Pursuing a Dream? Focused on a Goal? Read On.

This article will change the trajectory of your (writing) life!

I recently published an article about Diddy telling his Twitter followers about going after their dreams and accomplishing their goals. He told them that they could do it, they just have to want it. I wrote in my piece that most people want to have a better life, they just need some help.

You can read the essay here — https://shirleyjonesluke.medium.com/memories-of-roaches-9288d7251049

I’ve compiled a list of resources to help writers (and anyone else) with their dreams and goals. These resources are free or low-cost ways to generate ideas, help you with the craft of writing, boost your productivity, or find a work-life balance. Read through the resources and decide which would work best for you.

  1. Poets & Writers — https://www.pw.org/ — P&W is one of my main go-to publications for all things writing. Like its namesake, it’s a great resource for poets and writers. Whether you’re looking for articles on the writing craft, submission deadlines, or writing opportunities, P & W has everything you need for your writing career.
  2. Writer’s Digest — https://www.writersdigest.com/ — Another informative resource is WD. With their articles, contests, and writing advice, WD helps writers in all genres reach their writing goals. Check out their monthly freelance writing tips and opportunities.
  3. Brain Pickings — https://www.brainpickings.org/ — This site, which sends out biweekly newsletters to subscribers, provides readers and writers insights into the writing life of current and past literary greats. They share quotes, discuss books, and provide information on the craft of writing.

Per Shape.com, here are some websites and apps to help you reach your goals:

Stickk.com

Stickk was founded by economists on the heels of a smoking cessation study in which participants who were paid to quit had significantly greater success rates than those who didn’t. The core features include the ability to set a goal, tell a support group of friends, enlist a “referee” who judges your success, and set stakes. The optional stakes are usually monetary — lay $50 on the line and keep it if you succeed. If you fail, the funds automatically go to a friend, a charity, or, even more effective, an “anti-charity” whose mission you don’t support.

Stickk employs multiple strategies, including enlisting social support, accountability, and the carrot/stick of the stakes, but its distinguishing feature is the accountability created by having a referee confirm your success or failure. Stickk reports that at least 60 percent of their goals are fitness and health-related and that 18 percent of all their goals are set during the month of January.

2. Caloriecount.about.com

This diet-specific offering is a custom social network that focuses on what you’re putting in your mouth. You create a profile, set goals for weight loss, activity, and/or calorie consumption, then report your food intakes and progress on your goals. Users can accumulate points that are then redeemable for actual goods and services (the motivational “carrot”). You can also alert your other social networks (both real and virtual) to enlist their support and put peer pressure on them.

The downsides: There’s no impartial judgment of progress so the prizes from points are necessarily modest and there’s no protection against cheaters who might fudge their reporting to avoid embarrassment. Also, entering accurate diet details can be a part-time job and difficult to sustain.

3. Joesgoals.com

Tracking progress on goals can feel like a chore, and Joesgoals fights the tedium with a super-simple interface. Set a number of goals and negative goals (things you don’t want to do i.e. smoking, eating out), and then simply check off if you did the activities.

The concept works because the day-by-day interface forces users to focus on process (go to the gym) rather than outcome (lose 30 pounds), so the challenges are smaller and daily rather than long-term. However, its simplicity means there aren’t the robust features of other sites in terms of rewards and accountability.

4. 43things.com

This popular to-do list or bucket list-style site is a simple concept: write down a list of goals (you don’t need to have 43 of them). The site features an iPhone app as well as the ability to set up e-mail reminders, alert friends on Facebook, and join the 43things community for support.

The downsides: The setup tends towards audacious, bucket list goals (bike across Europe, make a million dollars) which are long-term and more susceptible to disruption. E-mail reminders can only come as frequently as once a month, making it easy to lose track of these goals.

No matter how clever, these sites can’t compensate for a poorly constructed goal, so here are 3 tips for setting a challenging, yet manageable goal.

Finally, here are some tips provided by Deborah Lee, a writer for Forbes.com on 6 Tips For Better Work-Life Balance:

1. Let go of perfectionism

A lot of overachievers develop perfectionist tendencies at a young age when demands on their time are limited to school, hobbies, and maybe an after-school job. It’s easier to maintain that perfectionist habit as a kid, but as you grow up, life gets more complicated. As you climb the ladder at work and as your family grows, your responsibilities mushroom. Perfectionism becomes out of reach, and if that habit is left unchecked, it can become destructive, says executive coach Marilyn Puder-York, Ph.D., who wrote The Office Survival Guide.

The key to avoiding burning out is to let go of perfectionism, says Puder-York. “As life gets more expanded it’s very hard, both neurologically and psychologically, to keep that habit of perfection going,” she says, adding that the healthier option is to strive not for perfection, but for excellence.

2. Unplug

From telecommuting to programs that make work easier, technology has helped our lives in many ways. But it has also created expectations of constant accessibility. The workday never seems to end. “There are times when you should just shut your phone off and enjoy the moment,” says Robert Brooks, a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and co-author of The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence and Personal Strength in Your Life. Brooks says that phone notifications interrupt your off time and inject an undercurrent of stress into your system. So don’t text at your kid’s soccer game and don’t send work emails while you’re hanging out with family, Brooks advises. Make quality time true quality time. By not reacting to the updates from work, you will develop a stronger habit of resilience. “Resilient people feel a greater sense of control over their lives,” says Brooks, while reactive people have less control and are more prone to stress.

