My novel vs. my house: Why I meet some goals but miss others

Exactly two years ago, I started into one of the coolest goals I’ve ever been a part of. It’s NaNoWriMo, a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in one month. I started the challenge, put in the work, and one month later had a 50,000-word novel on my hard drive. For me, that was pretty cool.

Not all the goals I set for myself, though, work out as well.

One of the goals I set for myself at the beginning of 2010 was to buy a house. Of course 2010 isn’t over yet, and I like to believe impossible is nothing. Still, I think it’s fairly safe to say the house thing isn’t going to happen this year.

I’m sure you have these kinds of examples in your own life too. Some goals you totally rock, and others kind of fizzle away… you might even forget all about them.

So what’s the difference? Why do you and I sometimes meet our goals and other times miss them?

Well, I can’t speak for your situations, but I’d like to try to speak for mine (though I’m still not sure I have it down completely). Let’s compare my NaNoWriMo goal and my house goal:

NaNoWriMo goal

  • I knew, in concrete terms, what to do to get started. I’d write 1,667 words the first day while introducing the main character.
  • I had zero prerequisite steps (unless you count turning on a computer and opening a word document).
  • The time frame for the whole goal was only a month long. The relatively short time frame forced me to stay on task instead of putting it off or expanding the steps required to complete the goal.
  • I was willing to pay for it. Especially after the first weekend when I wrote 7,000+ words, I was pumped about the whole process. I was willing to buy the goal by giving up sleep, grades in college, and time with friends and family.
  • I did the same thing over and over again. This is super important. I knew I wasn’t trying to edit the novel or get it published by the end of the month. My only concern was churning it out. I just wrote and wrote.

House goal

  • I didn’t know what to do to get started. Talking to someone to figure out where to start probably would have been the best move. I didn’t realize that at the time, though, because…
  • I had lots of big prerequisite steps. Before I could even look into buying a house, I had to make sure I could actually afford one, which meant proof of a stable income, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…
  • The time frame for the whole goal was about a year long. As of today, I think I’m officially giving up on year-long goals, unless the goal is something that repeats the same exact thing over and over again each day… like brushing my teeth.
  • I wasn’t sure I was willing to pay for it. I thought maybe I’d want to keep the flexibility of renting, so I could travel or something. The house seemed like a little better idea at the time, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly better. I didn’t have the emotional drive to give up other goals to pursue this one.
  • I had to continue to make creative decisions along the way. Seth Godin says we’re too creative, and I agree with him. The more creative decisions you have to make along the way, the more chance you have to get stuck. Decisions are bottlenecks. I had way too many of them for this goal.

I’m sure other factors came into play in both of these situations, but I think the five main ones I’ve outlined here are a good starting point for why some goals get met and other don’t, at least for me.