My 2017 Goals: A Quarterly Check-In

I decided to do things differently this year. Rather than slinging together a list of goals – random things it’d be kinda cool to achieve by the end of the year – I chose to focus instead on building up three simple daily practices. The three practices are: writing, reading and exercising.

I purposely chose to make them easily doable:

  • Write 400 words a day, no matter what. Paper journalling doesn’t count, but I’ve created a ‘Shit’ folder in Scrivener for any time I’m struggling. I can write whatever I want in the Shit folder.
  • Read some of a book every single day, no matter how little.
  • Walk at least three miles a day, or go for a run or do a yoga session (any distance/length).

We’re a quarter of the way through the year now, so I’ve decided to check in on my progress. I want to analyse whether these three daily practices are actually helping me achieve anything, and whether I could be doing them differently to get better, more consistent, more satisfying results. (Spoiler: yes.)

You can read more about each goal and why I chose them here. The short version is: they’re all about becoming a better writer – even the exercise goal. I get upper back pain, which makes me not want to sit at my desk and write, and exercising every day helps with that. Obviously.

Okay! Now let’s look at how I’m going with each goal so far.

Writing 400 words every single day

Guys, I was going so strong with this until last week. But last Tuesday I completely, thoroughly, totally forgot to write. I completed 79 days in a row of writing at least 400 words and then I fucking forgot. You probably think I woke up annoyed with myself the next day. But I wasn’t annoyed at all. In fact, I was relieved.

I didn’t intentionally not write. I just straight up forgot about it – it didn’t even cross my mind as my head hit the pillow that night. Though that did happen on several previous occasions: more than once, I crawled into bed and realised I hadn’t done my writing yet. So I’d climb back out, pad through to my desk and furiously clatter out 400 words about any old bullshit just so I could say I’d done my writing. I dragged myself out of bed on those days because I knew I’d be seriously disappointed in myself if I intentionally shrugged it off.

So why was I relieved about forgetting? Because I knew something wasn’t right about the way I was doing this.

Before I’d made my slip-up, I was already questioning whether this was worth doing. Here’s an excerpt from before I fucked up the challenge:

It’s hard to figure out what I’m trying to achieve with this. Or what I AM achieving, more to the point. It’s 10pm on a Saturday night as I write this. I’m tired and I don’t want to do it.

Often I write crap. And I know people say you have to write crap to get at the good stuff, and that is definitely true to an extent. But I created a literal folder called ‘Shit’, specifically for this year’s write-every-day challenge, for the days when I wasn’t feeling INSPIRED to write anything in particular.

There have been many days like that so far. It’s only half-way through March and the entries in my Shit folder are stacking up. I probably shouldn’t have allowed myself that caveat. I didn’t when I started my write-every-day challenge back in October, and I felt like I was accomplishing a lot more. I WAS writing something potentially publishable every day.

And isn’t the point of this that it IS supposed to be a challenge and it IS supposed to make myself or my writing better somehow?

Writing 400 words of whatever bullshit comes to mind at 10pm is not good. It is not purposeful. It is not useful. It does not advance me as a writer, because I have been doing that shit since I was 15 and it’s pretty evident I’ve got as far as I can up the ‘write some random bollocks about what you’re thinking’ ladder.

So something needs to change. I either need to not allow myself these Shit posts, or change the challenge in another way. Write in the morning perhaps?

It’s easy for me to write thousands of words per day when I’ve got something specific I need to do. But otherwise, when I allow myself to write shit, I will simply write shit. Especially at 10pm on a Saturday night.

So, yeah, I’m allowing myself a brief break from the challenge, especially since I’m in a period of upheaval at the moment. I’ve just quit digital nomading and am now moving into a more permanent home in Edinburgh. That doesn’t mean I’m not writing during this period – just that I haven’t set any rules for it. I mean, look at me, I’m writing right now. Bam! Since last Tuesday, I’ve missed a few more days. But whatever.

I’d be foolish to carry on with this challenge even though I knew it wasn’t helping me achieve anything particularly worthwhile. ‘Trust the process’, I said. And I do still believe that. It’s just that I think my particular process was, er, not great. Just being able to say ‘Hey, I wrote every single day this year!’ without having anything worthwhile to show for it at the end? What’s the fucking point of that, eh? So I’m rethinking now.

