From weight loss to writing a book: How to set a goal and accomplish it

goal wish

Weight has been a weighty issue with me all my life. As a kid, I was always a little chubby. I never noticed it when I was younger, but as I entered my awkward pre-teen years, body issues introduced themselves to me one by one. I couldn’t rest my legs when I was sitting because my thighs would spread across the seat. I couldn’t wear shorts, even in the hottest weather, because my skin was too pale. I couldn’t join the popular crowd because popular girls weren’t fat.

My body lost all the baby fat in my teen years, but in my mind, it was still there. I flirted with anorexia, and still thought I was fat as my body shrunk and my oversized clothes hung off me. I think the first time I ever saw myself as thin was at 19, when a year of poverty brought me down to 97 pounds. That’s the same time I found out I was pregnant, and before I really knew what weight issues and baby fat were.

20 years later, and I’ve gained and lost weight more times than I can count. My biggest success was when I lost weight before my wedding 5 years ago, reaching my lowest healthy weight in all my adult life. But then I went on my honeymoon, and I’ve been eating ever since. Now when I “diet,” I stay good for a few weeks, give up when the results don’t match my expectations, and gain back more weight than I lost. I kept setting an “emergency” weight—the absolute heaviest I could be before taking drastic measures. I’d reach that weight, and then I’d keep gaining. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to lose weight. The desire was there. But for some reason, I just couldn’t make it happen. I was left feeling frustrated and without hope, afraid to keep trying to lose weight because every time I did, I just ended up gaining more. And I’d cling to that wedding weight image of myself, holding it as both my ideal body, and the ideal that was impossible to reach.

The reason I bring up my weighty issue is because I’ve approached weight loss in the same way people approach large goals…and fail. It’s kind of like a New Year’s Resolution:

“I’m going to lose 40 pounds this year.”

“I’m going to write a book this year.”

“I’m going to get out of debt this year.”

Having a goal is a good thing to have. In fact, it’s vital to have something to strive for. It gives you a purpose, a reason for moving forward—a “why.” In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl says, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear almost any ‘how.’” A goal becomes that “why,” whether it’s weight loss, writing the great American novel, saving money, and so on. And yet, if you don’t create achievable successes on the way toward that huge goal, that goal will never be attainable.

I’m gearing up to release the 2nd novel in the Hope series in September—my 9th novel in 4 1/2 years. Before I’d ever published a book, I kept a Post-It note on the side of my dresser with a drawing of a book and my name on it as the author. Every morning, that Post-It was the first thing I’d see. I dreamed of writing a book someday. But as long as I kept that dream stationed on someday, the book was not being written. The dream felt out of reach. Writing a book seemed too hard, too big, too impossible. It took forever to finally muster up the courage to sit down and start writing. I kept track of my progress by word count. My goal was 50,000 words by the end of the month (those of you familiar with NaNoWriMo know what I’m talking about), which seemed like a huge number. However, I focused on my daily word count, aiming for 2,000 words each day (which would pad my number and allow me to finish early). The first day, I ended with 2,000 words. The next day, I had 4,000 words. By the end of the week, I had 14,000 words. That’s 14,000 more words than I had at the beginning of the week, and 14,000 words closer to my goal.

I finished that novel in 25 days, ending with a grand total of 75,000 words. This set the tone for my writing practice, and gave me a new way to look at goals.

However, I apparently forgot how to do this every time I approached my weight. Instead of setting small goals, I kept looking at the weight I used to be, lamenting the fact that I wasn’t there. By doing this, every small success would never be good enough—after all, you can’t lose 40 pounds in one week.

So here I am, starting another weight loss journey (hence, the running I mentioned in yesterday’s blog), but implementing a plan of attack in the same way I tackle my writing goals:

  1. Set a goal.
  2. Create smaller, more manageable goals, and then set your deadline.
  3. Celebrate small milestones.
  4. Take it one day at a time.

Here’s what this looks like:

  1. Set a goal.

Here is where you reach for the stars. What do you hope to accomplish? Losing a specific amount of weight? Writing a book? Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail? Becoming fluent in a foreign language? Going on your dream vacation? If you can dream it, you can achieve it.

