Friday, July 10, 2020

Your Goals Might Be Sabotaging Your Streams

As Twitch streamers, we have big ambitions. Most of us start our channels hoping to someday make a living off of our shows, never having to clock into a 9-5 job again. We create roadmaps for ourselves, with milestones along the way: a certain number of followers, average chat activity, money made from subscriptions, all sorts of things. We see the bar going up and become even more motivated to keep going. Oftentimes we will take one of these milestones and put everything we have into achieving that one thing. For example, reaching affiliate status, or gaining our first 1,000 followers. These are major events for a Twitch channel, and would indicate clear forward progress. But what if I told you that these very goals you set for yourself could end up toppling your channel in the long run? 


How can goals backfire? Let's flash back to almost a decade earlier. The year was 2011, and throughout my life it had been my dream to cover the video game industry. I was already working on small commercials as a video editor and camera operator at this point, and in my spare time I had created a small brand where I wrote articles and created video coverage about video game events. Over the ensuing six years, with no connections at all, I did an insane amount of research, got to know all the PR companies, and worked my way up as press at events like PAX, Comic-Con and eventually E3. I booked interviews with the developers, managed a team of friends as crew members, and then edited all the footage when I got home into a highly polished video. I worked incredibly hard on this side project for no pay and no fame- it was simply my dream to be there among my personal heroes, creating something of my very own. After each piece of coverage was complete, I was over the moon about accomplishing another of my bucket list items, having felt so motivated while planning and executing these endeavors. 

And then the next day I'd go on an unplanned hiatus, not releasing anything else for months. 

Going to things like this were bucket list items for me.
What was the problem? I was too in love with the milestones themselves. I was blinded by the fact that I'd be going to more prestigious events and meeting more famous developers, rather than thinking about the larger picture. Questions like, "What kind of content will I make after the event is over?" didn't really cross my mind. You'll notice that these goals in themselves did not prevent me from working hard- in fact, they did the exact opposite. But I wasn't able to sustain the hard work, because once the event was over I knew the next wouldn't come for another few months. My work ethic was essentially a series of sprints, and despite getting frustrated with myself every time I noticed I was slacking, I couldn't bring myself to stay consistent in those first few years. 

This is the way most people create things, and it's the reason most people don't continue to create things. In the entry Streaming Under Quarantine, I talked about how inspiration is not enough to form a habit. That initial spark can sustain you for only so long before you run out of steam, so it's important to maintain discipline as well. When I was working on my games industry coverage, I never figured out how to get as excited about the mundane months between events as as I did about the events themselves. And because of that, I was left feeling very unsatisfied with my content output. For most streamers it's the same issue: there will be an incredible amount of drive when embarking on their goal to reach 1,000 followers, and there will be another burst of energy when approaching that goal, but before reaching that point the doldrums between might sink their channel entirely. This is because the systems aren't in place to keep them motivated about what they're doing. 


Okay, so you get where this is going. This has just been a fancy way of saying that streaming isn't a sprint, it's a marathon. But you'd be wrong. It's not a marathon either. And why is that?

Because sprints and marathons both have finish lines. 

That's the problem in essence. Some streamers may work toward their goals as a sprint, and some may approach them more carefully as a marathon, but both strategies require that these streamers reach an end point. And it's during this end point that the vacuum of demotivation sucks away all energy and drive. 

Consider the story of The Lord of the Rings. Within its pages, Frodo embarks on an insanely ambitious quest- something that the strongest people of the realm wouldn't dare to undertake. He goes through immense physical and psychological strain, but always keeps his eye on the prize. With a few helpful nudges from friends along the way, he comes out six months later and one finger shorter, having completed his quest. He's a hero throughout Middle-earth and is set for life- now having time to write his book, visit the greatest kingdoms of the land with the highest honors, and basically live better than anyone else of the newly christened Fourth Age. But what actually happens when Frodo returns home? Having rid himself of both the greatest burden and greatest purpose in his life, Frodo is stricken with such a black melancholy that he decides to sail into the undying lands of Valinor, symbolically choosing death over a twilight existence on earth. 

Had to fit a LOTR reference in there somewhere.
Of course, I'm not suggesting that undertaking ambitious goals as a streamer will kill you, but you can see the parallels in Frodo's journey. When grinding for partner, undertaking huge marathon shows, trying to reach some arbitrary follower number, or any of a thousand other possible goals in between, streamers will put themselves under extreme stress for long stretches of time. And that's not good for the psyche. You might lose your taste for streaming along the way. And if you don't, then once you reach that goal you could end up feeling purposeless enough to lose it afterwards. Before you know it, you might be on a break without even realizing how it happened, watching your channel slowly sail to the undying lands to quietly gather digital dust.  


So sprints aren't the answer, and neither are marathons. Instead, think of your progress simply as constant movement. This descriptor has no implication of finishing, nor does it suggest a particular speed. It simply means you're going to move forward and never stop moving forward. As I mentioned in entries like Gain Your First Followers Using the Power of Celebration, break up your goals into tiny portions so that they're constantly achievable. If you're completing a goal and starting a new one every week, or even every day, then you'll never have time to fall into a pit of demotivation. Never allow a goal to be so large that it becomes part of your identity. 

But let's check back in on that struggling YouTuber from 2011, who would create content in bursts but couldn't keep a steady pace. Now, nine years later, my content runs like clockwork. As I've mentioned in previous entries, I've done over 2,100 broadcasts in the past two years and never missed a single scheduled show. I'm proud of my content for plenty of reasons, but the largest of these is that I can look myself in the mirror as a content creator. By focusing less on goals, I've been able to completely sidestep the doldrums that would cause me to go dark for days, weeks, or even months on end during my YouTube days. If you ever have similar crises of motivation on your own channel, consider that your goals might be sabotaging your streams. 

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