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A Goal-Setting and Stress-Management Intervention that Can Change your Writing Life

Why do some people are able to set goals, follow through and perform better than others? We all ask ourselves a variation of this question. Dr. Edwin Locke, a pioneer in the goal-setting research set out to find the answer. He established that to be motivating, goals should have the following five characteristics.

Five Principles of Goal Setting

To be motivating, goals must have:

1. Clarity. -I want to write a great picture book.
2. Challenge. – Though difficult to get published, it’s doable.
3. Commitment. – I will write every day, even if it’s for ten minutes.
4. Feedback. – I will submit regularly to my critique group.
5. Task complexity. – I need to work on plot, story arc, character development, emotional arc and create a full world.

Dr. Locke then proceeded to study what people were consciously trying to accomplish when setting a goal and performing a task. He and his research team found some interesting facts regarding goal- setting:

Research Fact #1: The more difficult the goal, the harder the person will work to achieve it.

Research Fact #2. The more specific the goal, the more precisely people regulate their performance.

Research Fact #3. Goals that are both specific and difficult lead to the highest performance.

Research Fact #4. People commit to goals when they are specific and difficult. That strengthens the commitment to the goals.

Research Fact #5. People commit to goals when (a) they are convinced that the goal is important; and (b) they are convinced that the goal is feasible.

Finding #6. Goal setting is most effective when people receive feedback and actually see progress towards their goal.

liza, varvogli, psychology, school, parenting. kids,

Goal-Setting and Stress-Management: A Mini Experiment

I am an adjunct professor of Stress Management and Health Promotion at Kapodestrian Medical School in Athens, Greece. Both at the university, teaching at the graduate level, as well as my private practice, I have made this simple observation: oftentimes people are too stressed to even set goals (let alone pursue them). I decided to do a mini-experiment (or case study to be more precise) amongst my students, to help them lower their stress levels and set realistic goals. Before starting the intervention, I asked the students to complete a stress inventory and note on a scale from 1-10 some personally important goals for the current month and how much progress they had made towards their goals. Then I asked them to do the following for the duration of four weeks.

The procedure
(1) I taught my students how to do diaphragmatic breathing coupled with a positive affirmation, in order to start managing their stress. They were asked to do this exercise every morning before rising from bed. Students were also instructed to use relaxation breathing during their day at least twice or as needed.
(2) The second requirement was to make a daily entry into what I call “A Good Intentions Journal.” Daily entrances were supposed to start with the sentence “Today my intention is to….” and then they wrote their goal.
(3) The third component was to list specific actions toward their goal. Goals varied from eating at least three pieces of fruit and a small cup of vegetables per day to reading stress-management articles, to writing poems, to showing more compassion to others, etc.
(4) Finally, before going to bed students were required to give themselves feedback toward the direction of the goal by noting next to their intention whether they had achieved it, partially worked toward their goal or had not tried anything at all.
(5) At the end of each week they handed me their journals and we reviewed their stress levels and progress toward their goal.
In my mini-experiment I was able to confirm Dr. Locke’s results from his well-established scientific studies. The students who set more specific and harder goals with personal meaning were also the ones who consistently gave themselves feedback toward their progress. No wonder then that they were the students who were able to lower their stress levels and achieve more of their goals!
I think that for us writers, taking advantage of opportunities like the 12×12 Challenge (, Tara Lazar’s story storm (, Vivian Kirkfield’s 50word challenges (, the National Picture Book Writing Week (, provide us with a structured environment that can help us with goal setting that lead down the path to publication.

Happy goal-setting and Happy Writing!

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