Would a daily timed writing period be better? Say, 20 or 30 minutes per day? Or should the focus be on forming the habit of writing in the mornings? Would just nixing the Shit folder solve my problems? Perhaps I should let myself take weekends off so I don’t burn myself out? Or maybe just Saturdays? What about aiming for a particular word count each week, without the worry of hitting a certain number of words per day? Whatever I decide, it’s going to need to work with my rebel tendency.

I think I want the goal to still be writing every single day, but I know my current approach isn’t working. I might drop the word count and try out a timed period every day. And definitely no more Shit folder. Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have figured out what works for me and incorporated a good writing habit into my life. I might check in again after the second and third quarters to evaluate my progress again.

Whatever I choose, I’m going to start doing it on Monday, and I’m going to make it more habits-based. Because what I’ve been doing so far this year is about as far from forming a habit as you can get while still managing to achieve the thing each day.

Reading every single day

The only ‘rule’ I set myself here was to read part of a book every single day. No particular page count to hit. I’ve only missed five days of reading so far this year… but that’s not as impressive as it sounds.

Turns out, focusing on building the daily practice is all well and good, and they DO say you should start small, but looking at my progress so far this year, I’m thinking I set my goal too small. Like, it’s a step backwards compared to what I was already achieving. By this time last year, I’d already read 35 books. So far this year? Six. Fucking SIX, guys. Environment is incredibly important for building habits, and last year I was living alone in a nice apartment. I had designated spots where I sat to read, and I often started my days by doing so. I was in the habit of reading a good chunk most days.

So far this year? I’ve been either crashing at my mum’s place or living in Airbnbs. Neither are particularly conducive to building any sort of habit. My reading so far this year has mostly been done in bed at night, which means I only manage a page or two (or sometimes half a page) before the Kindle slaps my face.

Once I’m settled in my new apartment, I’m going to get back to reading in the mornings. I’m still not planning to set myself a page target, because I know from my book count last year that I can get through a lot without too much trouble.

Exercising every single day

I’ve missed the most days of all from this challenge. Twelve missed days in total. But, weirdly, I don’t feel as bad about this as I do about the writing and reading goals. Why? Because what I am doing is working. My back pain has been minimal so far this year. I credit this not just to exercising regularly, but also to sitting in more comfortable positions at home, both at my desk and when I’m lounging around.

Plus, this habit is pretty much already ingrained in me. Over the past couple of years, it’s become a regular habit of mine to walk 3–5 miles a day, usually somewhere in solitude and in nature. I’m ecstatic that my new apartment is close to my old one, because that means I’ll still be able to make my daily treks to the beach.

I would like to incorporate more variety of exercise into my days, though I trust that this too will be easier with a more stable environment. I was running or doing yoga fairly regularly throughout January, but as soon as I landed in Seville, that was it. It was walking or nothing. (Well, I went for one run. Hmm.)

Going for my daily walks doesn’t just help my back, of course – it also helps my mind. I tend to walk for at least an hour, and often up to two, and during this time it’s just me and my brain, and usually some music. I never listen to podcasts or audiobooks when I walk, because it’s my thinking and figuring-out time. If anything’s on my mind, whether it’s to do with work or life, I’ve usually resolved it by the time I get home.

Sometimes there’s nothing on my mind, though. I’m not a worrier by nature. I don’t get anxiety. Sometimes I will just enjoy the walk, stopping to smell the spring blooms or smile at the squirrels scampering around the trees. In the summer, on my strolls to the beach, I take my shoes off and squidge my feet into the wet sand or dance in the waves lapping on the shore (after checking there’s no one around, natch).

So yeah, I’m pretty happy with my exercise at the moment. I don’t WANT to give up my daily walks, and usually if I do a different kind of exercise it replaces the walks, so, hmm… dilemma. But right now, I’m happy with where things are on this front.

If you’re interested, I’ve been tracking my daily habits with the Productive app, which I like for its simplicity.