3 Reasons Why I Think Making it Public is a Bad Idea

micOne thing I keep reading over and over again about goal-setting is that it is important to make your goals known to other people – that way they can hold you accountable to them. One way it has been recommended to do this is making it public: telling every person you meet, posting about it on social media (and posting about your progress), and/or writing on your blog or website about the goal.

I think all of these are terrible ideas.

Here’s 3 reasons why:

1. It’s all talk, no action

Sure, it’s really great to get excited about a project or goal and then run around telling everyone you know so that they can be excited with you. And ideally, this means that when you run into one of these people three months later at Earthfare and they ask you how your beekeeping extravaganza is going, you’ll be able to say “I have a whole acre of beehives!” and not “Oh…that old thing…uh, that was just a couple of days I wanted to do that, it kinda fizzled out once I remembered I am terrified of bees.”

I’ve done this often enough, and honestly I am tired of telling people about an idea I have, only to have later moved on while they still think I’ve really got my shit together this time. Talking about something I’m pumped about, just to get myself pumped more and, you know, hopefully eventually propel myself to action? It hardly ever works.

When I’ve got something going on, when I’m in the thick of it, perhaps that’s when I can start talking about it. Because now it’s real, it’s tangible, it’s not just another idea I’ve had this week.

2. Involving others to that extent makes it about how people view me, not how I view myself

Suddenly, I start relying upon the feedback I get for the idea, for the progression of the project, and for the finished product, as the only reason I am doing what I am doing. “Ooh, how many ‘likes’ did I get for my new mailbox garden or the eighth-inch I’ve gained in my biceps??” and “Oh man, SO many people have shared my video on what I’ve learned about soldering, it feels good.”

These are NOT bad thoughts to have. Almost all of us crave positive public opinion to some degree or another (and, obviously, making a video about soldering techniques is a great way to create a deliverable). But if this feedback is the only driving force behind something we’re working on, we seriously need to reexamine our priorities.

In my own case, I know if I let people’s opinions take over as my sole driving force, I really lose any motivation at all and start wishing nobody knew about a project, because it’s become all about them and not about me and what I want to accomplish for myself.

Like I said, there’s nothing wrong with wanting feedback; likewise there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make people happy: writing a book is helpful and/or entertaining for people; planting a garden makes people smile when they come over to your house; working out gains a community of like-minded individuals with similar interests with whom you can swap interesting tips and strategies with. Just don’t forget to find the drive for what you do primarily within yourself, or you and your project will most likely fade.

3. If accountability is needed, it works way better on a small scale

The entire world does not need to be your accountability system. However, that doesn’t mean accountability is bad. Instead, try having one friend, maybe two.  An accountability buddy will be much better help than everybody you’ve ever known.

Accountability is a symbiotic relationship. Not only will an accountability buddy help you stay on task, but you likewise help them. They hold you to the goal or goals you have chosen, which means you want to make sure that you are very intentional with the ideas you pick to become goals. They can help you map out how exactly to accomplish these goals so you have steps to follow and mile markers to, as you reach them, report back to your accountability buddy. Because accountability is usually one-on-one, your partnership will push you to accomplish your goals not for shallow displays of public recognition, but for true praise (or true critique, especially if your follow-through was lacking that week) from one person who is as invested in your projects and goals as you are. And you do the same for them.

Still think making it public is a good or even better idea?  Had a good experience with making it public, one-on-one accountability, or another way of keeping yourself on task?  Need help starting an accountability partnership?  Leave a comment!

Unschooling Yourself

Ever since I was about 15, I’ve made schedules constantly. Monthly, weekly, daily. To some degree it’s essential when you’re a self-directed learner to structure your days in order to do what you need to do. Not everybody needs to, and certainly not everyone needs the kind of hour-by-hour structure I often set for myself; but I know that for the most part I need it to keep track of my day and how I get things done.

For as long I’ve been making these schedules, though, I have always run into one tiny frustration: there are days/times when I just don’t want to stick to the schedule. I’ll start writing a story instead of reading about frog innards as I am supposed to do. Or start playing the guitar instead of doing yoga. Whatever it is, half the time I really feel like doing something else.

As I have grown older and felt more responsible, and also more aware of and sensitive to the consequences of NOT getting something done, forgoing my set schedule has felt more and more sinful. Normal People label this practice of “doing one thing when you should be doing something else” as procrastination. So, naturally, I’ve gotten all down on myself for being such a procrastinator.

That is, until I had some sort of epiphany a few months ago: as much as what I have scheduled to do are what I want to accomplish (as opposed to a teacher or the like), I haven’t been fully allowing myself to fully live in freedom. The philosophy behind “unschooling” (the K-12 version of College Rebellion– more info here: http://whyunschool.info/) is to let the child learn what they want to when they want to, because people learn better when they are actually interested in what they are learning and feel like pursuing that interest. And here I have been attempting to force myself to do things, finding my enthusiasm for learning wane day by day. The result is a Jessica who gets nothing done and feels like pig slop come bedtime.