  1. Create smaller, more manageable goals/set your deadline.

Break your huge goal into bite-sized pieces. If you’re trying to lose weight, aim for a weekly weight loss of a pound or two, and then look on the calendar to see when you’ll reach your goal if you’re consistent. If you’re trying to write a book, map out how many words you need to write each day until you’ve reached your goal. If you have endurance goals, what can you do every day to build your endurance? If you’re saving for a huge expense like a vacation or a car, how much can you realistically put aside each paycheck until you’ve reached that amount? Making a plan and setting a deadline makes your goal feel much more attainable, and seeing the finish line will help you remain motivated.

  1. Celebrate every small milestone.

Lost 5 pounds? Get a pedicure! Wrote 5,000 words? Enjoy an hour of guilt-free TV time! Saved $300? Find a cost-free way to reward yourself! Find little ways to make your accomplishments that much more exciting, and to motivate you to keep going.

  1. Take it one day at a time.

Don’t worry about what you have to do tomorrow to achieve your goal, or how much you’ll have to do altogether. And if you messed up yesterday, let it go. The only thing you should worry about is what you can do this day, or even just this moment. For me, this means knowing about the 40 pounds I want to lose, and then letting that go, focusing instead on what I need to do TODAY to lose 2 pounds by next week. I need to let go of the sum total of what I need to do to lose 40 pounds, and just focus on the food I’m eating TODAY, the exercise I’m doing TODAY, and the choices I’m making that support my goal of losing 2 pounds this week. It’s just 2 pounds, but in two weeks, I’ll have lost 4 pounds, and the week after that, 6…and eventually, it will add up to 10, then 20, and finally 40.

With any goal, it’s about the choices we make in the moment that support a small milestone, which will help to reach that bigger accomplishment. By setting a goal, breaking it up, celebrating milestones, and taking it a day at a time, you can write your book, go on a dream vacation, learn how to run, or lose weight.

What’s your big goal?

Do you lead a busy life and wish you had more time for your writing? Are all the responsibilities of your day eating up the time you wish you could spend on your craft? Do you often wish you didn’t need to work full-time so that you had more time to write? Learn how to have both a full-time job AND a fulfilling writing career with Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The secrets to organizing your full-time life to make room for your craft.


My not-so-strange addiction

I left the office today on my lunch break, craving something chocolaty, and maybe even a tad bit salty. I had the image of a chocolate pretzel pie on my mind, and an unquenchable hunger inside. But my pants felt too tight as I walked. Just this morning, I found the two pounds I had lost, reclaimed after yesterday’s apple pie and french bread, and the carrot cake from the day before. Two pounds that took me two weeks to lose, packed back on in two days.

Walking in the direction of the cafes and restaurants, I told myself that I didn’t need to find something sweet to snack on. I wasn’t really hungry, just my tastebuds were. What I really needed was a glass of water, maybe even a stroll around downtown to make up for all the sitting I did at my desk job.

No. What I really needed was some chocolate.

I flicked away my good sense and continued in the direction of sinful temptations. The closest place was a deli on the corner. I made a beeline into the market and perused the desserts. Nothing called to me. Then I looked at the convenience foods. Still nothing.

There’s still time, my health-conscious self pleaded. You can still make the right decision and leave the store.

I did leave. But I turned left instead of right, heading straight toward more restaurants.

A man looked at me as I walked, his eyes lingering a few seconds longer than normal. Even happily married, I wondered if he found me attractive…if anyone still found me attractive. There was a time when lingering glances were the norm. I don’t say that to brag. Ok. I totally say that to brag. I was a babe once. I had long hair, a skinny waist, a curvy behind. I was young, with smooth skin and unwrinkled eyes. I’ve never appreciated my looks while I’ve had them, only when they’re in the past. Yeah, I was a babe once. Today, I’m a plump mom past her prime.

But I didn’t miss that man’s eyes on me. Did I still have it? I looked in the reflective glass of the windows I was walking by, and my reflection looked back. My frumpy, saggy, plump reflection. He wasn’t checking me out. He was probably wondering about my health, or whether I was aware that frumpy had never been in fashion.