3. Exercise and meditate

Even when we’re busy, we make time for the crucial things in life. We eat. We go to the bathroom. We sleep. And yet one of our most crucial needs — exercise — is often the first thing to go when our calendars fill up. Exercise is an effective stress reducer. It pumps feel-good endorphins through your body. It helps lift your mood and can even serve a one-two punch by also putting you in a meditative state, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Puder-York recommends dedicating a few chunks of time each week to self-care, whether it’s exercise, yoga, or meditation. And if you’re really pressed for time, start small with deep breathing exercises during your commute, a quick five-minute meditation session morning and night, or replacing drinking alcohol with a healthier form of stress reduction.

“When I talk about balance, not everything has to be the completion and achievement of a task, it also has to include self-care so that your body, mind, and soul are being refreshed,” says Puder-York.

These exercises require a minor effort but offer major payoffs. Psychotherapist Bryan Robinson, who is also professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and author of the book Chained to the Desk, explains that our autonomic nervous system includes two branches: the sympathetic nervous system (our body’s stress response) and the parasympathetic nervous system (our body’s rest and digest response). “The key is to find something that you can build into your life that will activate your parasympathetic nervous system,” says Robinson. Short, meditative exercises like deep breathing or grounding your senses in your present surroundings, are great places to start. The more you do these, the more you activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which “calms everything down, (and) not just at the moment,” says Robinson. “Over time you start to notice that in your life, your parasympathetic nervous system will start to trump your sympathetic nervous system.”

4. Limit time-wasting activities and people

First, identify what’s most important in your life. This list will differ for everyone, so make sure it truly reflects your priorities, not someone else’s. Next, draw firm boundaries so you can devote quality time to these high-priority people and activities.

From there, it will be easier to determine what needs to be trimmed from the schedule. If email or internet surfing sends you into a time-wasting spiral, establish rules to keep you on task. That may mean turning off email notifications and replying in batches during limited times each day. If you’re mindlessly surfing Facebook or cat blogs when you should be getting work done, try using productivity software like Freedom, LeechBlock or RescueTime. And if you find your time being gobbled up by less constructive people, find ways to diplomatically limit these interactions. Cornered every morning by the office chatterbox? Politely excuse yourself. Drinks with the work gang the night before a busy, important day? Bow out and get a good night's sleep. Focus on the people and activities that reward you the most.

To some, this may seem selfish. “But it isn’t selfish,” says Robinson. “It’s that whole airplane metaphor. If you have a child, you put the oxygen mask on yourself first, not on the child.” When it comes to being a good friend, spouse, parent, or worker, “the better you are yourself, the better you are going to be in all those areas as well.”

5. Change the structure of your life

Sometimes we fall into a rut and assume our habits are set in stone. Take a birds-eye view of your life and ask yourself: What changes could make life easier?

Puder-York remembers meeting with a senior executive woman who, for 20 years of her marriage, arranged dinner for her husband every night. But as the higher earner with the more demanding job, the trips to the grocery store and daily meal preparations were adding too much stress to her life. “My response to her was, “Maybe it’s time to change the habit,’” recalls Puder-York. The executive worried her husband might be upset, but Puder-York insisted that, if she wanted to reduce stress, this structural change could accomplish just that.

So instead of trying to do it all, focus on activities you specialize in and value most. Delegate or outsource everything else. Delegating can be a win-win situation, says Stewart Freidman, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School and author of Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life. Freidman recommends talking to the “key stakeholders” in different areas of your life, which could include employees or colleagues at work, a spouse, or a partner in a community project. “Find out what you can do to let go in ways that benefit other people by giving them opportunities to grow,” he says. This will give them a chance to learn something new and free you up so you may devote attention to your higher priorities.

6. Start small. Build from there.

We’ve all been there: crash diets that fizzle out, New Year’s resolutions we forget by February. It’s the same with work-life balance when we take on too much too quickly, says Brooks. Many of his workaholic clients commit to drastic changes: cutting their hours from 80 hours a week to 40, bumping up their daily run from zero miles a day to five miles a day. It’s a recipe for failure, says Brooks. When one client, who was always absent from his family dinners, vowed to begin attending the meals nightly, Brooks urged him to start smaller. So he began with one evening a week. Eventually, he worked his way up to two to three dinners per week.

“If you’re trying to change a certain script in your life, start small and experience some success. Build from there,” says Brooks.

The bottom line is that you are in charge of your future. Tools can help, but you must a growth mindset. You must want to change. Diddy was right about one thing — you have to hustle hard. No one is going to give you anything. You must have something to bring to the table. If you want a better life, it’s out there, waiting for you. Go get it!

Shirley is a poet and writer. Ms. Luke enjoys reading, fashion and travel. She is working on a manuscript of her poems and an essay collection.