Last week, I wrote about the importance of starting small. Today, I want to think about what our goals really should be.
Oftentimes, we fall into a trap where we believe our goals should be about output or results. But, we have to recognize that outcomes are not totally in our control.
Imagine you’re standing at a pool table.
You hold a pool ball in your hand and you’re going to try to roll it across the table and into the corner pocket on the far side. What do you really control in this situation? You can control your aim and the speed you put on the ball. If you do this on a completely empty pool table, your chances of rolling the ball into the pocket are probably pretty good because you’re able to control almost all variables.
If, however, we set the table up the same, but now we add 15 other people with 15 other pool balls and give them all the same goal — roll it all the way across the table to the corner pocket — then things will be very different. You still control your aim and the speed you’ll put on the ball. But now there are 15 other balls rolling around on the felt. You have no control over these balls at all.
The same is true for your art. What can you control with respect to your art?
You can control the work itself, but you can’t control how it’s received. You can take aim and get the ball rolling, but, once the ball is on the move, you can only hope it avoids the other fifteen balls and find its way to the corner pocket.
Most of the time, you’ll fail, but every now and then your pool ball will find its home.
Instead of creating goals that are built around a certain outcome — e.g., “write the great American novel” — create goals that are about process. Here are some examples:
- I’m going to write 250 words today.
- I’m going to sit down for 15 minutes and work on my novel.
On most days, you have at least some control of your calendar. Use it! Block out some time as part of your process.
When your practice is oriented around the process, then you’re controlling the controllable. Combine this with “start small,” and you’ll start to grow your trust in your process.
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