A letter to myself about my goals for 2023
We meet again, old friend. Time to check in on "Dear Me (2022)" and see how the past twelve months measured up in retrospect. As you’ll recall, you set three somewhat nebulous goals for yourself in January of last year:
(1) Write one novel and one script;
(2) be more active on Writing.com; and
(3) improve physical health.
I wrote a single script page as a practice exercise late in 2022 and my attempts at noveling (including NaNoWriMo) crashed and burned, so that’s a real hard ‘no’ #1, and one of my biggest disappointments of last year. There’s really no excuse for why I couldn’t deliver on a very realistic, reasonable goal. Work was crazy this year, the family was demanding this year, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t why I didn’t get any significant amount of writing done.
I had some brief success with a health challenge over the summer where I lost about ten pounds and was eating much healthier, but I lapsed on that and wasn’t able to pick it back up again. So another strike when it comes to #3. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure how this goal was going to work out without any specific actionable steps in place, so I am a little optimistic that I was able to enjoy some temporary success even without that; it’s at least evidence that progress is possible.
#2 is where there might be some hope. But I’m an empirical evidence kind of guy, so let’s take a look under the hood and see what we have:
Reviews — 18
Port Items — 0
Blog Posts — 32
Newsfeed Posts — 10
Reviews — 54
Port Items — 10
Blog Posts — 91
Newsfeed Posts — 37
By most metrics, I was more active on Writing.com in 2022 than I was in 2021 (not that 2021 set a very high bar to live up to), so #2 can be considered a success. One out of three isn’t too bad, right? Right?!?
In thinking about what I want to accomplish in 2023 I played around with some different types of goals, but ultimately decided that my 2022 goals were good ones. Just because I failed to meet two-thirds of them doesn’t mean they weren’t goals worth pursuing. So I’m looking at goal-planning for the year ahead as an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” kind of situation.
The Writing.com goal (#2) was both accomplished last year and not something that really feeds into any of my goals for 2023, so I’m just going to remove it from the list and update my 2023 objectives to the following:
(1) Write one novel and one script; and
(2) improve physical health.
That’s not to say that I don’t plan on being active on Writing.com this year. If all goes according to plan, I’ll actually be more active in 2023 than 2022 and once again achieve that goal. But it’s not something that I feel the need to monitor throughout the year, so I’m removing it from my list in order to better focus on the other two goals that I still haven’t accomplished.
One of the things I learned from last year’s goals is that I definitely don’t do well with vague objectives. #1 and #2 need to be better defined. For the first one, I need to know how I’m going to get from basically doing no writing to accomplishing those two heavy-lift tasks. And for the second one, I need to figure an actual, definable goal.
Last year, I read a book by James Clear called Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones which, if I’m being honest, was kind of a revelation. The actual work of developing habits through small, incremental efforts is certainly nothing new, but something about the way the information in the book was presented just made sense to me in a way that really clicked. The book breaks down habit formation into four “laws” designed to create a feedback loop that reinforces the habit until it takes root:
The 1st Law (Cue): Make It Obvious
The 2nd Law (Craving): Make It Attractive
The 3rd Law (Response): Make It Easy
The 4th Law (Reward): Make It Satisfying
I’m going to try to use some of the lessons from that book to better define my writing and health goals below.
I signed up for "Twenty-three in Eleven " to give myself a framework for writing regularly. Two contest entries per month feels manageable, and I’ve also promised myself that I’m going to use these entries to write actual fiction. Over the years that I’ve participated in I Write, I will admit to times where I’ve just cranked out an easy poem or a quick flash fiction story to meet the entry requirements and this year I’m focused on writing two good short fiction or nonfiction entries per month in order to better hone my craft and get back into a writing habit. There’s no point in participating in the activity if it’s just a box-checking exercise and another thing on the to-do list, so I’m going to make it work for me.
As far as actually accomplishing the goal of writing a novel and a script this year, I’ve decided to focus on the script for the first six months of the year, and the novel for the second six months of the year (but I’m going to start on the development work a little earlier). I’ve also further broken it down as follows:
January - brainstorming
February - character and story development
March - outlining
April - draft
May - rewrite
June - polish
May - brainstorming
June - character and story development
July - outlining
August - draft
September - draft
October - draft
November - rewrite
December - polish
Scripts are fewer words to write, so I’m giving myself a month to write the initial draft (versus three months to write the initial draft of the novel), but otherwise the process is the same. I’m going to intentionally collect my thoughts, develop them into a coherent story, take the time to outline, and then write a draft which will be rewritten and polished before the end of the year. And the only overlap is May and June where I’m rewriting the script, but starting to brainstorm and develop the novel; the hope is that I can minimize the downtime between projects and move from refining one project right into the earnest outlining and writing of the next one.
If all goes according to plan, I intend for this to be a process I can accelerate when I’m ready, condensing the timeframe and making things more efficient as I get more comfortable with my writing habit. Eventually, I’d like to get to the point where I’m in a constant cycle of creating content; where I’m either working on a draft of something new, or I’m revising something older while I prep the next project.
The health challenge is a little more difficult than the writing challenge, only because I know what I have to do for the writing challenge; I just have to actually make myself do it. With the health challenge, there are so many different directions I could go in. Should I start with cardio or weight training? If it’s cardio, do I start with walking, or jogging, or swimming, or an elliptical at the gym?
This is where I’m looking back to Atomic Habits and realizing that I need to start small. I’m basically starting from zero, so my initial goal is: I will do something active for five minutes a day.
I’m leaving it open ended because, while going for a brisk walk seems like the most obvious choice, I tend to get bored with repetition over and over, so I want to leave the option open for jumping in the pool and doing laps one day, or maybe going for a bike ride instead or something. The initial goal here is just to set aside time in the day to be intentionally active.
Then I’ll build from there. “Habit stacking” is the idea that after you complete an initial task or habit, you add a new small habit on top of it: I will do something active for ten minutes a day.
My ultimate plan for exercise is to keep “stacking” the five minute intervals for the first six months of 2023 until, by summer, I’m up to 30 minutes of sustained activity a day. At that point, I’ll revisit my specific exercise goals for the second half of 2023, once I’ve developed the habit of setting aside 30 minutes a day for intentional exercise.
The second component of being “healthy” is, of course, diet. No amount of exercise is going to help if I’m still snacking on junk food and taking in more calories than I’m burning. So I plan to build a healthier diet with the same incremental habit stacking strategy. To start, I’m going to eat one healthy meal a week and go one day without snacking on junk food. I’ll add another healthy meal and take away another day of junk food snacking each month for the first six months until I arrive in July with six days a week of no snacking on junk food (gotta leave myself a cheat day!) and at least one meal a day (except for cheat day!) where I’m choosing healthy options. That will set me up to approach the second half of 2023 from a much healthier place, where I can be more intentional about making some additional diet choices, like either further increasing the number of times I’m making a healthy meal choice, or perhaps taking further steps like looking for ways to cut down on caffeine, sugar, carbs, etc.
Ultimately, I’m not setting new goals for 2023 so much as refining and defining the failed goals I set in 2022 into more specific, actionable items. Will my 2024 Dear Me letter look back on 2023 more favorably than this letter looks back on 2022? I guess only time will tell!
Written For: "Dear Me: Official WDC Contest" (January 2022; not submitted)