I never make New Year’s resolutions. (I don’t feel so bad knowing that Luck Factor author and psychologist Richard Wiseman’s study points out this practice’s futility.) I don’t make goals. I’ve tried, but I forget about them within a day or two. Even as my businesses and my life as a writer have grown, goals just don’t factor into what gets me up in the morning.
Some 15 years ago, I led a department of 19 eclectic, rather brilliant English teachers for two crazy years as a stint as Department Chair. I was on fire, as usual, with trying to inspire the group to revolutionize the way we taught writing. For a fleeting moment, the dean probably liked me. One day, an ambitious colleague cornered me in my office and asked what my career goals were. “My what?” I said. “My goals? My career? I didn’t know I had a career.” I resigned from that position and from full-time teaching forever later that year.
Thoreau, not Peter Drucker, was and is my hero and role model. Since I was 18 and first read Walden until now, I remain committed to this simple task: to affect the quality of this day. This one. Not the one six months from now. I gather moments more than goal sheets.
Part of me used to think myself odd, a sort of goofy entrepreneur-writer who would never amount to much because he just lacked the business mind to define “measurable goals” and make a six-month or twelve-month business plan to meet them. When would I grow up and get with the goal-getters? Then I read Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. The gist of the book is simple (as are the gists of most good books): Creative people – in the arts and in business and in life – are motivated from within not from without. Autonomy, mastery of something, and purpose drive us more than authority or rewards.
I’ve known this about myself since a teenager. But somehow I just never accepted or fully understood why I’m so driven every day and have been for over 20 years, and yet no carrots of money or fame light my fire the way that the joy of creating, connecting, making meaning, and building something (whether a nimble wood sculpture out back or a book or a business) do. Now I accept it.
And now I realize that many of my clients aren’t goal-driven either. As 2011 approaches, I’ve talked with several of them to help define goals for their creative ventures and businesses. Some of them know instantly what their goals are. But others clam up when they hear the word “goal” in a way I recognize. One client told me, “My goal in 2011 is not to have goals. I want to focus on now.” How Thoreau. I get that. So, how can I help these artists, writers, designers – some of them with their own micro-businesses – move forward and innovate?
Some answers came to me in questions. Last week, I had a tele-conference with my amazing Yoga as Muse Tribe – the merry band of facilitators spreading the Yoga as Muse teachings in different parts of North America. I wanted us to get excited together about 2011. Rather easily, I came up with some questions about vision, goals, and intention.
First, vision. Vision to me is sensual. It’s how the skin feels when we’re in flow, when the Tao gongs our way. Here are the questions I asked them to move into and sit with:
How do you imagine your best self acting and being in 2011? What is calling you to act well in the world in 2011? What images do you see and hear? How does your best self feel?
I should’ve known their replies would undo me. This group possesses astounding authenticity and transparency.
That second question – What is calling you to act well in the world in 2011? – I have asked of myself almost every morning this year. It came to me this January and has delightfully rocked and rolled my life since. That calling of the best self is what Buddhists and yogis call “dharma.” It’s your wisdom duty, not necessarily your obligations to others. That sort of thing gets me out of bed. Daniel Pink and others in the field of positive psychology and cognitive psychology call it “purpose.” And we need it. And it shouldn’t feel embarrassing to define it or ask it of ourselves.
Second, goals. Now here I admit I fell into an old pattern. Here are the goal-related questions I asked the YAM Tribe:
By the end of 2011, what tangible accomplishments would your best self like to achieve? # of workshops? # of manuscripts completed and/or submitted for publication? Online presence and social media presence? # of clients?
There’s nothing wrong with these questions per se. Certainly, these talented, creative facilitators benefited from thinking in such concrete terms. But it’s the reductive nature of numerical goals that leaves me feeling flat when I think of these types of goals too much.
Here’s where Pink’s book helped me again. This time he changed the way I understand two different kinds of goals and how each motivates us. Pink cites and explains lucidly the recent research of psychology professor Carol Dweck (Dweck has authored a new book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success). Dweck has studied how college students work with goals. Most students are motivated either by performance goals or by learning/mastery goals.
What Dweck discovered is fascinating. Students driven by performance goals (‘to make all As’ ‘to ace this test’ ‘to get an MBA and get a high-paying job’) seek to look smart and to avoid looking dumb more than to learn. They’re concerned with appearances. They believe that intelligence is a fixed state determined at birth. Students driven by learning/mastery goals (‘to come up with a new way to use an algorithm’ ‘to refine my mastery of engineering’) want to increase their competence in areas. They enjoy learning for learning’s sake. They are less concerned about intelligence and more concerned about tasks at hand. Consequently, they generally succeed more during difficult times than the other group of students. Over the long term, they’re also generally happier with their lives.
Learning/mastery goals! Those are goals I can live with. Here’s how I phrase goal questions for 2011 now: What does your best self hunger to learn this year to respond to that calling? What does your best self aspire to do well? Exceptionally well? What does your best self yearn to create and build this year? (Keep it concrete.)
Perhaps learning/mastery goals coupled with ‘measurable goals’ will help us creatives innovate and be even more productive and, thus, gratified in 2011.
In a post soon, I’ll share with you how I’ve worked with intentions as a useful daily creative tool for ten years, and I’ll share with you how a Lakota saying honed my life path and modus operandis at age 20.
Meanwhile, you can try the New Year’s Goal Questions for No-Goals Creatives:
1. Begin with vision: How do you imagine your best self acting and being in 2011? What is calling you to act well in the world in 2011? What images do you see and hear? How does your best self feel? Take walks with these questions. Move in them. Run with them. Practice yoga with them.
2. Yearn to learn: What does your best self hunger to learn this year to respond to that calling? What does your best self aspire to do well? Exceptionally well? What does your best self yearn to create and build this year?
3. Perform with authenticity: C’mon. We can put measurements on some things we want to accomplish. It can be helpful to define in measurable terms some indicators that you are acting on behalf of your best self. What are they? A certain number of pages of a book written? A number of exhibits of your work? A number of new client work? Greater exposure for your work? A national presence within your field?
Drop in the Hut
What about you? How do you work with goals? How do you phrase them? Do you find goal-setting useful or frustrating? Keep up with them? Share your vision and goals.