There’s time to change that, my inner voice whispered. You can turn around and make the healthy decision. You can say no to sugar and go back to eating healthy.

ice creamI heard my inner voice. And I knew she was right. But thing is, I also felt bad about myself. My job has been soul-sucking, my creative life has been lacking, and my time has not felt like my own. Most of all? My pants were still too tight. And while the logical part of me knew that the answer was to turn around and write my feelings, the illogical part of me needed to eat my feelings. So I ignored my inner voice and marched into the nearest gelato joint and ordered the smallest gelato they served. It was probably about a quarter cup. It was also almost $5. Damn. And damn delicious. I left there $5 poorer, carefully eating the frozen concoction before it melted, only half-enjoying it while my guilt simmered underneath.

When done, I set the empty container next to me and grabbed my journal so I could record what just happened and what I was feeling.

Here’s what I felt:

My stomach is spilling over my pants, and I can’t tell if I’m just imagining they’re even tighter after my gelato.

The gelato is gone, and half of me wishes I’d never eaten it, and the other half wishes I had a pizza to go with it.

I’m frustrated that I want to lose weight, but instead keep gaining weight, and I have no one to blame but myself.

I’m angry that I lack the discipline to eat well all the time.

I’m angry that I hate exercising, but that’s the only way I’ll get fit.

Mostly, I don’t know if it’s even worth trying….

It’s true that I feel better when I’m healthy. But getting thin? Who am I fooling? I’m not exactly a spring chicken. I’m not turning heads anymore, regardless of my size. Not that I need to turn heads, I love my husband. But my ego doesn’t seem to realize that.

And so I eat. And I can’t stop eating. I find my comfort, my entertainment, my solace in food. I devour it, can’t get enough of it, make love to it, ogle it, crave it…. When something is tasty around me, I can’t stop thinking about it until it’s in my mouth. I feel like I might even explode until I eat it. Sometimes it even feels like I can’t breathe. It’s worse now that I’m watching what I eat. As soon as I taste any forbidden food, I become like a ravenous animal guarding her prey.

I’m not even joking.

But then, it sits on me, won’t leave me, weighs me down. And we remain that way, a relationship of misery as the cycle goes round and round.

I want to quit. I just don’t know how.

Dear Food. I’m breaking up with you.

Dear Food. I am breaking up with you. You are only causing me pain and misery, and an uncomfortable feeling where my belly meets the waistband of my pants. I cannot continue this love affair any longer. How you tempt me with your decadent chocolate. The scandalous way you tease my tastebuds with your salty pleasures. The way you mock me with word like “low-fat” or “gluten-free” or “100% pure whatever,” and then hide ingredients I can’t even pronounce that must be Greek for “will give girth to your ass” or “kiss whatever dreams you had of wearing a bikini goodbye…”

chocolateThing is, we had it good, you and I. That time I licked that BBQ rib you gave me completely clean of all its glorious, saucy goodness. The day we discovered the cupcakery right across the street from my office. Every single time when one of my co-workers retired, and I had to eat cake in their honor. The moment when a light shone down from Heaven, revealing that the vending machine in my office does in fact take credit card. The juicy hamburgers. The cheesy enchiladas. The turkey and avocado subs smothered with mayo. The single serve packets of trail mix….all five of them. The Starbucks coffee drink. The chocolate. The Chocolate. The CHOCOLATE…

Stop it! Stop tempting me! You cannot have me back, even with your charming good looks, irresistible scent, and hard-to-resist taste! This is too unhealthy of a relationship, I must break up with you. When I’m with you, I only feel guilty. When I’m not, I can’t think of anything else but you. You give me empty promises, but never give me what I need. You only leave me wanting more. And when I give in to you, you use me up and then spit me out, leaving me to feel washed up and out of control, and questioning why I give in to you every single time.

So Food, it’s over. I am leaving you for something much better for me, like your healthier cousin, veggies and water. And we’ll do fun things together like running or biking or swimming. Remember those things? No, you don’t, because you only wanted to hang out on the couch and make out in front of the TV, tempting me with sugary cereals and bags of Doritos.

Please lose my number, and don’t try to find me. I’m about to become an all new woman. And I can’t have you standing in my way.

(But if you want to visit me on special occasions, I’m sure I can fit in a cheat day, right? Right?)