Self-Reflection Sunday: The Whys of Goal-Setting

Every month, when I sit down to write my goal post for the upcoming month, I think about how there are probably a lot of people out there who think I’ve completely lost my marbles. I’ll admit it felt weird at first, making a to-do list for my leisure activities & hobbies. In fact, most of the time, I don’t even have anything written down to keep me on-track in any other aspect of my life, but I’ve kept up with Nerd Girl Goals since September of 2019, so more than three years now.

Obviously, it’s a thing that I feel is working for me on some level, even though, most months I don’t come anywhere close to checking off everything on my list. In fact, I pretty regularly refer back to the bulleted list several times throughout the month. Why do I do it? What do I get out of it? Well, the answer is … complicated, as I find it serves multiple purposes for me.

Outsmarting Decision Paralysis & The Punishment Loop

Magi does a pretty good job of explaining decision paralysis in his recent blog post on the topic, but to put it very simply, decision paralysis occurs when someone has too many choices of how to spend their time, money, or energy. And we live in a world that seems almost designed to cause this condition – no matter what it is you might need, want, or think you need or want, there’s likely to be more than a handful of options.

Several years ago, I determined that my number one problem with time management wasn’t a time management problem at all – it was decision paralysis! Since leaving my last job in late 2014, I’ve had more free time than the average adult, and yet I always felt like I got less done, and that what I did manage to get done, whether it be for productivity or leisure, never really felt satisfying. Either I would flit aimlessly from one task to the next, never making much progress in anything, or I would fixate on something that if – for whatever reason – I could not do, would prevent me from doing anything else meaningful.

It was immensely frustrating fairly regularly, and often led to something I like even less than decision paralysis – the dreaded punishment loop. See, if couldn’t focus, or I couldn’t focus on what I perceived to be the right thing, then I would not allow myself to do much of anything else. Nothing productive, nothing relaxing or enjoyable. I basically put myself in a weird mental time out, where only the least satisfying of time-waster tasks were allowed. It was awful.

It took me longer than I care to admit to to realize what I was doing, and even longer still to break that pattern. I still find myself slipping once in a while, but once I recognize the pattern starting to happen, I will often refer to my monthly project list, and find something on there that feels like I can handle it. I tell myself I’ll try the new game I wanted to write about for half an hour, or that I’ll do around 50 stitches on a cross-stitch pattern I’m working on. Usually, it’s enough to break me out of that cycle, even if whatever task I initially choose doesn’t stick.

Having a quick reference of things I want to do – or at the very least, want to get done – often gets me back on track. Where I maybe couldn’t choose from all the various options available to me, I find it far easier to choose one of eight to ten line items.

The Satisfaction of Faux Productivity

So. What do I mean by faux productivity? Well, it’s a crutch I rely on when for whatever reason either my brain or my body won’t allow me to do what it considers to be real work. It’s work that doesn’t actually matter. There’s no consequences for missing a deadline, or ignoring a task, but it does allow for a spark of happy chemicals in the brain for making progress towards a goal.

As someone who struggles with both mental and physical health issues, and is still fighting the programming that tells me that my worth as a person is inherently tied to my productivity, training myself to be satisfied by checking things off on a list that don’t actually need doing has pulled me out of a rut more times than I can count. No one is going to be upset with me if I don’t play that game, write that blog post, or watch that movie I said I was going to. More importantly, I’m not going to be upset with myself. It’s all carrot, no stick; it feels good to do it, but it doesn’t feel bad when I don’t.

Having goals centered around reading books and watching television give me something that feels meaningful on days I can barely get out of bed. Working on this blog and on craft projects give me something concrete I can look at and remind myself that I am doing things, even if they’re not the things society tells me I should be focusing on. It’s okay that these aren’t the things that are valued by the world; they’re things that I find valuable, and most of the time, that’s enough for me.

Sure, I realize that this is just a form of psychological chicanery, but I’m also not about to sabotage something that works when so very many things don’t.

Keeping a Tangible Record of Progress

This is, in a lot of ways, another little mental health trick. Usually, to do lists are destined for the nearest trash can whenever they’re either all checked off or given up on. Instead, I keep mine – digitally, and on the internet, sure, but I can always go back and see what I’ve done.

Time has felt very weird for the past few years, and having a record of how (at least in part) I spent the months that all seem to blend together has kept me grounded. It gives me a small semblance of structure, something that marks the passage of time, and a reference when I get down on myself. In fact, I’ve found it valuable enough that I think if I were to stop blogging for whatever reason, I’d keep something very similar in a journal.

As a bonus, it reminds me to make space and time in my life for things that bring me joy. That it’s okay to have goals that don’t lead to more money, or a cleaner house, or whatever else it is I’m supposed to be striving for. That it is perfectly acceptable to want things just for myself sometimes.

If you are a person who sets goals for yourself around your leisure-time activities, why do you do it? Does anything I talked about here resonate with you, or do you have completely different reasons?

If you aren’t a person who sets these kinds of goals, have you ever considered it? Do you think you might get something from it?

Feel free to respond in the comments, or if you prefer, to talk about this topic in your own space.

8 thoughts on “Self-Reflection Sunday: The Whys of Goal-Setting

  1. I did try to set myself some monthly gaming goals a long time ago, in my blog, after seeing someone else doing it (forgot who) and thinking it was cool.

