As a pastor, I’ve watched a lot of people start the process of change, but only a few follow through on their goals. Whether your goal is to work out, parent better or eat healthier, over time, you’ll see that some people are simply better reaching their goals. But why? Why do some teams, organizations, and individuals, find motivation to change while others seem stuck in a rut? Research seems to indicate that the way we plan out our change has a massive affect on our motivation to change – both personally and organizationally.
In a recent message at Substance, I made the argument that “Ambiguity and options kill action.” Research reveals that all humans are plagued with a weird short-circuit called “Analysis Paralysis.” Dozens of psychology experiments have proven that, when people are asked to make a decision with more than one good option (as opposed to a singular option), we are significantly more likely to do nothing.
At first when I heard this, it sounded ridiculous. After all, most of us tend to think that “more options” is always better. But research shows that, when it comes to change, options kill our motivation.
For example, eating healthier is a classic goal; but, where do we start? There’s an infinite number of ways to “eat healthy.” And even worse, there’s an infinite number of contradictory opinions about what’s healthy. Even worse, how does your family fit into this? Suddenly, there’s marital issues; scheduling issues; dieting philosophies; grocery store budgeting issues; recipe issues…and I’m just getting started. You see, for change to be effective, it needs to be simplified. Big goals need to be reduced to baby steps. After all, if ambiguity and options kill action, then having a clear plan is the holy grail of change.
My wife and I have always been obsessive planners. At first we didn’t realize how obsessive we actually were. I was always writing 20 page documents outlining every one of my goals. My wife would write 10 page journal entries about how she planned on parenting each of our kids each year. Over time, when people would hear about our life-planning, we were kind of surprised that other people didn’t do the same. For a while, we started wondering if we were just freakishly introspective.
Over time, people started asking us: “How did you guys come to live so intentionally?” At first, questions like these were really confusing because, like most people, my wife and I felt like we’re chronically disorganized. Heck. Our detailed life-plans were just an act of survival. (& When your kids are small and the demands of life overwhelm you, trust me: your chaos will eventually drive you to get a plan too).
So a while back, someone asked me: “What questions help you sort through your chaos – both for your church and for your family.” And I started making a list. Finally, I came up with a simple little worksheet of questions that help me get my goals out of the ditch. And if you’re interested, you can check it out here: [Traction & Clarity Worksheet]
But, whatever your goals are for this year, it’s critical you understand that: Clarity and Motivation always flow from your Roles, your Goals, and your God.
(1). Define your Roles: Throughout my 20s and much of my 30s, I tended to obsess over my professional success to the exclusion of my marriage, family and physical body. Many of you know that, over the years I’ve struggled with numerous repetitive strain injuries – losing my ability to talk – even losing my ability to type on a keyboard – simply because I was so obsessed with speaking at one more service or writing one more article. After experiencing numerous wake-up calls, I’m learning that success in one area of my life simply does not compensate for failure in another. In the end, success is a holistic thing; which is why, whenever I set goals for my life, I love to apply Stephen Covey’s “Roles & Goals” approach. For example, I’m not just a pastor, I’m a husband, a father, a Christian, a friend, a songwriter & I have an aging physical body. And if I fail in any one of these areas, it’s going to have a dramatic effect on the other areas too – not to mention my ability to enjoy the full experience that God has created me for. So, before I start setting goals for my life, I always start with my “roles” first. What roles is God calling you to play in this current season. Once you define them, go through the worksheet for each one of these roles.
(2). Define your Goals: Whenever I set goals for each of my roles, I always start with the question: What one change would make the biggest difference in each role in my life. When you do so, avoid setting goals that don’t have “sub-goals” to them. Remember, motivation flows from clarity. As a pastor, there’s a chaos in my church that only I can solve. Even if my staff are painfully aware of it, they won’t feel permission to solve it. Thus, when I clarify the chaos, everyone around me thrives. And the same is true in my family. When I set goals, I think about how they affect everyone around me. For example, if I decide to work out 5 times a week, it will have an impact on my family. If I don’t have sub-goals addressing the ramifications for each and every goal, it will simply increase my chaos (and sap my motivation to continue the change.)
As you would imagine, goal setting requires some serious introspection. If you don’t have at least 2-3 pages of journal writing for each goal, you probably haven’t thought things through enough. In fact I have an entire folder filled with journal-like files that I title “the big picture” (with a date following it). They represent thousands of hours of dreaming, planning, and internalizing the life plan I believe God has for me.
And, as a helpful phase 2 of this, I often go to my mentors/Spiritual Fathers after doing these brainstorms and have them scrutinize all of my thoughts. After all, I cannot tell you how many times my plan was wildly naïve, albeit thorough.
(3) Lastly, Ask God for Wisdom! James 1:5 teaches that “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” Dang! That’s great news! And we don’t even have to “earn it.”
Besides, happiness doesn’t come by successfully working a game plan. It comes by working out God’s plan. And if you’re lacking a strong devotional life and church life, you’re always going to struggle with finding fulfillment anywhere else. As I share in my newest book, Broken Escalators, research shows that people who regularly attend church not only set goals and complete goals more often than the general population, but they’re happier and healthier as well. Interestingly, people who attend church more than once a week happily complete their goals even more than people who only attend once a week. So, if you don’t have a great church… the kind of community you and your family could easily sync your entire lives into, put that on the top of your list. Your priorities determine your capacities. And you don’t want to spend another year on the slow path to your dreams.
So, do you want more motivation? Start by getting clarity for your life. You’d be shocked how quickly your desires get in sync with your plan. And if you’re lacking motivation, consider that you should instead ask God to give you a plan instead of an emotion. Make sense?