Unmet goals: friend or foe?

I’ve been thinking a lot about goal-setting lately, and the inevitable side effect of unmet goals.  On the one hand, since newbie writers must self-motivate (lacking book deals and attendant deadlines), goals are essential.  On the other hand, when you miss them, a cycle of emotional distress starts: discouragement, quickly morphing into self-loathing, and then (hopefully) into a stiff determination to amp up productivity.

Goals are funny things.  Without them, we might not get as much done.  With them, we’re guaranteed ennui and semi-regular failure.

Exhibit A: this year I decided to do NaNoWriMo for the first time.  I did not finish the 50,000 words needed to “win,” and therefore fell short of my goal (by around 22,000 words, in fact).  However, I did get almost 30,000 words into a new novel, something that would never have happened if I hadn’t set the goal of 50,000.

Exhibit B: A week or so ago I resolved to practice specific writing skills daily.  Out of seven days, I managed four.  Viewed one way, an epic failure.  But…viewed another, I did at least get down four days of practice as opposed to the zero I would have managed without the goal of seven.

To add a little flesh to Exhibits A and B:  in the same time I set and failed to complete those goals, I also drafted two short stories, revised 1/3 of an already completed novel, and tended to my personal life and day job.

I’m honestly not sure what to make of this.  Am I setting overly ambitious goals given the other commitments in my life, taking on too many projects at once, or awful at meeting goals?  Maybe this is just how things are – maybe my story is your story too, and we’re all perfectly normal?

Or, maybe goals are no different from those mileposts we cling to when out on a run (you know, where we tell ourselves: “just keep going. When you get to that telephone pole at the end of the block, you can stop”; but then, when we finally get to the telephone post, we say: “just a little further…maybe push on to the funny looking tree missing half it’s branches?).  Even though you don’t get it done as quickly as you’d like, you still finish your run, or your novel, or whatever.

So, what do you think?  Is this line of reasoning the sort that paves the way to a hell of justifications, or is it the best way forward through a writer’s life of peaks and valleys?