Time for a bit more on setting expectations for yourself and the mysterious workings of the Yerkes-Dodson Law!
Many people, including, sadly, a lot of managers and coaches, presume that the higher the goal, the higher the motivation. They set ludicrously high goals (for other people), anticipating that people will raise their expectations for themselves.
Alas, it doesn't work this way. The relationship between motivation and productivity is not a straight line. If it were, this approach would work. In practice, if people think they're going to fail no matter how hard they work, they stop working. Why work like a maniac and fail when you can fail right now and get it over with? People are not stupid, particularly the Achievement motivated, who are always looking for the challenging-but-achieveable goal, the moderately challenging target.
Similarly, if your goal is too low, it isn't energizing either. The trick is to find something that is just challenging enough. This principle is known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law, after two researchers who published it in 1908. (The Yerkes Primate Lab is named after this Yerkes.) What they found is that the relationship is an inverted U--low emotional/motivational arousal or high emotional/motivational arousal lead to poor performance; moderate arousal leads to the best performance. To see a picture, use this link I found:
To make things even more difficult, that "sweet spot" can change over time. I know writers who started out writing 600 words a day, four days a week, then 800, then 1000, then 1200. This writer got better at it!
Even Isaac Asimov got faster over time. Stellan Ohlsson (Psychological Science, 1992) tracked the length of time it took for Asimov to write each 100 books, and found it was getting shorter and shorter, along a neat asymptotic curve. Even very complex tasks (like writing books) get easier if you practice them enough.
So the expectations you set yourself are critical. The appearance of impossibility is enough. If I say "you have one year to write 72,000 words worth of novel" that sounds like a lot to most people (not most bloggers!). But if I say "write 200 words a day for 360 days," that doesn't sound as intimidating to most people--but it's the same number of words. Other people perceive the idea of writing almost every day as more anxiety-provoking--they'd rather try to blast through 6,000 words once a month or something like that. It's all about what works for you.
A lot of the posts lately are about setting conscious expectations for yourself, which generally is a good thing--as long as you are not placing roadblocks in front of yourself, of course...