The first step I took to remedy this spirit-crushing issue was to determine the waverables and non-waverables in my days/weeks/months. Because as much of a good thing it is to let myself be free, it is an even better thing to continue being responsible.

The first non-waverables are things you are committed to do for/with other people – things like work; or if you are taking a class at the community center or a nearby college, it’s probably a good idea to do those things at the original time you allotted for them, as they simply won’t be happening at a different time.

However, who says you need to read Dante at 7:45 am, and then start work on your recording session at 9:00, break for lunch at 12, record for two more hours, go do laps at the pool at 3, make food from 4-6, eat food, and then blog about it before settling in to watch a movie at 8?

“But that was how I planned my day!!!”

But what do you want to do?

I see it as “listening to your heart”, which you can definitely accomplish without being sappy. You know how you listen to your body to tell you what kind of food to eat? Maybe you don’t, but it really is so good for you to get in tune with your body – I know when I need milk, dairy, citrus, eggs, meat, leafy greens, a banana, a protein drink, etc. Even chocolate! (And since I started listening to my body, I definitely don’t eat as much chocolate/junk food as I used to… now isn’t that something?)

So, “listen to your heart.” Before you tell him goodbye… and every time else in between.

Perhaps this is the commentary inside your head during that day instead:

“Today,” your heart tells you, “I want to go swimming first thing. Then I want to come back and make a big bunch of food because I’ll be HUNGRY!! I’ll take pictures of it when I’m done, and then go ahead and record a bit. But I don’t have the kind of attention span for doing all of it, so I’ll go read a book, maybe even go to the coffee shop and chill a bit with my peeps. Maybe while I’m there I’ll go ahead and blog about my tremendous breakfast. Then while I’m at the coffee shop with those peeps, I think I shall invite those peeps over to watch that movie with me. We don’t make dinner exactly, but we do get frozen jalapeño poppers from the grocery store and those are practically just as good. Then some of them end up staying and we have a jam session into the night, in which we don’t record what I had intended exactly, but what we did record was so awesome and inspiring for my future work that it did more good than harm. At last we all crash in various places around the house and I don’t get quite as good of a start to the next morning, but that’s okay.”

As you can see, chances are you will still get things done if you give yourself leeway and don’t adhere 100% to your set schedule. This doesn’t mean don’t make a schedule – I still do, or else I have no guidelines at all and end up wasting away doing not much useful.

Although, come to think of it, what is “useful”??

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fb persThis is part 3 of a 3-part series.  

I got an e-mail a while ago from a college drop-out named Juan who is now focusing his time on becoming a composer. He raised a very good question that has now inspired this entry:

“How much time is enough for your goals? Sometimes I feel like I am not putting enough time into my work. I’m not the type to make a schedule and setup a complicated system, but what is a more general, realistic view? 10 hours a week? 20 hours a week? 1 hour per day? 2? If I don’t work on something one day, I’ll justify to myself because ‘I worked 5 hours yesterday.’ Am I taking a more difficult approach? (I know there is no right way, but some rules can apply. I just want to make sure that I’m not becoming stagnant.) Or maybe any amount of time is enough, since ultimately it leads to my goals.”

Juan hit the nail on the head with the last bit of commentary: what matters is accomplishing your goals, not how much time you put into something.

Music is a good example of something that requires lots of self-discipline to practice and/or create. The hours per day or week in this case would be according to what you personally need in order to stay “in shape” for your skill. However, you could practice for hours upon hours and at the end just have a bunch of hours under your belt but no concrete accomplishments.

In this case, what matters most is setting concrete, attainable goals for yourself.

First, you need a Big Ultimate Goal – there’s a chance you already have that in mind. But you need to check it – is it clearly defined? Do you have a specific deadline for its accomplishment?

Examples of good Big Ultimate Goals are:

– Memorize 10 classical piano pieces on the piano by August 31st
– Navigate all 7 tracks of the bouldering cave at the rock climbing gym without touching the ground by August 31st

The more concrete these Big Ultimate Goals are, the easier it will be to pace yourself towards them.

In pacing yourself, little milestones need to be set between now and the accomplishment of the Big Ultimate Goal. Sometimes this is easily calculable – e.g., if you give yourself a week to read a book, then you just divide the number of pages by 7.

