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As I write this, there are exactly 22 days left in 2019. The Christmas season is in full swing. Some of you might be excitedly enjoying all the Christmasy things. Some of you might not. But here’s the thing: Christmas will soon pass, and a new year will be here (ready or not!). Have you scheduled time for some personal goal setting before January 1?
If not, this is your chance. Grab that calendar and set aside an entire day (if you can) or at least an hour or two for goal setting.
- If you’ve never been serious about setting goals before, maybe it’s time to start.
- If you’ve set goals, but not met them and so gave up on the entire idea, maybe it’s time to forgive yourself for not being perfect and start over.
- If you set safe, reasonable, and easily achievable goals every year, maybe it’s time to challenge yourself.
Wherever you fall on the goal setting spectrum, I encourage you to dig a little deeper this year. You are always faced with a choice: settle for an ordinary if somewhat mediocre life or challenge yourself to do what you’ve never done and become who God made you to be.
One more thing: as you step out into this goal setting process, don’t leave God out of your planning sessions!
Take Your First Steps in Goal Setting
The first steps in setting goals actually have more to do with focusing and engaging your heart and mind than setting goals. But I urge you not to skip over this. Remember – the foundation of anything is the most important part!
First, You Pray
If you’ve read almost anything I’ve written here, then you know prayer ranks high on my priorities list. Goal setting is no different.
The very first, inescapable, unavoidable, not-to-be-ignored step in goal setting is prayer. If you have given your life to Jesus and He has redeemed you, then He deserves to be invited into the goal-setting process.
Start with confession. You need a clean slate and open communication to hear what the Spirit says. Then pray. Pray about your family, your job, your fears, your hopes, your dreams, your marriage. Pray about your church, your finances, your need for guidance, and your dependence on the Lord. Lay it all out – Jesus already knows so don’t hold anything back.
Pray for five minutes or two hours – however long it takes to lay your heart open to the Lord, put your dreams in His hands, and submit to His guidance. Then thank Him in advance for the direction He will provide through this process.
Once you have prayed honestly and humbly, you will be ready to move on to the next step. But don’t skip the praying!
Next, You Reflect
As you move past praying and start taking steps in goal setting, maintain an attitude of worship and dependence. I personally like to have worship music playing as I work through all the steps of goal setting.
Reliance on the Spirit will enable you to see things in ways you may not have considered. It will help to soothe the feelings of failure or shame you may experience as you review the past year. And it will encourage you to consider what you might otherwise deem impossible. Because “nothing [is] impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
As you begin to reflect as part of the goal-setting process, you will want to record your thoughts. A blank notebook or journal works great.
Ask yourself a variety of questions and write out your answers. Some questions to consider are these:
- What was your most important accomplishment this past year?
- What were you hoping to accomplish that didn’t happen? Why didn’t that occur?
- What did you do that was the most fun during the past year?
- What are you most grateful for right now?
- What areas of your life are you most satisfied with right now?
- What areas of your life are you most dissatisfied with right now?
- What new skill did you learn this past year – or start learning?
- What are your three favorite memories from the past year?
- What was your biggest challenge during the past year and how did you handle that challenge?
- What bad habits are nagging at you right now?
- Who are the most encouraging people in your life right now? How can you strengthen those relationships?
- Who are the most discouraging people in your life right now? How should you consider changing those relationships?
- What were the three biggest lessons you learned during the past year?
If these questions scare you, that’s OK. You don’t have to answer them all – but remember, these answers are just between you and God. You don’t have to share them with anyone (although I would encourage you to share them with a trusted friend if possible).
Digging deep into what is and is not working in your life right now is the only way to get to the starting point of change. And change is what goal setting is all about.
Then, You Evaluate
Ok, so now you’ve taken a long, hard look at your past 12 months and your current life situation. You’ve picked out some highs and some lows. You’ve probably seen some things in your life that you’d like to change right now (magic wand, anyone?) as well as some good things you’d like to build on.
You’ve looked at details, now it’s time to get a bird’s-eye view of your life. The best way I’ve found to do this is by adopting the Level 10 Life technique introduced in The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. Basically, you take several key areas of your life and rank how you are doing in each one. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being great, be honest with yourself and score your own life.
The point behind this exercise is that you’ve got to know what’s broken before you can fix it.
Here are the 10 areas that are recommended by Hal in his book:
- Marriage or Significant Relationship
As a believer in Jesus, your marriage should be your top priority after your faith. The term “significant relationship” should probably be reserved for a relationship you think might be leading towards marriage.
- Family & Friends
This category refers more to extended family and personal friendships. One of my problems with Hal’s list is that “Children” didn’t have a separate category. If you’re in the midst of the child-rearing years, then Children might be a category you want to add.
Hal called this “Spirituality” but for believers in Jesus, growing in faith might be more specific. Use whichever term you prefer.
A job you have, a job you are studying for, or a business you are building all fall into this category.
Control your money or it will control you.
- Health & Fitness
You probably know how important this is already!
God’s people are expected to be giving people – giving our time, abilities, and finances.
- Fun & Recreation
All work and no play is a bad combination. Get out there and do something fun.
- Physical Environment
This could be your home environment, your work environment, or both.
- Personal Growth
How do you want to grow and change? In what areas of your personal life are you dissatisfied?
I’ll be coming back to these 10 areas of life in future posts. Just know that you don’t have to use these terms. You can add, subtract, or change any of them. Come up with a list of terms that reflect your life. Maybe you’ll add ministry, relationships with foster children, or time management. Maybe you’ll combine marriage with family and friends. Maybe you’ll change career to homeschooling. Do what works for you. But then evaluate.
The first time I did this exercise several years ago, I ranked my marriage a #4. Not great. So I made a plan (hello, goal setting!). This past year, I ranked it a #8. It really is a good way to see where you might need to make some changes.
Finally, You Dream
This is probably my favorite part of the goal setting process! It falls into the category of, “What would you do if you won the lottery?” or “What would you do if money was not an issue?” or “What would you do if you could do anything?”
What would you do?
When you dream, before you start dealing with the realities that money does matter and kids need to be fed and time is limited, dream BIG.
What dreams and hopes do you still harbor in your heart? Dreams that you may never have shared with anyone? Now is the time to dust them off and put them down on paper.
And yes, I did say ‘on paper.’ I am a digital person – but nothing beats paper and pen for some tasks. This is one of those tasks. The act of writing helps your brain focus and dream.
So, this is what you do:
- Get alone by yourself
- Get a pad of paper and several pens or pencils (in case one breaks or stops working).
- Say a quick prayer for BIG dreams.
- Write EVERYTHING that you think of. And I mean everything – no self-editing with thoughts of “That’s impossible.” Write everything that comes to mind.
- To help you think, you can focus on one area at a time. But if that doesn’t help, don’t worry about it. My “Dream Big” sessions tend to be all over the place – not neatly categorized!
- Write for at least 30 minutes, but keep going as long as the ideas keep flowing.
- When done – when the ideas stop or you’re out of time – take your list and set it aside for a day or two. When you come back to it, you’ll be able to look over what you wrote with a fresh perspective. That is when the real work of goal setting begins!
Next Steps in Goal Setting
Whew! We’ve covered a lot of ground today. But you’re not done yet. Check back in a few days for the next post in this series. The second post about goal setting will cover what comes next.
- Narrowing and ranking that list you made.
- Making hard choices.
- Focusing on a few goals with the potential to really change your life in a big way.
- And more!
While you’re waiting for the next post – get that list of BIG dreams down on paper.