Setting Goals: A Form of Self-Hatred

Goals are great. Except when they’re not.

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Before I went on my vacation last month, I seriously wrote out this list:

  • Lose 11 pounds [because, beach vacation]
  • Finish book outline
  • Finish scene list & spreadsheet
  • 6 article drafts to [website]
  • Write and schedule the rest of 2015’s blog posts
  • Finish [painting I had on my easel half-done for months]
    …and a bunch of other meaningless shit I can’t remember (I got a new phone)

Before a vacation. Talk about a recipe for stress and burnout, and persistent guilt and inability to relax while on VACATION. I was creating my own worst nightmare.

Telling a To-Do List from a You-Suck List

In case there was any doubt, that thing up there? That’s a You-Suck List. That list is no friend to me; it’s not making my life more organized or better. It was fueled by a deep desire to look a certain totally unnecessary way on the beach, a need to not blog for a little while so I could focus on other writing work, clear my easel of something sitting on it that annoys me every time I walk past my studio, and somehow get the hard part of my novel out of the way before vacation.

All so I could… what? Relax? Feel smug and superior, sitting in my cheap folding chair on the seaweed-strewn Dennis Port beach? (Sorry, I’m spoiled by the beaches of my hometown; the Cape’s got nothing on the beaches of the Jersey Shore. Nothing.) Feel like I deserved the vacation, finally?

If you’re giving yourself a hellish to-do list full of things you need to do before you even give yourself permission to like yourself, honey, you’ve got issues. Like me, you’re writing a You-Suck List. That list will be no friend to you.

How a You-Suck List Can Hurt You

Let’s go with the obvious one: I did not lose 11 pounds. In fact, right after I made my list (after about a week of slow and steady weight loss), I celebrated my 28th birthday. With this:

It's my birthday tradition, stretching back to about age 5 or so.
It’s my birthday tradition, stretching back to about age 5 or so.

The next day, I got on the scale, and it had edged higher. Because my You-Suck List had put me on such an ambitious weight-loss timetable, I freaked out at getting off track. You know what I did? I rebelled against my You-Suck List. And ate about half the Wattamelon roll in two days, effectively making my 11-pound stretch goal impossible.

And that’s what a You-Suck List does. It sets you up to fail, because progress no longer is good enough.

Practicing a Healthy To-Do List Habit

Other than daily lists of tasks (like my Post-It Note strategy for daily writing), I’m done making to-do lists. They all turn into an exercise in self-flagellation, an obsession, and eventually, disappointment. In making my daily to-dos, I’m experiencing a lot less disappointment in myself, altogether a healthy thing.

What about you? Have you ever made a monster to-do list that set you up to fail? Do you get super neurotic before vacation? Share in the comments.