In the instance of any sort of learned skill, it’s best to set goals with higher and higher difficulty levels. Start with something just barely above what you are already super-comfortable doing, and go from there. “Memorize first three movements of ______ by Friday,” or “navigate the entirety of the bouldering wall with the slight extra lean flawlessly by the end of the next climbing session.” These sorts of “little goals” really are a must: if you don’t have them, you do not keep accomplishing things towards your ultimate goal, and might even quit from lack of drive. So set them as often as possible – daily goals are highly recommended, even if they are relatively tiny.

And don’t forget: nobody is looking over your shoulder to see if you are doing so-and-so many hours a week. I know it is very difficult to break from habits of going to a school where a certain amount of time must be spent on something or it doesn’t count. In self-education, though, your time spent is not what justifies what you are learning: the end result does. I have a friend who is an excellent pianist, but has always practiced infrequently and sporadically – he doesn’t need to do hours and hours of scales. At the same time, his brother spends hours, on the court and off, shooting hoops – and it may not even be that he needs to, but he wants to keep practicing. (See my post back on my old blog: “Unschooling Yourself.”)

A good suggestion from my pal Blake is to have “deliverables” – concrete proof that you are getting things done so that some of your more intangible accomplishments aren’t floating around wondering whether they have any purpose. You do often have something actually tangible (like you can now play that particular Chopin piece), but then sometimes you have to record this milestone by writing about it, or taking a video or pictures, etc. Creating such deliverables is not only good for you to keep track of your progress, but they make it easy to stay accountable to others, whether it’s with a specific person or online on a website or blog.

Website or blog?

Take for instance, cooking. When you feel like cooking, sometimes you could just go all day and not stop. And you end up with lots of amazing food. That you can photograph and put in your food-photography portfolio that you then publish on your obsessed-with-cooking blog that you started writing with the help of the “food writing” class you just took at the local community center.

If you don’t like cooking, I’m sure you have another obsession that you could do all day and then blog about.

I hope this series has helped! Remember, you can e-mail me at any time with questions, suggestions, stories, and anything else you can possibly come up with.

You can also e-mail me to let me know that you want to read my new e-book!  It is packed full of more guidance, tips, ideas, and many other things I have just barely touched on in the “Three P’s” series.  (In case you didn’t get the memo… it’s free!)

Dreams vs. Reality: Fearless Following

Dreams vs. Reality

“How hard would you work, and for how long, if you knew you could have your dream for sure?

My dad often asks me this, and I reply by sighing reluctantly and pretending to think, hoping that the subject will magically change. Time has always been so imminent for me. Patience is easy for me in traffic or while waiting for my turn to take a shower.

However, when it comes to the big stuff, like perhaps starting an organization to help mistreated pets – that would take years! Years of doing nothing else other than sitting around working on this one thing! I’ll never get to accomplish my other dream of going on safari in Africa if I’m attached to a big organization. Even if that organization is my ultimate dream. I’ll just put it off five more years, then see if it happens, maybe magically.

But – dreams are meant to be accomplished, not stewed in your brain while you go off and do lots of procrastinating, eventually leaving them rotting on the side of the road because they are “too big.”

The reason we do this is that we have to work for our dreams, and work really hard; oftentimes, we become afraid of that hard work.

Even though we really want roast chicken, rosemary potatoes, and baked asparagus for dinner, it’s hard work throwing that kind of meal together, and you are already hungry. So what are you going to do, eat more Kraft Dinner and put off the roast chicken for another night? If you keep doing that, your chicken is going to go bad.

But what if we were really willing to work for our dreams? Could we conceivably believe in ourselves? Or maybe we don’t actually. Maybe it’s just too hard, or the dreams too far out to actually come true. They are called dreams for a reason, right?

I don’t think so.

So how hard would you be willing to work? How far would you be willing to go? How high would you climb? How long would you take? What would you do if you knew you could have your dreams for sure?

This is a two-step process, the dreaming and the working for the dream. But you have to do the dreaming first, right? Right. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Make sure to dream big. Don’t limit yourself. If you have longed to be a famous author, singer, or movie star since you can remember, don’t hold back because of others’ predictions that you’ll fail. At the same time, don’t limit yourself in the opposite way – if you have always yearned to be a farmer, prep cook, or a ditch digger, don’t let anybody tell you those are simple, undignified dreams. Whatever YOUR dream is, dream it YOUR big and don’t let anybody else define it for you.

You’re never done – always doing. I believe it’s a common misconception that there is a point in our lives in which we “accomplish our life goal.” Yes, I suppose that applies if your one life goal is one very concrete and specific thing, such as skydiving with your true love over southern New Zealand; however, is that really the one and only thing that you have lived your entire life to do, and now you can live mundanely and be bored for the rest of your existence?

I am a “List of Life Goals” maker. Things to do are always popping up in my head, and I have to write them all down in order to keep track of them.

