While I’m on a blog break this month, I’m bringing you some posts from my archives. This one is from when our family took a sabbatical in Argentina.
I talked recently about how different my life had become this year. That’s partially because we decided to go to Argentina.
But it’s not the only reason.
The reason my life is different (glory to God) is the list of goals I made last year.
Not just a list, but a plan. I wrote down specifically what I wanted to concentrate on. I made each goal (mostly) something I could measure. I figured out tiny baby steps to help me make each thing happen. (I followed advice from here. This year, I’m also inspired by this.)
And like magic, my dreams started coming true.
This process has surprised me, because never before had I wanted to write down goals. I was afraid. I was convinced it would turn me into even more of a control freak. I was intimidated. And I didn’t know where to start.
I can’t say if goals work for everyone. I have friends who are really good at articulating their values, and using those as a guiding light to evaluate their lives. I have loved ones who don’t seem to suffer from the same kind of fear I do when trying something new. But I’ll tell you what: goals are working for me.
A year later, I’m repeating the process for this year. And in looking over what worked and didn’t work last year, I am realizing a few things about how to set goals that will really change my life.
- Don’t set resolutions that will get you on Santa’s Nice list. I’m a goody two-shoes. When I sit down to make a list of things to achieve, it will probably look like a hall monitor’s to-do list. Brush my teeth. Read good books. Change the furnace filters regularly. What I realized this year was that unless I was excited about the possibility of something happening—unless I was risking something, stretching myself, or committing to activities I hadn’t done before, the goal seemed a little, well, yawn-worthy. This year, I am starting with the goals that make me gulp.
- If the goal is risky and terrifying, plan. I planned out my riskiest move (starting this blog) with detailed deadlines. So many weeks to research blog names. So many weeks to design. I gave myself a lot of time: almost five months to plan the thing before I launched it. Why? Each step terrified me. The detailed deadlines made it easier to focus on one manageable chunk at a time. The abundance of time made it seem doable. Both made it easier not to get stuck in my fear.
- If it’s not intrinsically exciting, make sure it has an important value behind it. Not all my goals make me breathless. One of mine from last year was to journal every day. It was a quiet goal, something that didn’t require any risk. But I wanted that meditative space, a quiet privacy in my life that I’d had back in college. I need that space desperately as an introvert caring for kids all day. When I pulled out the journal each day, I was motivated by those values.
- Make some checklists. Several of the goals I made last year required me to do something daily that I didn’t really follow up on. Even just reviewing how I was doing on the goals got more sporadic as the year went on. This year, I made a daily checklist of tasks to do throughout the day. Most of them are only three or four items, but since I often get lost in my thoughts, they are already helping me to remember how I want to be spending my time. It’s made my limited time to work much less frustrating.
- Don’t make goals just because. Last year, quite a few of my goals were because I thought they’d be easy to achieve. I could check something off my list, I could get something that seemed worthwhile done. I could be good. Surprise! I wasn’t excited or passionate about any of those things. Some of them got done, some of them didn’t, but none of them changed my life. This year, if a goal isn’t meeting some deeper need, I’m not bothering.
Here’s the thing about goals that astonished me. If you plan to do exhilarating things, things that are deeply meaningful to you, and you do them consistently, doggedly, and with great intention, your life will feel exhilarating and meaningful.
You will change your life because your life will be filled with the things that matter deeply to you.
Last year, I approached my list of goals kind of like choosing the courses I’d take in college. It was fun to plan and appealed to my organizational side. I filled my list with a few reaches, a few fun tidbits, and a lot of what seemed like requirements.
This year, I approached the whole exercise with awe and not a little trembling. I prayed. I asked for prayer. Because I knew—knew—that I needed help. Deep, abundant, holy help to use this year wisely. To fill it with joyous passion. To spend it loving others deeply. This year, I see that me being intentional with my time is an act of worship. Because of last year’s goals, more than any other year of my life, I felt like I was earnestly seeking to be more of the person God created me to be. I felt like I was really living the life I’ve been blessed with.
And that, my friends, is truly life-changing.