GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAALS! Motivation for the New Year

Posted in Photography by Nathan Lee Bush on January 5, 2011


What is not started today is never finished tomorrow. – Goethe

When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps. – Confucius

We’ve started into a new year, with all the optimism this arbitrarily chosen ‘fresh start’ brings. It’s helpful to have set-aside times for reflection and planning, but it’s easy to forget that ‘fresh starts’ can happen continually! Goal evaluation and renewal is a continual process which you can tackle throughout the year, whenever you’re losing sight of your driving motivation.

None of the following ideas are groundbreaking, because nothing about personal development is groundbreaking. These are simple, time-tested strategies that, if dutifully implemented, will help you to reach your goals. Not all of these ideas will work for you. Don’t get discouraged, keep trying until you find a system that fits your needs!

Getting a system
Without a system to help you wrap your mind around your various goals, you’ll quickly get lost. With the rise of smartphones and the mobile web, it’s easier than ever to have a structured, ever-present system for keeping track of your goals. There are dedicated apps that work on both your phone and your computer, like Omnifocus, Remember the Milk, and more. Services based in the cloud are easiest to manage, because you can access them from anywhere. Such a system is essential, but worthless without the right kind of goals…

Good goals: big but focused
Time to get realistic: you can be reasonably competent at a lot of things or you can be great at one thing, maybe two. I often see people on Twitter who list ‘photographer’ as one of ten broad fields of expertise. Generally, their work is not outstanding in any one field. I’ve cut my focuses down to three when I noticed this pattern, and am working on getting it down to two, and who knows, maybe someday one :). The top people in any area don’t spread their fire, and photography is no exception. It’s a difficult step to take, but analyze your priorities. Which of your goals are serving your major passion, and which are tangential? Be ruthless in cutting the excess. It’s okay to suck at many things, if you’re great at one thing. When you have your goals whittled down to the essentials, keep them in the front of your mind…

Create visual reminders of your major goals
Try this: take your top three big-picture goals and print them out on three separate sheets of paper in big bold letters. Maybe add a memorable image they conjure. Post them around your home. After a while you’ll stop noticing them, so every week move them to a different place.

Set aside 15 minutes at a specific time every week to sit down and take stock of your short and long-term goals, and make adjustments. Another way to stay on track is to find a like-minded person to help you…

Find a goal partner
I’ve recently joined a goal-oriented social network, Mindbloom, with a high school friend. This allows us to keep track of each other’s progress and encourage each other. If you want to expand your accountability, broaden your message…

Commit out loud
Declare your goals in some public way. Humans have a deep psychological need to stay consistent with their verbal commitments. Their was a study done where psychologist Thomas Moriarty staged thefts at a New York City beach. In half of the cases, the ‘victim’ struck up conversations with his neighbors and then walked away briefly, during which time a ‘thief’ would dramatically run off with his radio. Only four of the twenty times, the neighbors made an effort to stop the thief. In another set of instances, the ‘victim’ would strike up a conversation as before, then ask if the neighbors could “watch his things” for a few minutes, to which the neighbors would agree. In nineteen out of twenty cases, the neighbors made an effort to stop the theft, often physically engaging the would-be thief. What a difference a verbal commitment makes! Post your goals on Facebook, tell your family and friends or make a blog post about them, anything to get your accountability instinct activated. Now that you’ll have someone to answer to, make sure you create a goal heirarchy…

Make short, medium and long-term goals
Each level of goal has a different function. If you’re sailing from New York to England, you’re main goal is getting from point A to B, but your daily goals are the little actions you must take – adjusting the sails, plotting the course, etc. – to stay on course. If your goal is to print a photo book by the end of the month, break this down into micro-goals to get you there. For example in week one, you need to your photo pool from 700 to a final cut of 30, so you establish a minimum daily review of 100 photos. In week 2, set the next milestones, like retouching the images, laying out your book, etc. And so on until you reach your goal.

Set five-year (Soviet-style), one year, monthly and daily goals. Your big picture goals should be larger than life. “Shoot for the moon and even if you fail, you’ll be among the stars” or whatever that saying is. Your daily goals are concrete and actionable, but also manageable

Keep long term goals big, but be realistic in the short term
This is as much about your mental health as anything else. I’ve learned the hard way that setting impossibly lofty day-to-day goals is a recipe for major discouragement and frustration. In college I would occasionally devise a path of radical growth. I would map out daily ‘minimums’: at least two hours a day shooting, minimum one hour of exercise, two hours reading books, an hour making music and so on, blocking out huge swaths of the day to rigorous concentrated activities. Can you imagine how long it took me to get burned-out and discouraged? Generally within a week. Recently, I’ve tried to establish more realistic daily ‘minimums’: Rate 100 photos in Lightroom, look at other people’s photos for 15 minutes, 50 pushups a day…small, actionable items. I keep the minimums low, and only occasionally add new ones. I find that when my daily minimum goals are less daunting, I don’t have a hard time getting started. Once I get started I usually don’t want to stop, so it’s helpful to have something to get me going. It’s also important that if you miss a day you cut yourself some slack…

Don’t beat yourself up!
If you fall off the horse, it’s not the end of the world, or permission to give up. Go easy on yourself and just start again and treat every day as a new chance to grow. Remember, Winston Churchill’s words, “success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

What are your goals? More importantly, what are your strategies for keeping them? Let us know in the comments!


Nathan Lee Bush is a photographer and filmmaker in New York City. His work is on his blog and site, and on Vimeo. He’s also on Twitter.


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  1. […] what the future holds for digital and film technologies; I wrote my first motivational post with strategies that will help you keep your New Year’s resolutions longer than January 2nd; I wrote about […]

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