals, I wish you the best of luck on your journey!