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.

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Running up that hill, and living to tell the tale

One minute into running, and all I can focus on is the fact that I have four minutes until I can finally walk again. It’s how I start, how I always start, treating each minute as a countdown to the next, unsure how I’m going to make it to each walk session, and lamenting the fact that I only have two minutes of walking until I have to run again.

Oh, Couch to 5K, how I love to hate you.

My daughter is with me, enduring these tiny moments of torture right alongside me. We’re both in Week 5 of the program, and it only took us 11 weeks to get here. And apparently she’s been training behind my back because she’s pulling out ahead of me while I’m struggling to keep putting one foot in front of another.

Five minutes. Funny how an unchanging amount of time can mean so many different things. Five minutes until I have to leave for work, and time moves at warp speed. But five minutes of running? It’s at least a week long. I keep looking at the phone in my hand that’s counting down the moments until I can stop running. Two and a half minutes left. I slug on, trying to keep up with my athlete of a daughter. I vow not to look at my phone again until I’m close to the end. Focusing on a point that feels two and a half minutes away, I keep going, sure that my legs will probably fall off before then. When I reach that point, I look at my phone again.

Two minutes left.

I think my phone is broken. But I keep going. I imagine all those runners I’ve seen while driving my car, the ones who have this look of serenity on their face as if this is their preferred mode of travel. I wonder if I look like that, too. I focus on keeping my face as calm as possible, as if I’m totally feeling zen about this whole running thing. I’m not sure how well it’s working when all I can chant is Kill me now.

The buzzer on my phone dings, and we’re both walking again. There’s a triumph in this moment. We did it! We survived the first five minutes! Now we get a blissful two minutes of walking.

Wait. What? It’s time to run again? How could that have been two minutes?

The next run is only four minutes long, which offers me a little bit of peace. But not much. My legs remind me with each step that I’m not a runner, that sitting is my favorite, that writers don’t run, that I’ll never be as fast as my daughter who I’m struggling to keep up with. Four minutes. Then three. Then two. Finally one. I focus on my breathing. Two steps, one breath in. Two steps, one breath out. I’m sure the whole neighborhood can hear my wheezing. The seconds pass by slowly, but we finally make it to walking once again.

We are halfway done.

Once again, the two minutes of walk time lasts for only a couple seconds before we’re running again. Except…this time, it’s different. My body submits to this whole running thing. In fact, it seems I’m enjoying this. Nothing hurts. I could actually keep going if I wanted to. Five minutes comes and goes, then two minutes of walking, and then the final four minutes.

“Keep going,” I encourage my daughter, even though she was the one who was running like a gazelle just ten minutes earlier. We’re in our final stretch, the last four minutes of running until we can cool down and relax at home. Just four minutes. And I’m suddenly a runner. I can do this. I am doing this. I like running. The last minute begins its countdown and the finish line is in view. Thirty seconds left. Then fifteen. Five. One.

DONE.

The walk back home is sweet. I feel strong, like I just ran a marathon. Nevermind that it was only a run walk for 2.6 miles. Nevermind that the majority of runners can race circles around me, including my stepson who can run a mile in five minutes. Doesn’t matter. I ran. And I survived.

This week, I was the featured writer over at Writing and Wellness, a blog that shares tips on staying healthy and active, even when a creative lifestyle is mostly sedentary. In an interview with Colleen M. Story, I talked about my running routine, how yoga helps to balance me, what motivates me to eat better, and even a few writing tips, like how to keep a thick skin through criticism. You can check it out HERE.

Do you struggle with exercise, too? Have you found ways to make it fun? How do you fight against the urge to lay around in favor of getting up and moving your behind? 😉