Setting Goals, Being Accountable

Last year saw a lot of routines fizzle out as we adjusted to lockdown/furlough/ homeschooling/self isolation. One of the routines that vanished sooner rather than later for me was my semi-regular run.

I know myself well enough to accept that I am motivated by goals. At the end of 2019, I signed up for a half marathon that was due to take place last autumn. As soon as it became apparent that the race was unlikely to go ahead, my commitment to my training plan disappeared faster than Bruce Willis’ popularity after a trip to a RiteAid. I managed one run a month in April, May, and June 2020 then just…stopped.

I’d love to believe that I could just get myself outdoors for no other reason than “I’m less of a grumpy arsehole when I run.” Sadly that’s insufficient motivation on a cold, wet, January morning. But after listening to this episode of the Rebel Author podcast the other day I realised that my creative well needs me to take physical exercise.

A great new year perspective from the Rebel Author Podcast

Writing is a series of micro-decisions: is this the right word, the right structure, the right pace? It’s mentally exhausting.

Life is also really stressful for most of us right now. I need to dump the cortisol that accumulates when looking at my pandemic-fucked bank account, the homeschooling timetable for two KS1 kids, and an ongoing threat of a violent coup in the world’s largest democracy (at least as I write this…)

And writing doesn’t pay me well enough to get sick. This is something else that Sacha mentioned on her podcast. Burnout and illness for freelancers is scary. We might have the privilege of being able to call on family, friends, or even the Society of Authors to help us through, but it’s far safer to prevent burnout than it is to recover from it.

So I’ve set myself a goal, and this post is by way of me making myself accountable. This (cold, wet, foggy) morning I dug out my trainers, reinstalled Zombies Run (I started playing the “Nellie Bly” mission this morning – there are no shambling undeads in the first episode. Let’s see what happens in Amiens.)

Run Log for my first run in 6 months

That log shows that it was slow – and it’s shorter than I used to manage – but it also shows that it happened. I made it happen by overcoming my feelings of selfishness, centring my mental and physical health, and grabbing a small block of time between two other commitments.

But unless I set a goal, I know it will be a one off. So here’s my commitment:

In 2021 I will run at least 300km

That goal is SMART – if you’ll permit me a sudden flashback to 1990s corporate training:

  • It’s Specific
  • It’s Measurable
  • It’s Achievable – 6km a week is definitely an average I can work up to, even if I have to split it over two runs to start with. It also has space for a couple of fallow weeks in case of illness/crisis.
  • It’s Realistic – ‘I’ll run 20km or 30km in 2021 is not realistically a ‘goal’ any more than ‘I’ll try and wear clothes most days’ is a goal. A total of 300km is a challenge for me – it’s achievable but it is realistically a goal!
  • It’s Time based – I know when I need to do this by

Setting this goal has made me realise how few smart goals I have at present. I slogged through to the end of book two, and I’m working on some incredible plans for its launch, and for book three, and for a podcast (watch this space…) But I don’t have goals.

I will change that. As some meta goal setting, I commit to

  • (S) Write three smart goals – one on publicity, one on the proposal, one on the podcast
  • (M) All three will be SMART
  • (A) I know how to do this it’s just a matter of getting back in the habit!
  • (R) But if I don’t set this goal I’ll be overwhelmed by other priorities: this goal is a stretch because I need to tune out a lot of distractions in order to achieve it!
  • (T) By the end of next week. A week and a half is long enough to do this. More than a week and a half would be procrastination!

I’m ready to set smart goals again. The new normal isn’t that new anymore: I’ve had nine months to get used to the constraints of pandemic living. Are you ready to set some goals? Did you manage to keep setting goals all the way through last year? Or are you more of a ‘pantser‘? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

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