Only a little bit late – targets, failing, and ownership

Last week I decided to set regular posting days so that I would be putting out a blog post at least twice a week. I chose – more-or-less arbitrarily – Monday and Thursday as the days when I would post. As is pretty predictable for me going on past performance, I have not yet managed to post on a Thursday. Supposedly, if you tell people about your intentions it makes it easier to stick to them, so on Monday this week I updated the “About” page to announce the new schedule. Did it work? Well, this is my second blog post of the week and it’s now Friday. You figure it out.

Setting targets for oneself is a tricky thing to do. Creating a target implies the possibility of failure in some form. Managing failure, or the self-perception of failure, is fraught with difficulties.

A common piece of advice that I see repeated every so often is the one mentioned in my opening paragraph, about telling people what you intend to do. This, apparently, puts the idea in your head of being held to a standard and so wanting to rise to meet it. This has never worked for me, except where I know that someone else is relying on my outcome and I have willingly agreed to help them. If I am simply trying to cast another person as an arbiter of my success or an overseer of my attempts, then something else happens. I rebel.

The biggest rebellion is just to give up, or go in the opposite direction. When the target was supposed to help me, this is obviously a form of cutting of one’s nose to spite one’s face, but the urge to reject the whole idea is very strong. The classic example is when I tried to diet in the past, and certain family members were quite “helpful” in policing that. Very soon, it felt as if nothing I did was good enough or done for myself, and I just rejected the notion – “I’m not playing any more”. Since comfort binge-eating has been a problem for me in the past as well, this was doubly counter-productive.

All-in-all, I do better at meeting my targets when I feel that I retain ownership of them. I can succeed or fail, but I do so by my own understanding of the terms. There have been times when a realistic target set for myself was simply “get out of bed, make sure I have proper meals, don’t kill myself today”. It may not sound like much but when, at the end of the day, I tot up my score, it was enough to make it easier to do the same the next day, and maybe add “do the hoovering” to the list of successes. I have come a very long way from those dark days.

This concept of owning my own targets is one reason why I do not participate in NaNoWriMo. It requires 1,667 words per day to record a “success”, and that’s a target I am unlikely to reach. Even if it was a relatively attainable target, I object to the idea of being measured by someone else’s criterion – even if that criterion turns out to be the same as mine! On some psychological level, it isn’t the same as mine, because they are the ones measuring.

Where does that leave me with my posting schedule? Well, to be honest I don’t view it as a very important target. Nothing bad happens if I fail, and there is only a pretty vague “good” that comes from achieving it. It might be better to call it an “aspiration” – that wonderful word that lets politicians off the hook when they don’t deliver on their manifesto claims – and not worry about it so much. There is one other point: it is an ongoing target, a standard rather than a goal. It is in the nature of humans to fall short from time to time but the measure is the striving to regain and surpass that level.

And besides, so far the first week had posts on Monday and Saturday, this week I managed Monday and Friday – the goal of two posts a week is being met, and if the trend continues, next week I will be on target for when they appear as well!


About ValeryNorth

I overthink everything.
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