This blog grows out of my conviction that every aspect of our lives is sacred and is to be nurtured and celebrated as a good gift of God. Most of the posts will be the sorts of things you would expect from a historian and worldview teacher, but some are likely to be a bit surprising. Since God created all things good, including all aspects of human life, everything is interesting and important from the perspective of a biblical worldview. Everything under the Sun and under Heaven is thus fair game here. I hope you find it interesting and enjoyable.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Goal Setting

I got a question from a reader about goal setting, so here are some ideas that may help. They are adapted from Franklin Covey, John Maxwell, Andy Stanley, Steven Barnes, and a number of business CDs not available to the general public, plus some of my own thinking on the topic.
One general note: as you are going through the entire goal setting process, you should also try to find someone who can act as a confidante or mentor to help you work through the steps. We frequently find ourselves in mental ruts that we cannot break out of. A fresh perspective can be very helpful to get you to think outside the box and find new options, opportunities, or directions.
Before setting any goals, it is important to identify your core values. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, because we all have things we know in our minds we should value, but they may not be the things that really matter to us in our heart of hearts. I recommend blocking a full hour undisturbed, and sitting down with a pen and paper (NOT a computer!), and start writing down the things you value.
Once you think you’re done, you’ll have gotten through the more superficial layer. Dig deeper: what are the things you are most proud of? Of all the things you’ve done, what gives you the greatest satisfaction? When your mind wanders, where does it habitually go? If you discovered you were going to die tonight, what things would you most regret either doing or leaving undone? Who or what would you be willing to go to the mat over or to risk your life for? If these last questions seem overly dramatic, you don’t understand core values. They are the things that matter the most to you, the things that matter more than you do. Fear of loss is a much greater motivator than hope of gain, so understanding those fears is an important clue to what you truly value.
Once you have that done, think about your long term dreams. If you could design your own life, what would it look like? To help with this, think about it in terms of categories: relationships with God and with important people in your life; career; and personal life, including health, personal growth, experiences, and lifestyle. What would you do if time and money were no object? Where would you go? Who would you help? What would you learn? Where would you live? What charities would you support? If these are really the things you want long term, they should connect directly back to your core values. Understanding this connection can provide powerful motivation for you to develop a plan to turn those dreams into a vision and direction for your life.
If you are a Christian, what we’re really exploring here is your sense of calling and understanding what it is God made you to be and to do to fulfill your part of His plan for the world.
At this point, you might consider drafting mission and vision statements for your life. The vision statement talks about your purpose, values, and direction; it’s the big picture of where you believe your life should be heading. The mission statement is an overview of how you’re going to get there. It addresses the question, “what do I do,” while the vision statement addresses, “why am I here,” or even “who am I.”
These are the steps that look at the big picture. They may seem rather abstract, but if you want to put together goals that will help you long term, you need this big picture to show you where you want to go. It will also pay to revisit these issues annually to determine if they do in fact reflect your values and your growth. You may find your priorities shifting or clarifying, and you want to be able to use that to adjust what you’re doing.
Next, we need to get to some more specific, rubber meets the road issues. List all of the roles you have. For example, I am a husband, a father, a college professor, a free lance writer and teacher, an entrepreneur, …. Once you have the list, ask yourselves which are nonnegotiable, which line up most closely with your values, and which are moving you in the direction of your vision. Hopefully there will be some overlap. These are the roles you need to concentrate on the most. If your current job doesn’t make the list, you need to start thinking about how to transition into something that does.
I would suggest that the most important roles to think about are your relationship with God, your relationship with your family, your relationship with your community, your professional life, and your personal growth. These are key areas for everyone, though the specific details will vary from person to person.
In each of these areas, ask yourself where you would like to be in a year: what will your relationship with God, your family, and your friends look like? Where would you like to be professionally? What do you want to learn or do for your own personal development? (I would also suggest that you think about these same areas five and ten years from now, though for most people that’s too much of a stretch. If you can do it, great; if not, stick with the one year time frame this time around.)
Your image of where you would like to be a year from now is your goal in each of these areas. Find a phrase that encapsulates the idea, and write it down with a date you want to accomplish it. You will be reviewing (and ideally rewriting) this goal daily.
Last step: identify actions that you can take daily that will move you toward your goals. Beware of dramatic changes or silver bullets: they rarely work. Your life is made from your daily habits, so if you want to accomplish your goals, you need to do this through developing new habits. Small, easy steps are best, without trying to do too many things at once. It takes 21 days to develop a habit, so I suggest the following approach:
  1. Identify the most important step you can take daily for each of your goals. (In some cases, these might be weekly, such as getting to the gym three times a week if you want to get into shape, but you get the idea.)
  2. Put these steps into your routine and stick with them for a month. Write and review your goals and the steps daily to keep you on track.
  3. At the end of the month, assess whether each step has become a habit. If it hasn’t, do it for another month. If it has, ask if you’re making satisfactory progress toward your goal, then determine if you simply want to keep with that habit or add a new one for the next month.
  4. Ultimately, you’re looking to reach what John Maxwell calls the Rule of 5: no matter how big the goal, if you do 5 key actions toward it every day, you are all but guaranteed to reach it eventually.
And that’s it. It’s a longer process than you may have wanted, but the early steps, which are in many ways the most difficult, are actually the most important and lay the foundation for everything else. I’ve adapted this from lots of other people, and you may decide to modify it for yourself, but the basic approach is solid and will help you clarify, set, and meet meaningful goals for your life.
A few books to help you along the way:
  • John C. Maxwell, Put Your Dream to the Test, Today Matters, and others
  • Jeff Olson, The Slight Edge
  • Andy Stanley, Visioneering
Franklin Covey has some excellent resources as well.