We just got back from 10 fabulous days in Ecuador. It felt like paradise — the mountains, cloud forests, waterfalls … It’s easy to picture myself there someday, as a Barefoot Writer.

One of the things that impresses me most about Ecuador is its biodiversity. More than just exotic plants and wildlife, there’s also a huge variety of fresh, local produce. And the climate makes it available year round.

I was shocked to learn that over 4,000 types of potatoes grow in those mountains! And the carrots? They come in just about any color — orange, white, purple, black, yellow — and in every size, too.

So what does a bunch of vegetables have to do with my success as a writer — and yours?

Your Personal Mountain of Goals

As a writer, setting explicit goals is important. When we reach those goals, we’re reminded of how much progress we’ve made.

But like potatoes, goals should come in all shapes and sizes. If you set only lofty, abstract goals, reaching them can be rather daunting. For example:

“I’m going to taste every one of those potatoes.”

Silly, yes, even if you really love potatoes! And a pretty tall order, too. Even if only half of those 4,000 varieties are edible, you’re still looking at 5½ years of steady eating. And that’s if you try a new kind every single day.

A writer’s goals are no different. Finding financial independence, for example, is a big mountain to climb. Especially if you’re just starting out.

You can’t eat a mountain of potatoes without first mashing them, one at a time. The key is to break down a big goal into smaller, more manageable chunks.

Instead of a two- or three-year goal, what specific actions can you commit to over the next three months? Updating your website? Landing a new client? A steady monthly income? Then break it down even further — what can you complete in 30 days … this week … or just today?

The Long-Term Value of Short-Term Rewards

Slicing your goals into bite-sized pieces isn’t always enough. Sometimes we need a little extra incentive — a reward — to keep things moving along. Kind of like dangling a carrot in front of a horse, to make sure it finishes the race.

But freelancers don’t have a “boss” to give them a raise or a pat on the head. We have to create our own “carrots.”

Like goals, these rewards come in many shapes and sizes. Whatever their shape, size, or color, what’s important is that we have them — and that we reward ourselves when we reach each goal — whatever it is.

This works with even the smallest tasks. Each night, I make a short list of five or six “must-do” items I can complete the next day. Like finishing up an article … invoicing a client … or following up on a lead. Small potatoes, maybe, but they move me forward, toward the larger goals.

And when I finish my list? I get a carrot — a workout, a long walk with the dog, or maybe a nap! You can substitute a latte, a cerveza, a snack — whatever you like. Just remember, when you do what you set out to do, it’s okay to treat yourself a bit.

Maybe you allow yourself a movie or a night out when you complete your weekly actions. Or, if you have a 30-day milestone and hit it, you go try on that jacket you’ve been eyeing. And when you hit your yearly target, you might just deserve a nice vacation — maybe Ecuador!

You get the idea. The bigger the goal, the bigger the reward.

Can You Have Too Many Incentives?

All your goals — from the smallest daily tasks up to your big “end game” — are targets. Always do your best to hit them. However, don’t beat yourself up if you miss one. (The one exception is a client deadline!) And remember your goals will change over time.

Rewards can change, too, especially the small ones. It’s okay to cut down on “dessert,” if you don’t need the motivation as often. But if you do find yourself slipping, just dangle another carrot.

It’s important to always set yourself carrots for those bigger goals. After all, we write to have the freedom and the means to do whatever we want. So go ahead! Plan that night out … that new kitchen … that vacation … It’s what you’re working for.

Oh, and about my Barefoot Writing in Ecuador? That’s my shiny 24K” carrot. True, I have a few more milestones before I get there. But that’s okay — I’ll make sure there are plenty of other carrots along the way.