Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Goal Setting and Unsettling


Of late, I've become suspicious of goal setting. At a professional development day for a school at which I used to teach, we learned of SMART goals. That's some sort of acronym that I'm sure you can search for on the Internet if you are so inclined, but it basically meant setting a goal that could be measured and stated clearly. We learned all about this and it made lots of sense. I did these SMART goals with students the week after the professional development day and thought I was riding high. 

Only problem: no one, not even me, succeeded in achieving any of our goals. This left me feeling suspicious as to how smart they were.

Since then I've set many, many goals. I have written about them, I've talked with friends, I've gone in with a team-mate to achieve them, but most of the time, I fail to achieve the goal and end up with a feeling of disappointment. Until recently, it was that feeling of disappointment that remained and accumulated. I had wanted to get better, to grow, but instead was getting to feel worse and sinking. This was not good. But what was there to do?

Setting clear goals sounds all too right. It's sensible. We set a goal, we make a plan, we go step-by-step, and we make ourselves accountable. But it doesn't work for me. I'm sure of that now. The half-marathon proved that.

While I was still at that school, and shortly after the SMART goals training, I set as one of my goals to run a half marathon. I looked up training plans, I wrote out the goal, I set up measurements as to how I was doing, and I told lots of people about it. And then I did nothing. I didn't run, I didn't measure, I didn't talk with people about it any more. It was a dead thing. The goal setting became the activity and the goal was beside the point. I wanted to run a half marathon but instead I set goals.

This year, a new marathon and half marathon were created in my city. I didn't set a goal this time, I wrote a check. I entered the half marathon five months before the date of the run. I didn't train then either. I just started running and, as the race approached, I ran more often. Finally, the day of the race came and I ran it. No goal, just run.

Hmmm, is that my mantra?

But wait, didn't I just post yesterday about how I'm going to write 750 words each day and post the on the blog? And aren't I also doing NaNoWriMo? Aren't those goals? In some ways they are, but they aren't SMART goals. Hell, they might not even be smart goals. Instead, I'm just doing them. I don't think that there is a good way to plan to write this many words in a month. I did the math and, if I did it correctly, I have a minimum of about 73,000 words to write this month. Just thinking about that number makes me want to plan, set up a spreadsheet, and start counting the days, but I know better now. The only way to achieve the goals I've got is to do them.

I have returned to an old thing I used to tell myself in times of panic when the to-do list had run to three pages: "Do one thing." It helps. Right now I have a laundry list of tasks I could/should be doing. (One of them is the laundry.) But I can't do any of those things now and also write these words. This is the only thing I can do at this moment. And if I can concentrate on this, be present in the moment of writing it, I have this strange notion that the other things will somehow be easier to get done later. It's not that I'm putting them off. Instead, I'm putting myself into this one thing. Doing that makes me powerful.

SMART goals made me feel powerless because they were all about what I was going to do. I was thinking about the future without realizing what I was doing in the present. Had I been present and aware to what I was doing, I would have had the revelation I had years ago about barefoot running.

I was on my couch, surfing the web for information about how to run barefoot. I had been running in minimalist shoes and wanted to go completely barefoot. Finally, I remembered something I had read years before that. It had said, rather than read a bunch of books about how to run, just go outside and put one foot in front of the other. Remembering that, I became aware that I was pushing the run away, that I was avoiding it by researching it. I set the computer down, went outside without any shoes, and ran a couple miles. Turns out, I didn't need any planning at all.

So, I might have goals now, but they aren't SMART, and I don't have much of any plan. I just wrote over 850 words for the morning and that's one thing I really wanted to do and to be present for. Now it's time for something else. I don't know what it will be, but my eyes are open, my whole self will be engaged, and my plans are at the curb with the rest of the recycling and garbage.

Write on.