making our goals our habits

For the past few years, as I’ve read, watched and listened to writers and storytellers I admire, when talking about writing and storytelling, they often say that the only way to get better is to sit down; roll up our sleeves; and write and tell stories as much as we can as often as we can.

When it comes to writing and storytelling — as is the case with so many things in life — there are no shortcuts. In order to get better, you have to practice. You have to put in the time and do the work. No one else can do it for you.

I’ve definitely seen the truth of this in my own life.

Setting a goal to hone my craft.
Last year, when I turned 26, I set out to not just write more but to publish and share more of my writing. That is, I wanted to start publishing on my blog routinely — to hone my voice and better my writing. In order to succeed at this goal, I couldn’t just sit down and write for a day, a week or a month and expect to be better at the end of the year. No, I needed to commit to writing and sharing that writing routinely.

I write a lot. I keep notes in notebooks, on my phone and in documents on my computer. My musings vary in nature, and almost always, I’m writing for myself. Memos about moments I don’t want to forget. Details that stand out to me. Ideas I have. Something I heard that inspired another thought or idea.

Most days, I’ll open the Notes app on my phone to write something down, and before I know it, I’m lost in a world of thoughts and words. I enjoy that space. It’s a chance to explore, and when I’m writing, it feels as though there are endless possibilities. Even when it comes to real-life moments, I get to choose how I remember them. Our perspectives are all unique, after all.

I’m always writing because I love writing. I can’t imagine life without this outlet. For me, writing is the best way I know to process my experiences, my feelings and express myself. It’s often the best way to capture a moment. I can’t imagine my life without the ability to write my thoughts and words down — and then later revisit them, if I so choose.

There’s also great power in sharing our voices and our stories with others.

While I write a lot, I don’t always take what I’ve written and share it publicly. It’s all good and great to write for myself, but if I really want to get better at writing, I feel I need to share my voice and open it up to feedback, both good and bad. Because how will I — or any writer, for that matter — know what resonates with people and what doesn’t if I don’t share my writing? If I don’t open it up to feedback? There’s more to this idea of sharing my voice — it’s not all about feedback — but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Making our goals habits is a powerful practice.
In intentionally pursuing our goals, we carve out space for them in our lives. When we put our goals into practice and stick with them — the latter is often the tricky part — we make them part of our lives; they become second-nature.

Throughout the past year, writing and sharing my writing has become that for me. I’m still working toward writing and sharing more, but I’m a heck of a lot better at doing this whole blog thing than I was last year at this time.

I’m not necessarily saying I’ve become a better writer or storyteller — although, I’m sure I have as a result of making writing and storytelling a practice. No, what I am saying is that I’ve seen the power of making my goal a habit in my life. If you look closely, you’ll see I’ve written more on this blog in the past year than I ever have. It didn’t happen overnight. It’s happened one word, one post and one click of the “Publish” button at a time.

It also hasn’t been perfect. Nothing ever is. But I think the important thing is I didn’t abandon this goal when I felt I’d fallen off track. Because I did fall off track. But even with a few missed steps, I dove back in and stuck with it.

Exactly what am I talking about? I started out the year averaging a post a month. But then there were a few months where I missed that benchmark entirely. Between August and October, my life grew a little hectic as I flew to Michigan for a few weeks and then back to California; sold most of my belongings, packed up my life in the San Francisco Bay Area and moved out of my Berkeley apartment; drove across the U.S. to Michigan, stopping in Denver and Nashville along the way; flew from Michigan back out to California for two weeks; spent a weekend in Mexico for work; flew back to Michigan for two to three weeks for time with my family; and then flew down to Buenos Aires, Argentina to start the adventure I’m on now.

I was writing during that time, but I never published that writing. It didn’t feel ready to publish. So in terms of sharing my writing and tackling that part of my goal, I fell off track.

More recently, I’ve re-read what I wrote between August and September. The pieces don’t feel complete — nothing ever does — but they’re good. Some of them are raw and real, and I wish I would’ve shared them back when they were relevant. Which brings me to my next point, my next lesson learned.

Ship it — even when you don’t feel ready.
We can spend so much time polishing something and getting it to a place where it feels “ready,” but so often, our writing doesn’t need that. Sometimes, if you polish something too much for too long it loses its original beauty.

For so long, when it came to blogging and sharing my voice publicly, the hardest part was building up the courage to share my writing with more than just myself — especially the pieces that feel rough around the edges; the pieces that feel like they need a little more time, a little more love; the ones that simply don’t feel “good enough.”

The truth is nothing is ever “ready,” “right,” “good enough,” “perfect” or all those lame excuses we give ourselves for not starting or sharing something. There will always be something to tweak, nitpick or edit. Something to change.

But if everyone held back their stories, what would we be left with?

I think about my favorite writers and storytellers. What if they were waiting to share their stories with the world because they weren’t “ready” yet?

What if Cheryl Strayed had never published Wild? What if Casey Neistat had never hit “Publish” on his vlog day in and day out? What if Hannah Brencher didn’t hit “Send” on the honest, inspirational emails she sends out every Monday? What if Erin Outdoors kept her blog posts and Instagram captions on her phone, in documents on her computer or wherever she writes them down? All because they didn’t feel “ready”?

To me, it feels crazy and heartbreaking. Their stories are beautiful, special, important. I love their voices, and I love their stories. I gain something from what they have to say and share — a smile, a laugh, a lesson learned, a stroke of inspiration, “me, too” moments and so much more.

So what makes me any different? What makes you any different? We’re all here. We all matter. We all have something to contribute.

When we fail to share our stories, we’re shortchanging a chance for connection, learning and growth. When shared in an honest way and with the best of intentions, our stories give so much to the world around us. Sharing them is a beautiful thing.

In sharing your voice, you open yourself up to scrutiny and judgement, but what I’ve learned from writers and storytellers I admire is that you also open yourself up to connection and relationships. This is the second part to that feedback piece I was talking about above.

Not only do you learn and grow from your writing, but you allow others to do the same. And to be honest, that connection is what I love most about writing and storytelling. It’s why I create and consume stories. In my work and in my life, it’s what drives me to write and share stories.

My goal is now my practice. Just keep writing, creating, doing.
Putting my voice, my thoughts, the way I see the world out in public on this little old thing we call the internet for others to view and judge is scary. There’s no way around it. Committing to that, and sometimes commitment in general, is scary.

Sure, I want to share my voice and my stories with people — I really do — but for me, that takes practice. Part of that practice is continuing to write and publicly share my thoughts and words.

I won’t lie: making sense of my writing for a blog post still takes me a bit of time. But after a year of practice — after a year of turning my goal into a habit — I’m no longer thinking so much about it. I’m no longer trying to polish every last sentence. A year ago, I was writing one post a month, and that was tough for me to keep up with at times. Now I’m writing two to three posts a month.

Habits, for better or worse, are powerful. If you have a goal you want to accomplish, don’t dwell on the end goal. It’s often big and scary. Instead, focus on the little daily, weekly and monthly practices you can do to make working toward and accomplishing your goal a habit. Work little by little to build that goal into a habit, a habit that contributes to the end result you want to achieve.

February 12, 2017

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