My wife and I have always been obsessive planners. And after having made a million failed plans, I’ve discovered a few tricks that can give our goals a bit more traction! So before you make another frail and disappointing resolution, consider these 4 principles that can place your dreams in the fast lane:
(1). Don’t set goals until you know what truly makes you happy:
Most people obsess over things that simply don’t increase their happiness. As I argue in my book, Broken Escalators, circumstantial things (like money, jobs, marital status, geographical locations, & good looks) only affect our happiness by a variance of 10%. And yet, for many of us, these pursuits are what highjack 90% of our time (not to mention, our prayers!) Naturally, if you’re pursuing a goal that simply doesn’t fulfill you, it shouldn’t surprise you that you’re going to lose motivation! So, get off the treadmill of the elusive happiness and figure this out before you waste years of your life on meaningless pursuits.
(2). Don’t obsess over one area of your life to the exclusion of the others: 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, I believe 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. 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.
(3). Don’t set goals without setting sub-goals & and identifying obstructions: Most people simply don’t think their goals through enough. Many of our goals simply aren’t realistic in light of our other roles in life. Quite often we fail to make our goals measurable on a monthly and weekly basis. And even if we did, quite often, we fail to internalize those goals on a monthly basis. So here’s what I do: whenever I set goals, I like to break them down into monthly subgoals. In other words, I ask the question: what are the 10 things that need to happen on a regular basis in order for this larger goal to be accomplished and by when? And then I ask another version of this same question: what are the 10 things that could obstruct all of this from happening.
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.
(4) 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, 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.