Today I wanted to talk about goals, so I figured I’d start by sharing my current goal of never getting this damn stomach bug ever again. Before this season, I had gone since high school — almost 20 years! — without getting a stomach bug, and 2019 rolls the hell in, and I get hammered twice (and that’s still better than my son, who’s had it at least three times, and a few coworkers how just got hit with it for what is either the fourth or fifth time this year).
Anyway, that being said, I didn’t really get to prep anything for today, since I was busy recuperating, but I thought I’d go ahead a talk a bit about goals anyway.
I often feel like I am hugely ambitious, in potentia — like, I could be hugely successful an get a ton of stuff done if I could just get my act together and actually work towards some of my goals. As with most things, I’ve gotten somewhat better about actually making commitments to doing an completing tasks in the last few years, and have found pretty good success in following the SMART goals method — making goals specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound. When you consider that the biggest stumbling blocks of most people with ADHD are vagueness/lack of clarity, lack of structure, lack of interest and procrastination/time management, it’s probably not a surprise that — even if we still stumble more frequently that most while following the program — the program actually does help (though it can’t perform miracles; you still have to get yourself to the table, so to speak).
I was an adult before I heard of SMART goals, while assistant in a Junior Health class my first year as an IA, and I loved that part of the class was a semester long project, with regular check-ins, that helped the students develop, and follow through, on a SMART goal. It was another in what has continued to be an on-going series os moments that dually makes me incredibly proud of the place I work and makes me wonder where these people and these methods were when I was a young adult, and creating new habits would have been, perhaps, slightly easier (not that it’s ever impossible!)
But, I’ll admit, despite knowing that SMART goal planning, I don’t always follow it to the letter. I definitely have goals that aren’t time bound (don’t we all have something sort of simmering on the back burner that we want to do “some day,” usually a grander item, but with lower priority or relevance to our currents lives?), and several of my goals lack specificity, but often it’s because I find the flexibility helpful or conducive to that specific goal. The more you learn to work within the SMART goals framework, the more, I think, you’ll understand how it relates to certain goals and what you can get away with tweaking to reap the most positive results.
Other things that I’ve learned from my own personal experiences:
Writing things down helps in so, so many ways. Writing things down holds you accountable, so write down goals, plans, steps, and deadlines in your journal or planner (but also but it in a digital calendar, the kind that will send you reminders! Writing stuff down helps me a lot, but uh, the whole thing with my ADHD is I don’t always remember to check my planner). The bigger benefit I have found with writing things down is that I have a record of my experiences that allows me to look back an see patterns in my behavior, my progress, and my failings or shortcomings. It allows you to check in with yourself, see if you’re on track, brain dump any concerns, frustrations, or issues you may have, and generally makes you feel more connected to what you are tying to accomplish.
Start small. I almost didn’t include this because I thought, surely this is sort of implied in the SMART goal method? But it’s technically not. Look, if you want to get healthy, “Go to the gym four times a week for a month” might technically fit the SMART goal outline — it’s specific, time bound, technically (on paper) achievable, definitely measurable, and maybe you really want to start a gym routine and it feels relevant to you. But you need to look at where you currently are first — just because you are free to go to the gym four days a week doesn’t mean it’s actually an achievable goal, especially if your currently level of activity is “sitting on my couch watching Queer Eye for five hours a night” (ahem, not… not that that’s a personal example or anything). If health is your overarching goal, start with going to the gym once a week for a month, then work up to two, or three, etc. Instead of suddenly imposing a strict 9 pm bedtime in a quest to get more rest, maybe move your bedtime up by ten or fifteen minutes at a time over the course of a few weeks. A goal can be SMART on paper, but you need to apply it to your real life, and if this is going to work for you, or burn you out after Week One.
Start with one goal, or keep goals interconnected. Every New Year, for years and year, I was going to overhaul my whole life. All at once! All of it! Which lasted about two weeks. I’m sure you all have similar stories. Habits take time to develop, and if you are trying to be mindful and deliberate in your goal setting, then you likely only have the time, energy, and mental capacity to focus on one major goal at a time (doubly so if you have ADHD). If you’re that guy and you really want to be ambitious, see if you can combine goals in a synergistic way, or choose goals that naturally or organically link together. For example, you might want to drink more water, and less soda (or cut it out all together). Those are two separate goals, but they work together incredibly well. Maybe, you want to start a YouTube channel and also read more books; you can set a goal to start a BookTube channel where you review books in your preferred genre. But keep it to one goal, or one hybrid goal; you won’t get anywhere if your goal is “organize my house and my wardrobe and stop eating junk food and go to the gym every day and write a novel and…” Remember, after a month or so (habits take about 21 days to become slightly more automated behaviors), you can check in with yourself and see if you are ready to take on another goal.
Seek out and connect with other people with the same goals. And don’t tell me you don’t know where to look; you’re on a blog, you clearly have some sense of social media. Search blogs, create your own blog, or forum, or message board, or talk to your friends on Facebook about starting a group there. I’ve said it before, having people “watching” me (and I mean that in, like, the least creepy sense possible) as well as being seen as a support person for others keeps me more engaged than if I’m the only person holding myself to the task. Plus, working with other people allows you to map out more detailed road maps, gives you a support/knowledge pool if issues arise, and can really build a sense of camaraderie and connection.
One that note…
Reward yourself with experiences with people, not with things. I’ve said this in a few articles I’ve written about NaNoWriMo over on Medium. Do you know how many times I’ve said things like, “well, that’s it! I can’t have this chocolate until I finish this chapter,” and some other part of me is like, “bitch, you thought,” and then I eat the damn chocolate? Because I know when I’m BSing myself. No one is going to stop me eating the chocolate, whether I achieve that goal or not. But if my goal is, “a nice dinner out with my husband” when I complete a step on my goal, guess what? My husband won’t go out to eat with me until I finish that step. So — coffee with a friend if you hit word count. A Girl’s Night Out if you’ve hit the gym three times this week. You need to be transparent and let your fiends know this is the plan, but trust me, it will help.
Anyway, that’s what I’ve found to work well for me. I’m actually making good progress on all my creative goals right now (though I think I’m going to willingly allow myself to fall one day behind in NaPoWriMo because I am just feeling sick and overwhelmed. Hmm, we’ll see how the evening plays out).
What goals are you all currently working on, and how are you holding yourselves to them?