I will always remember the way Mrs. Fosland frowned down her nose at me and scolded, "You can't be a tiger. You're a person."
At five years old, my sense of burning injustice began to smolder. My teacher didn't ask what I could be when I grew up; she asked me what I wanted to be. Even at age five, I was well aware of the difference.
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference...
Many of us were ready for 2020 to be over, but have we put much thought into what we hope to see in 2021? While the beginning of a new year can come with a new sense of motivation, purpose, or direction, what does it take to follow through the rest of the year?
In short, the answer is discipline. But we’re not exactly born with that. If we were, we wouldn’t be having this conversation to begin with. Maybe some people out there can wake up one day and say, “I’m gonna get my life together this year” and actually do it, but for most of us, there’s a difference between the idea of making resolutions and the disciplined process of setting and accomplishing goals.
A couple of years ago now, The Wesleyan Church posted a compelling list of “10 Personal Questions to Start 2019 Well.” In 2021, as I've paused to look back and look ahead, these reflection questions have been worth revisiting. Especially with much of our world thrown into question now, as a global pandemic continues to play out and little on earth seems certain, where do we find a firm foundation to build from?
Well, to get started, as author Dan Reiland states, "My advice is not to make a list too long. That can be overwhelming. If you do make a long list, then prioritize it and start with a short list of the most important things first.”
If nothing else has come of this long COVID season, I hope we can all agree these circumstances have served to bring our attention to what really matters and what we're really invested in. So, as we consider the rest of this year to come, what will be essential... foundational... to the way we approach the next several months of our lives?
I don’t know about you, but I like to have a goal. I have long-term goals, short-term goals, in-between goals… sub-goals for my main goals... And yeah, about every six months or so, I end up re-evaluating, re-prioritizing, and re-focusing on the goals that are most important. Otherwise, I can lose track and never make much progress on any goals. We can’t do it all... not all at once, anyway. We can never do everything, but we can always do something to get moving in the right direction.
Personally, I’m continuously re-learning to start wherever I’m at. Sometimes, that means remembering to start with one thing, and focus on doing that one thing well, before adding another thing.
This can feel frustrating at first, when we're ready to take action, make a difference, and see big changes right away. We want to go all in!
But discipline builds discipline. Motivation breeds motivation. Everything's connected to everything. Changes in one area of life cause changes in other areas of life. There's no life hack for the long term.
So, how do we decide which goals are the most important? At times, I've been led to set a specific, major, life-changing goal that determines a series of many decisions and takes several years to accomplish (like ordained ministry, a 2020 goal set way back in 2013, or financial freedom by age 50, a new goal I've just begun pursuing in 2021).
Other times, though, I hear myself throwing around a lot of vague, guilt-based, non-committal goal-like language, such as “I really need to start working out again” or “I’ve really gotta work on that savings account” or “We should really stop eating out so much." I don't know about you, but as a Christian, when I catch myself making these sorts of proclamations, I have to stop and ask, “Am I honoring God in this area of my life?”
Then it’s not about how I feel or what I want or what you think I should do. Then it's about being called to take care of the body I've been given (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), be faithful with the resources I've been given (Luke 16:10-11), and encourage the people around me to do good with what they've been given, too (Hebrews 10:24-25).
I mean, God’s will has a way of simplifying a lot of decisions. "Is what I'm doing honoring to God?" Is the answer Yes? Well, do that, then. Is the answer No? Then change that.
Here’s a simple way to start...
Part 1: Set a S.M.A.R.T. Goal.
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won't you first sit down and estimate the cost...?” (Luke 14:28)
Now, this advice is given so frequently it sounds cliché, but the fact is, creating a written set of goals can be a first step toward seeing real progress. After all, if you’ve never written down your goals, and you do that today, then when you look at your set of written goals, you can see you’ve already made more progress today than you ever have before. Ta-da!
Snark aside, effective goal-setting is outlined in the S.M.A.R.T. model:
- Specific: Instead of vague intentions overwhelmed by multiple life changes (“I want to get in shape and eat healthy and feel better,” whatever that means), a S.M.A.R.T. goal focuses on one specific outcome at a time (“I want to start running with the Couch to 5k training plan”).
- Measurable: A S.M.AR.T. goal can be measured or tracked for progress and setbacks (“I ran a 10-minute half-mile last week; I ran a 12-minute half-mile over the weekend; I will gain those 2 minutes back by this Wednesday”).
- Attainable: According to Mrs. Fosland, people can't be tigers, so... what can you do? While there might be a larger-picture vision (“I want to run a marathon), S.M.A.R.T. goals focus on breaking down that big vision into small steps you can realistically see yourself attaining, one by one (“I will start by running 1 full mile without stopping or walking”).
- Right: Identifying right or value-adding things to do, S.M.A.R.T. goals come from pure motives (“I will respect and care for my body”), lead to healthy outcomes (“I will not over-train or injure myself”), and benefit others (“I will model better habits for my family”).
- Time-Bound: To sustain motivation, accountability, and discipline, S.M.A.R.T. goals are time-bound with predetermined deadlines set for completion (“I will run 3.1 miles without stopping by the end of this summer”) to stay on track and keep building progress.
- What is one specific goal that will lead toward the change I want in my life?
- How can I measure my progress toward this goal?
- What makes this an attainable or realistic goal to work toward?
- Why is this the right goal to pursue during this particular season of life?
- How much time will it take to accomplish each step toward this goal?
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.” (Proverbs 16:3)
- From January through March, read Genesis through Judges.
- From April through June, read Ruth through Job.
- From July through September, read Psalms through Haggai.
- From October through December, read Zechariah through Revelation.
All right, so how do we come up with the steps to follow? To draft an action plan, first picture your end result—the completion of the goal you’ve identified, in the time you’ve set to complete it. What does your vision look like, once you've gotten where you're going? Now, work backward from there, asking yourself a bunch more questions...
- To complete this goal by the time I’ve set, what main things need to happen?
- How long will each of these main things take?
- In what order will they be completed?
- Now for each of the main things, what needs to happen in the next year?
- ...in the next 6 months?
- ...in the next 3 months?
- ...in the next month?
- ...in the next 3 weeks?
- ...in the next 2 weeks?
- ...in the next week?
- ...right now?
When we look back, the path we've walked usually looks like a lot of zigs and zags... but when we keep looking forward, the next step is always straight ahead. Maybe the first step, right this moment, is to stop and think things through—perhaps for the first time. Yeah, really, right this moment... I mean, you're already sitting here thinking about goal setting, so why not dedicate some time to actually setting a goal? Do you have anything better to do, besides something that could change your life?
What do you have to lose? Just ask yourself some of the above questions to bring your attention to an area of life where you could see some real progress happening this year. What specific, measurable, attainable, right, and time-bound goal is on your mind or in your heart today?
In the year ahead, I plan to continue writing about my experiences as a beginner investor, using the Stash app to build a portfolio in the stock market. I’m not saying you should do it, too—I’m just gonna try it myself and let you know what happens. I’m learning as I go, so if you’d like to come along for the ride, we’ll be learning together, hopefully doing our small part to turn the tables and win the wealth-building game, for the good of greater society.
Does that sound overly ambitious to you? Maybe we just haven't allowed ourselves to think big enough before.
If you like anything you read here, please share this post with your social media networks to get more people thinking about how we can all start winning the wealth-building game together. Like to connect? Drop me a line or visit on Twitter.