Lesson 6

Be a goal-setting pro: Top psychology tips

In the last lesson, we told you how to approach goal setting. But now you have to do the work.

It’s perfectly reasonable to want to run and hide from that book, play or script you’re trying to write, according to Dr. Robert Maurer, director of behavioral sciences at UCLA Medical Centre and the father of Kaizen Theory.

Taking on such a large and potentially difficult goal triggers our natural fight or flight mechanism. The bigger and more important the goal – the more likely it will overwhelm you. The solution is to lie to yourself that you’re not writing a whole book at all!

Dividing your large goal into a series of tiny steps makes the whole process far more approachable and enables you to “tiptoe past your brain’s amygdala,” according to Dr. Maurer, “keeping it asleep and unable to set off alarm bells.”

Research from Stanford University’s Behaviour Change Lab recommends approaching large projects into smaller chunks, so they become more manageable and not so downright scary. But once you’ve done that, they suggest you crank up that activity to a more realistic level of achievement.

ACTION: Set a small step – and slowly increase

  1. Set yourself a tiny goal: The biggest hurdle to developing a habit is getting started, and writers often fail because their goals are way too ambitious. To kick off, just ask yourself what’s the smallest thing you do to move your writing forward (tip: we’re talking write a sentence, not a chapter).

  2. Think daily: Comedian and writer Jerry Seinfeld believes the only way to improve your writing is to do it every day. His approach involves using a wall calendar on which he puts a cross for each day he writes. He said: “After a few days you’ll have a chain” it’s your job not to break the chain.

  3. Attach it to an existing behavior: One way to do this is to associate the habit you want to adopt with an activity you do it on autopilot. So, for example, if you know that you have a cup of coffee without fail every morning, make writing for 15 or 30 minutes the thing you do as you drink it.

  4. Increase your behavior (to a realistic level). Let’s say your goal is to write five minutes every work day after eating your lunch. For the first week, you just do your five minutes each day. At the end of that week, you’ve written for a total of 25 minutes. You now need to increase the time, perhaps adding another minute each day, so by the end of the second week, you’re writing for 10 minutes each day, and for 15 minutes by the third week.

So, learn from behavior change science and deploy these habit-forming tips to your writing schedule. Remember, big things happen when you think small!

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