Goals Used Against Me

The problem with goals, even though I love them, is I tend to see them as “have to’s” rather than “want to’s,” even when the goal comes from my deepest self.

When I didn’t succeed at my goal of winning NaNo last month, I had a really hard time with it. I had a good reason not to get my 50,000 words done (read my blog post about it here) but I still had to deal with that little voice in my head that told me my “reason” was just another word for “excuse.”

I think I’ve come by this way of thinking honestly, as a part of my medical training, but I don’t think it serves me any longer.

When I was a third year medical student, I was doing my pediatrics rotation at a big hospital. My team was rounding on our patients at a certain time and my intern (who was my supervisor) told me to get all the x-ray films for all the patients we would be seeing that day.

I went down to x-ray to sign out the films and was told that the x-ray machines were down and no films could be developed (This was before the days of digital images.) The technician I spoke to said she had no idea when x-rays would be available.

I arrived at rounds at the appointed time and my intern asked if I’d gotten the films. I explained the problem and that no x-ray films were available.

“So, you didn’t complete your task, did you?” he asked.

“No,” I answered, “I didn’t.”

No excuses were acceptable. I learned that lesson many times during medical school and I stopped making excuses, even when the excuses were things like “I have a fever of 103,” or “I just had a baby 10 days ago.”

So, when I didn’t complete my NaNo goal, I had to do a lot of self-coaching to feel okay with the fact that I didn’t achieve my goal—even though it was a conscious decision not to finish—one I made over and over as the end of November loomed. I could have pulled a couple of all-nighters on the last weekend of November but I chose not to—and then I beat myself up about it.

My friend Julie just decided to do NaNo in January. Why didn’t I think of that?

I was too busy thinking negative thoughts about my lack of achievement to come up with something as creative as changing the month I did NaNo in.

Negative thoughts = stressful thoughts = narrow focus = lack of creativity (among other things.)

Right now, the best way I know how to be creative is to continue to examine my thoughts and decide which ones are true and which ones are just unquestioned.

Once I clean up my thinking, I can get back to my real work, which is writing.

Are negative thoughts interfering with your writing? Can you let them go?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, family physician, mother, and stepmother. I didn’t succeed at my NaNo goal, but now that it’s occurred to me, I think I’ll try again in January! In the meantime, I’m still plugging away at my novel. And blogging, of course!

29 thoughts on “Goals Used Against Me

  1. I identify with your thoughts, as expressed here. I’ve lived through similar incidents of missed goals. But God loves me, even with all those faults. That gives me cause & courage to keep going and I will do better!

  2. Hi Diane, it seems like the more accomplished we are, the higher our expectations of ourselves and the more deeply we can disappoint ourselves. For me, it wasn’t so much my professional training (Ph.D. in clinical psychology) but my earlier training (nothing is ever good enough unless it’s perfect). I still have a love/hate relationship with that mindset: love it when it pushes me to accomplish what I strive for, hate it when it induces too much stress and sometimes forces me to change/adapt my plans….but we are all works in progress.
    BTW, your byline is the same as mine (just replace the family physician with retired clinical psychologist):-) I am surprised to see how many health and mental health professionals have found the blogoshpere a satisfying playground! To me, blogging is Deep Play….

    • Hi Beauty Along the Road,
      Thanks so much for your comments. I agree, the thoughts I expressed in my blog post are those I picked up many years ago, as a young person. I’m slowly unlearning that perfection mindset.

      I agree, blogging is deep play!

      Happy writing! (And blogging!)


  3. I don’t ever have negative thoughts about my writing. I love to write and if it was for my living….that would be pressure. I write because I want to not because some site told me I should join them

  4. Let me bring up a quote by Muhammad Ali.

    “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'”

    Sometimes, even though we are doing things we love, pursuing endeavours we are passionate about, we tend to hate the ‘practice’ time.

    The ‘practice’ time involves doing what we love; but doing it repeatedly. So repeatedly that we tend to hate it and get bored of it. But that ‘repetition of the fundamentals’ is what makes us champions.

    We need to force ourselves at times. Even though we are into something we ‘want to’ do, sometimes we have to make it ‘have to’ in order to win.

    And so, Goals are a must 🙂 They are like the lampposts in the night; if the road appears dark and unappealing, and we are losing interest in the journey, goals kindle our passions and bring us back on track.

    • Hi ravitejatadimalla,
      Thanks for the quote and for your comments! I agree, goals are very important. I just let some of my smaller goals interfere with my big goal of staying present and enjoying my life as I live it. I will definitely keep setting goals, I’m just trying to be kind to myself along the way!