    However I was often missing my goals because I either just end up following my whims or grossly underestimate the time something will require, even in a game. Actually, specially in a game!

    Eventually I decided to be stubborn about setting those goals and stopped doing. So I decided it was better to just record the games I’ve been playing the previous month. It gave me a better sense of what I accomplished game-wise and has worked so much better for me!


    1. This brings up a good point that I probably just glossed over – this kind of goal-setting only works if you’re completely comfortable *not meeting those goals*. I can see where really wanting to meet every goal you set could undermine the whole process, but I’m glad you found something that works for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. When I set goals like this, I feel acutely guilty when I don’t hit them, so nope, no goals for me. Everything, even my very favorite thing, becomes a dreaded chore once it is on a list.

    What I used to do for decision paralysis was make a list of things that were interesting to me or that I wanted to do, then I’d roll a dice or draw a card from a deck to decide which I wanted to work on. Of course if I just KNEW what I wanted to work on, I’d just do that thing. But those times when I found myself not doing anything because I couldn’t decide which to do, the dice/cards were my solution.

    So dice were interesting because I could easily ‘weight’ things. Like if I was close to finishing a game and wanted to get it done, I’d put that on say 6-8 on a roll 2D6. And something I just wanted to revisit once in a blue moon would be on 2 & 12.

    Using cards was more flat but it ensured I’d get to everything eventually (I didn’t shuffle the deck between draws). I kind of flip/flopped back and forth between the dice system and the cards system over the years.

    Also if I rolled the die and something came up that I DREADED doing just then, I’d skip it, knowing that at least now I knew one thing I DIDN’T want to do.

    But I get making lists. What really baffles me, (and I’m certainly not judging, just saying this is super alien to me) is tracking how much time you spend doing each thing. Like people have spreadsheets and pie charts showing exactly how they spent each moment of their leisure time and god, would that ever make me feel absolutely guilty. All I’d see is all the time I could’ve done something productive!

    But I guess these folk get something out of it, so more power to them. My “recap” posts that I’ve been doing for about a year is as precise a ‘tracker’ as I care to have for myself.


    1. I like the RNG-ness of your system; it’s great that it works for you.

      However, to address your last point re: time tracking, I get the complete opposite feeling from it. A lot of the time I simply *cannot* be productive, so it’s soothing to see how much time I spent doing something that makes me feel good as opposed to *completely* wasting the time in some awful doom spiral. When I notice my game time being particularly low in a given month, I look to see if I filled that time with something else satisfying instead. If I discover I read 8 books, or put in 5,000 stitches into whatever project I’m working on, I can see that my joy took a different path, but I was still focusing on it.

      When my gaming time is low, and I can’t figure out what else ate up that time instead, that’s when I know it’s time to give myself a bit of a mental health check, and re-focus my attentions. Alternately, if it was a crazy month for non-hobby-focused endeavors, I try to remind myself to slow down before I hit a wall.

      I don’t track most things I do in hours, but for gaming it seems the most solid metric I’ve got.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As someone who just recently dropped the setting of goals (possibly temporarily? possibly not?) it’s an interesting timing on this post. 🙂

    I also started the concept of setting goals in large part in response to adapting your ‘Play to Satisifaction’ idea, where I was having no trouble playing ‘no more’ than what would keep me satisfied, but was often struggling with the ‘no less’ part — just due to distractions of other titles coming up or the like. xD

    So my idea was that setting goals might help me extract a little more value from the games I was playing. Give something a bit more concrete to work toward.

    I never stressed if I didn’t hit them, they were really just there as some guide posts as potential things to do that I, at some point at least, was interested in.

    As noted though, for now at least, I’ve dropped the setting of goals. Despite the fact I never stressed about missing them, I’ve just decided to fully embrace the ‘go with the whims’ approach to gaming again for a little bit. Just seems to be what I need at the moment.

    Perhaps when life settles again, that’ll change and I’ll want that structure (slight as it may’ve been) back again. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think this post is one of the best explanations of the reasons behind and benefits of making Goals Lists that I’ve seen. I am one of the people who finds it strange that so many bloggers make these schedules so I’m very grateful for such a succinct and understandable explanation.

    I generally don’t need much in the way of a plan for my leisure activities, although I definitely do suffer from Decision Paralysis (Which I’ve mostly heard called “Choice Paralysis” until now.) My method of dealing with it is generally just to do *something*. Doesn’t much matter what it is. Doing anything will usually break the logjam and then I can move on to something else if the first thing doesn’t hold my attention.

    It’s not that I don’t have goals or plans, of course. I have plenty. I just don’t feel much need to tabulate or formalize them. I keep them in the back of my mind and they either get ticked off or forgotten. Doesn’t matter much which. In the end, when it comes to leisure activities, the most important thing to remember is none of them are important. And there’s nothing wrong with just staring into space. In fact, if there’s one thing I could do with giving myself permission to do a lot more of it’s absolutely nothing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I keep my to-do lists for the exact same reason! I keep a bullet journal, but I also use Apple’s Reminder app (that one I get rid of. Perhaps I should use Calendar so it stays written). I love looking back and seeing what I did, and trying to determine if there are any patterns that affect my productivity. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

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