3 Dimensions of goal-orientation

There are few better feelings than getting an email from Arianne “Tex” Thompson.

Zzz! Goes my phone, and to the right of the unopened letter icon, there’s a line of text (in bold!) that says something like Schedulations! or The Conclave of Ēostre or Skype Gripe.

My finger hovers over the icon. I press it and my phone grows hot in my hand. Like really hot. It also runs through like an entire night’s worth of charge in half an hour. That’s not normal, right? I should see someone about that.

But anyway. Tex’s email. There were too many crazy good ideas in it for me to talk about all of them here, so I’m just going to focus on the model we created for making goals (and writing books). Check out Tex’s half of the conversation for using social media in a way that is both fun and un-evil.

1D: Closer and Further Away

We’re talking about making goals and meeting them. “You know,” she writes, “back when I was going to boot camp (not real boot camp – Biggest Loser in a church parking lot at 5:30AM three times a week boot camp)…”

What?? On further inquiry it turned out that boot camp was “brutally awesome!  You burn a thousand calories an hour and pray for death the entire time.”

I don’t know when the last time was I did something that courageous. But anyway:

Back when I was going to boot camp, one of the instructors said something that stuck with me. “Everything, each decision you make, moves you either closer to or farther from your goal. Nothing is neutral.”  And I think we understand that for the most part – you know, that writing 500 words on your manuscript will get you closer to published, and investigating the inner recesses of your navel will not.  But (social media) stuff  is harder to classify.  Is it productive, or just “fun”?

2D: Turning toward advantage

That is the way I usually think, but now seeing it spelled out like that, I wonder if there isn’t a downside to such one-dimensional goal-orientation? What if you have two choices, each of which (as far as you can tell) would equally contribute to the goal? If you have two goals, must action towards one necessarily be away from the other? I think a better analogy than a line (toward or away from a single goal) would be a plane (toward, away, or sideways). Then you aren’t always smacking yourself on the head for wasting your time on X when you could have done Y. You think: “having done Y, how can I turn it toward my goal”?

3D: Stumbling into something good

And then there’s potential rewards you don’t have set as goals, but stumble into accidentally. Okay. New metaphor. Imagine cost/benefit space as a rubber sheet…

…and your next novel is a majestic star

Or maybe since my background is biology, not cold and boring physics, the model of the Adaptive Landscape:

Now rather than a majestic star, imagine your next novel is a lungfish.

It’s the same idea, just flipped upside-down, where up is good and down is bad. As I stumble around in my life,  I occasionally come across slopes. I know that a downward slope is probably going to lead me in a bad direction, and an upward slope might lead to rewards. But what if there’s a big peak on the other side of a little valley? What if climbing a small peak makes it harder for me to mount a bigger one? I can’t just go haring after every short-term reward that I stumble over. I have to try lots of things to get a lay of the land before I start my ascent.

4D: Warp speed!

Or, you know, I can open my eyes and look around to see how other people are managing.

Tex, with the second book of her three-book fantasy western series out today, is doing pretty damn well. What she did is less like stumbling around the adaptive landscape, and more like tunneling through it.

You’re a black hole, Tex.

She started a fantasy story way back in high school, then as she learned more about writing and the world, she changed it. Then changed it again. And followed the new path all the way into a crazy universe where the West was never won and be-wigged fish-people roam the land. You should totally go out and buy it.

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