The one reason we don’t achieve our writing goals (and what to do about it)

carrot stick literature reviewSticking to goals is hard right? I mean, who has the time these days? Who has the energy? We’re all so busy that often, planning to achieve an new objective can feel like we’re placing another straw on the back of an incredibly weary camel.

Sometimes of course, it doesn’t feel like that. Sometimes setting out to achieve a new goal is invigorating and actually gives us energy… for a while.

but, unfortunately,

Most goals fail

Now I’ve spoken about failure before and I certainly don’t view it as a bad thing. It’s often a sign that we’ve chosen ambitious targets which is good in many ways. However, sometimes, we just lose interest and focus and our ambition to achieve our writing goals comes crashing down around us.

I believe that one of the main reasons that this happens is that when we have so many important things competing for our attention, invariably something gives way. Normally it’s the thing that we are least invested in. If for example, we wanted to write 1000 words per day for a week and yet we also had to write a project presentation and move house – we may justifiably feel inclined to skip a couple of days writing.

But, in an ideal world we wouldn’t. In an ideal world we’d be able to continue writing no matter what was going on in our lives. Think about it. We have habits that we do every day regardless of how busy we are. We eat food, we brush our teeth, we go to work etc. Why can’t writing be like this?

Well, it’s not important enough, not immediately anyway. If we don’t eat, we’ll be hungry. If we don’t brush our teeth, they will decay and if we don’t go to work, we won’t make enough money to survive.

If I don’t write 1000 words today…

Then I’ll be able to catch up on some TV?…
… I’ll be able to spend an evening with friends?!…


Obviously it’s important in the long run, but compared to other habits, we can’t be anywhere nearly as invested in writing. There is simply not enough at stake for us not to do it. We don’t lose out by not doing it, in fact, it often seems like we gain a lot instead!

Talk about messed up incentives!

But wait a minute. What if there was a way increase the stakes in our writing goals?

Well there is!

There’s a really cool website called where you can tell people your goals and pledge money if you don’t achieve them.

How deliciously evil!

Achieve you’re goal or you have to pay $10, $100, $1000…


There is no way that if I had to pay $1000,000,000 for not completing my writing goals I would fail.

Not a chance.

There is another cruel twist. Did you ask yourself where does this money go? Well, you have some options.

You can donate the money to a charity (awwwww, sweet – as you know, this year I’m supporting CARA)
You can give your money to someone (a friend, an enemy, your dog, me?)
You can give your money to an anti-charity (ie an organisation that you hate – for me that would be Burnley Football Club)

Imagine if you didn’t write enough for this week your most hated political partly would be wired some money on your behalf.

This is amazing. The website offers you the chance to register goals without pledging money which is ok, but it’s really missing the point. The idea is to increase the stakes in your goals so that you risk losing a lot if you don’t achieve them.

We know our goals are important when we think about them, but in the heat of the moment when we decide how to spend our time it can be difficult to make the right decisions. If we know that $100 will be missing from our bank account if we don’t do it then it’s pretty easy to keep on task!

Of course you don’t need any website to do this, you can arrange it with friends or in a writing group. The important thing is increasing what you have to lose.

Have you tried this before? Do you think it’s a good idea? Let me know in the comments :)


  1. Hannah says

    I like this idea very much! Not sure how I feel about the anti-charity thing, though–for example I see the NRA listed among their anti-charities, which is good (I would hate for the NRA to be sent money on my behalf, which would give me a good incentive to write), but if I was hit by a bus and couldn’t write for a few weeks, is there a get-out clause so that the NRA don’t benefit from my accident? I can’t see this on their website.

    (This is obviously a worst-case scenario but part of my PhD is on the subject of researching and minimising risk, so I can’t help it).

    • says

      Hmmm, good question Hannah – I’m not sure.

      I suppose it works because the commitment is difficult to get out of. Maybe there is a way but they just don’t publicise it, try sending them an email.

      You’re PhD sounds interesting – I’m glad to see you applying it to other areas of your life :)

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