One thing that was on my list for basically my entire life was, “Be the one who holds the snake.” To me, this meant that I, for once, would be the person holding the snake and showing him to other people, namely kids, educating them on how amazing snakes are, and, best of all, letting them pet the snake. I had always wanted to do this because I was always that kid who got to pet the snake that the person was holding, but I couldn’t hold it myself/take care of it for legal reasons, of course. As I grew older, I became more and more discontent with my spectator role, and was determined that it shouldn’t be forever. It was a big, important goal of mine, which I recently got to accomplish while working at the wildlife center this spring.

After working my first festival (where I met many little Jessicas), I came home beaming, talked forever about it, and wrote a very long entry in my journal. And, while I felt very accomplished, it was then that I realized that this was not a finite point, or the end of this goal necessarily. It was just the kick-off. I wasn’t discontent; to the contrary, I felt amazing.

All of that to say, goals are very progressive, which is a little hard to see when just dreaming them up. Some people like to plan out their goals in steps of smaller goals; personally, I like to just set a goal and see what comes of it. “Live in a hostel” became a work-trade in the beautiful town of Ashland that planted the seed for an interest in the hospitality business. “Work at a summer camp” became a dishwashing position at one of the freest and most accepting summer camps outside of unschool camps which wants to hire me back on kitchen staff next year. “Travel to cool and interesting places” became an undying wanderlust, all because I finally decided that maybe if I actually went somewhere for a change, the concept would become a little more like second nature.

Doubt is inevitable. So, what are you going to do about it? Cures for doubt are not one-size-fits all: different people have different ways of dealing with different types of doubt for different things. But when it comes to dreams, doubt plays your biggest antagonist, so the first and best thing to do is nip it in the bud, and beware of it at all times, because like telemarketers and little siblings, it doesn’t just go away.

(On that note: also beware that occasionally, doubt often comes in the form of laziness. Don’t be fooled.)

Live in the moment, for the moment. I have to regularly remind myself to stay in the present. It is too easy for me to get caught up dreaming and planning and working out details that don’t need to be worked out for weeks, months, or even years. I get like Luke Skywalker: “Never his mind on where he was – what he was doing!” (saith Yoda.) It’s a horrible habit that I have to consciously work on. I’ve gotten a lot better, but I still need to be careful.

All in all, never forget that you only live on this earth once. The least you can do is not purposefully do something you would rather not do. Like I said, in my next entry I will talk more on the subject of being realistic. For now, just dream, for real.

Here’s an “assignment” (don’t cringe – this will be fun!): in May 2010 when I worked on the Homeschool Leadership Retreat, one day Blake had everyone, staff and campers, write down a list of 100 goals that we would like to accomplish in our lives. Believe it or not, it took me a good part of the day to think of 100 things, but I did it, and had lots of fun.

So here is what you should do RIGHT NOW, or over the next 24 hours or so as you have time: make your own list of 100 goals. No less, though more than 100 is certainly acceptable. And feel free to list some/most/all of them in the comments here if you’d like! I would love to see what y’all come up with.

Comfort Zones

You have followed others’ directions ever since you can remember.  The thought of finding your own way is attractive, but terrifying.

Even though you want badly to forge your own path, why would you?  Why take the wily, unbeaten way when you could continue doing what you’ve been doing since you were 4?

To continue studying half-interesting material at someone else’s set pace, taking mandatory tests, doing assignments for someone else’s deadlines – instead of stepping out into the real world and having to design your own way?  I can’t blame anyone, it sounds blissful to sit back and let life happen.

College is a comfort zone; a plateau.

Say you have a weightlifting routine. In this routine you have a set weight and number of repetitions. You do this workout 5 days a week in order to build your strength in the targeted muscle groups.

However, there comes a point, usually after 4-6 weeks of the same routine, where your body does not build muscle anymore with those particular exercises, weights, and reps.  Your body has become used to the movements.

The solution?  Change the routine up. Perform different exercises, use heavier weights, and/or do more repetitions. This way your body never becomes so accustomed to something that it stops changing; it never gets too adaptive so that it becomes immune to shaping up. It never plateaus.

In the same way, as a person you want to keep growing and changing. To move through life and stay only in comfort zones prevents this from happening.

This does not mean that a stable, settled life is harmful to your personal growth; quite the contrary. However, as living, breathing, thinking, and feeling people, we need that element of change and diversion constantly in our lives.  

This variance does not have to be big scale – unless you know a complete change of scenery.  Perhaps you could exchange weekend bowling for some horseback riding lessons, or go on a hike and take pictures instead of spending your lunch hour clicking away at your favorite social networking site.

Listen to your soul: whenever you feel yourself getting too comfortable, take a little time to examine your situation, your motivation, and your attitude.  Go where you need to go, do what you need to do, and stay when you need to stay.  Just make sure you aren’t selling yourself short.