      Happy writing!


  5. I recently did an exercise on a retreat (I’m an organizer for an all volunteer group) that dealt with this exactly. At first I thought it was silly, but I quickly got something out of it. You sit across from a partner, and list out all of he things you think you “should” do. Your partner looks at you, and after each one, says no firmly. Then they repeat your shoulds back to you, and you have to say no to them yourself. It quickly recalibrates your attitude towards things. It’s so hard to say no to some things, and joyful to say no to others. I felt like it forced me recognize where I’d turned something I loved into an obligation, and where my sense of obligation wasn’t really necessary or good for me.

    • Hi Michelle,
      That’s a great exercise! I love it! I’m going to try it if I can get my husband to do it with me (he will–he’s good like that!)

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience!


    • Hi Silent,
      Every time I ask for guidance, I get the same message you get from Grand Mother. I need to love myself as much as I am loved. Sometimes I really know it and other times it’s harder for me to accept.

      Thanks for sharing!


    • Hi BrantleyNewton,
      I agree, I’m so done beating myself up! I have only had one day of headache in the last two weeks–and I’m still getting stuff done. Writing about my “excuse” was really good for me, I think. It helped me face my fear of appearing imperfect (human, even?) in front of others. I admitted my imperfection and have received only support in return!

      Thanks so much for your comments!


  6. Oh my God! I completely hear what you’re saying. I was kicking my own ass for not finishing too. I even wrote a post about it and found support through other bloggers who assured me that yeah it would have been nice to finish, but quality is more important than the finish line. KEEP writing away there are others out there just like us. Don’t beat yourself up. January sounds awesome

    • Hi The Guat,
      Thanks so much for the support! Right back at you! January sounds great, doesn’t it? And–I have a writing retreat scheduled for January. I plan to rock my writing then!


  7. Negative thoughts have been interfering with my writing and my life for a long time. I’m only just starting to come out of it. I was doing a PhD which I loved, but I have ill health problems and worked too hard and had to take time out due to a stress condition I developed. I was off sick with that for two years! During which time I tried to lose the stress, but I was beating myself up for failing. I knew I couldn’t go back to it unless they cut me some slack, and that was not possible to achieve. I didn’t want to fail. I tried doing other things, which were soothing and good, crochet for example. I tried to write, after all, I had plenty of time! I ought to use it for fiction writing towards my other goal than academia, novel writing. But although I did nano both years, what I wrote was no use.

    Finally, at the beginning of this year, my two years ran out. I had to either go back or quit. I tried going back, couldn’t cope, and quit. And then I felt horrible. Not as bad as when it first hit me, but worse than it had been the previous year. I tried to focus on my novel writing goal and set myself the task of a completed first draft by the end of the year. But I didn’t do well in the first half of the year, then I stopped even trying as I had other things I had to do that life throws at you. My backup plan was nano!

    At least that worked. I did finally achieve my goal and I’m in a much better place now, plus I have edits to play with 🙂 But why did it have to take 3 years?!

    • Hi knotrune,
      Wow, thanks for sharing part of your journey with us. I’m so glad you were able to achieve your goal! AND, I have no idea why it had to take 3 years. It just is what it is. I think if it happened that way, it was supposed to happen that way. Someday perhaps you’ll know the why.

      Happy writing (and editing!)


    • Hi jablake1212,
      I agree, we are hardest on ourselves. I am trying really hard to be as kind to myself as I am to those around me. The world has not ended because I didn’t complete NaNo when I said I would!

      Thanks for commenting (and reading!)


  8. I felt the same way about NaNo and like you (but for different reasons probably) was unable to finish. I tend to dwell on these incomplete things I do, rather than try to find something good from it. I think it is a mindset thing, one that I know I need to overcome, it is a big WIP. I like what your friend said about doing NaNo in January. I think for me, I realized I should have prepared more before starting, especially knowing how many limited days I had to write. I am still motivated to write my story, but it will have to be on my own time.

    • Hi goingtogermany0693,
      I have won NaNo a couple of times, and the first time was back when I was working almost full-time as a physician. I figured out how many non-work days there were in the month and planned to write only on those days. I was very organized and it really helped. This time I think I was unrealistic about how much time I would have and how much time my other responsibilities took.

      It’s been two weeks since NaNo finished and I find myself looking forward to writing more in the coming weeks and months. I’ve gotten over my discouragement and I’m ready to keep writing–even though my word count won’t be as high as I originally thought!

      Good luck and happy writing!


  9. Pingback: Wildly Improbable Goals 2013 Update | Live to Write - Write to Live

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