I am not by nature a planner. My default mode is either to amble into the future with a vague goal in mind, or just to assume life will happen to me and I’ll make the best of it.
That means my new year’s resolutions, when I’ve made them, have tended to never happen. The half-baked plans I share in my obligatory goal-related small group meeting never come to fruition.
I’ve comforted my unplanful self with passages like the one from James that warns against prideful planning; but, like Brandon said in his sermon on planning last summer, Scripture has a lot of good things to say about the right kind of planning. “To plan is to love,” he said, and there’s a lot of truth in that. To plan pridefully is to be prideful; but to never plan is to miss opportunities to love others and see God in fresh ways. It can be an act of worship.
My wife should really be the one writing this piece, because she’s way more acquainted with wise planning than I am; but I’d like to share some of the wisdom I’ve picked up from her on how to plan more effectively.
Why plans fail
There are some common reasons why new year’s resolutions tend not to pan out:
Too vague: “Love my wife more” is a great aspiration, but if it doesn’t lead to me doing something it’s never going to happen
Not connected to a “why:” “I’d like to eat better” is a nice idea, but if I don’t have a good reason for it I’m not going to stick with it
No accountability: Sharing it once or writing it down and losing it are not recipes for success.
I don’t build it in my calendar: “Write a chapter a month” is good; but if I’m already not writing, what am I going to clear out of my life each week so I can actually write that chapter?
Too ambitious: Those eight goals that combine to 20 hours of new activity each week ain't gonna happen.
Generally, our Island of Unmet Goals is populated via one of those five ferry-boats.
Planning that has a shot
There is no magical formula to ensure your goals will work out. You may set out with wise goals and have render it impossible; you may start on a goal and realize that you want something different. But that being said, here are some suggestions (again, almost entirely from my wife) that can help you set goals that can stick:
Plan from a “why”
Before you make goals, start by setting a vision for who you want to be – even if it’s only for this year. What do you want to define you as a person? What do you hold most dear, in your best moments? “Eat better” is a fine goal; but which of these “whys” will make you more likely to actually eat better?
- I want to eat better because I feel guilty about overeating this Christmas
- I want to eat better because I want to be healthy enough to love and disciple my grandkids one day
Part of what led Allison into her research on goal-setting was realizing that every year she set more or less the same large number of goals, and then by the next year realized she hadn’t met any of them. She was setting too many goals to keep in her mind, let alone work into her calendar.
This quarter, I have only three goals I’m intentionally working on (outside of work). Three things I’m pushing myself to achieve. All the other things I’d like to see – good things – I’m giving myself permission to pass on this quarter, because I know I can’t really handle more than these.
Be specific and measurable
Again, “Love my wife more” is a great aspiration; but it doesn’t mean anything in practice. However, “Plan one date a week with my wife” is measurable. I can get my hands around it, which means I can move a lot closer to loving her more.
Put them in the calendar
If I’m going to change my actions – to do something I haven’t been doing already, or stop doing something I’m already doing – I have to plan ahead. My current self has already filled my calendar for 2017: by default, I will sleep until my kids wake up, and I will probably watch at least an hour of TV a night.
To accomplish something new, I have to preempt my current self by intentionally blocking out he time I need to accomplish it. I have to make Wednesday night a writing night; I have to make Sunday evening my date-planning time.
Don’t think you’ve made a goal until you know beforehand when you’re going to work on it!
Get someone to hold you to your plans. Find someone who won’t forget, and who won’t let you forget about them either.
Give yourself grace
Finally, be ready to forgive yourself and try again when you fail to meet your goals. Missing a goal in the first month (or week) doesn't mean you'll never get it; it may mean you need to adjust your efforts or recalibrate your expectations. Dust yourself off and try again!
Image by Joe Forkan; accessed on his website.