By Dr. Bill Patterson
A wise man once defined craziness as “doing what we’ve always done and expecting a different result.” If we set goals and stretch for them, we can have different results and achieve more as servants of our Lord.
With proper goals, a little effort, and good accountability, each of us can stretch higher in 2017. How?
First, don’t just set goals. Instead, list areas of your life in which you wish to make progress. Then pray. Seriously—ask God what goals he would have you set in each area. Be quiet in his presence and allow him to place on your heart the goals he would have for you.
Next, write down the goals you believe the Lord would have you set. Seeing these in print can powerfully motivate you. Then ask God to show you how to be accountable for reaching those goals. Write that down also, as accountability helps us reach our goals. Maybe your accountability consists of sharing with your spouse what you believe God would have for you. Perhaps it comes in the form of meeting each month with a friend to catch up on one another’s lives plus to discuss your advancement toward reaching your goals. Your accountability might take the form of a journal which charts your progress. Unless you are an exceptionally disciplined person, you will find you will not reach most of your goals without accountability.
Let’s Get Practical
Over the last few years I gained some extra pounds. I asked the Lord to help me lose weight and to get in shape. (I know, I know—round is a shape.) But I wanted to get in better condition so I could be stronger and possibly live longer in service for him. So I asked for a goal. I believe he gave me one. I wrote it down, along with the other goals which, after prayer, I felt God guided me to set in the areas of family, work, finances, writing, community service, giving, spiritual growth, and so on. Next I joined a program developed by a local pastor on eating in a healthy manner and viewing our bodies as temples of the Lord. With the help of the excellent program and walking four times a week, I lost the pounds I had hoped to lose. While still not in the best condition of my life, I am several pounds closer. I feel much better and can walk several miles without difficulty. I have more energy now to work for our Lord and to enjoy my grandchildren.
In addition to prayer being a key, accountability proved very important. The group in the weight loss program helped with motivation to eat right and to lose weight. Journaling each day also helps keep me on task. I summarize those daily entries each week, the weekly entries each month, and the monthly entries each year before setting goals for the next year. Seeing progress—or lack of it—each day, week, month, and year serves as motivators/accountability partners for me.
Some might think they have no time to journal each day. I have found the few minutes each day it takes me to journal actually saves time by keeping me on track. A logger does not waste time by taking a few minutes each day to sharpen the points on his chain saw. He saves time. Similarly, getting into the Word of God, jotting down thoughts in a journal, and checking progress each week toward my goals keeps me sharp to do what our Lord asks of me.
Business leaders, especially Jim Collins in his books Good to Great and Built to Last write about BHAGs: big, hairy, audacious goals. BHAGs often work for a corporation. For instance, say a business has annual sales of $10 million. The CEO, however, believes that the company has the potential for $20 million in annual sales if everyone in the company pulled together and worked toward it. So the CEO talks it over with the employees, shows what it would take in increased production, promises a hefty bonus to each employee if the goal is met, and asks their input. The employees banter the idea around, are thrilled to be included in the discussion, agree the goal can be met, and agree to work to see it accomplished. They vote to raise production so sales can soar to $20 million by the end of next year.
The employees put up banners with their goal. They have weekly sales and production meetings. They encourage one another. They celebrate little victories along the way. They hold one another accountable. By the end of the year they celebrate the $20 million goal surpassed and also celebrate their bonuses. Furthermore, they feel good about themselves because they know they worked together as a team and stretched to reach their goal.
Transfer BHAGs from a corporation to an individual. We do not need BHAGs to meet most goals. Simple incremental changes can enable us to meet most goals. With small changes made over time, lasting results occur because lifestyles are altered. For instance, with a change-of-weight goal: a man might learn to count his daily calories; then reduce his caloric intake from 2,400 to 2,200; then further reduce to 2,000; and finally to the 1,800 he needs to lose pounds and maintain a proper weight. The weight becomes sustainable when, over time, he consumes 1,800 calories per day. It becomes a natural part of his life because of incremental changes.
On the other hand, small changes will not always suffice. If a person wants to lose a large amount of weight to combat health issues and discovers he is consuming 5,000 calories a day, just reducing by 200 will not cut it—not even close. He needs a BHAG. If that person chooses to deeply commit to losing the weight in two years’ time (with a doctor’s supervision), a BHAG can motivate him.
How Can You Achieve Your Goals?
1. Pray about your goals.
2. Set the goals you feel God has given you.
3. Write your goals and put the record where you can see it often. You may want to write a goal on an index card and tape it to your bathroom mirror.
4. Share your goals with others who can help you stay accountable.
5. Break any large goals into bite-sized portions. For instance, if your goal is to read through the Bible this year, reading four chapters a day, six days a week, will get you there in less than a year.
6. Celebrate small victories on the way to your overall goals. For example, if you feel led to invest an additional $5,000 beyond what you usually put into your retirement funds this year, go out to commemorate the halfway point when you reach the extra $2,500. Then celebrate again at the end goal.
7. Measure daily work toward your goal: evaluate the days each week, the weeks each month, and the months each year. Let’s say you feel led to share your faith with someone each month. Your record may show after July that you shared the gospel but have done so only once. Your summaries may produce a realization that you need to ask the Lord for additional ideas of ways to share and for opportunities to do so.
8. Know that setbacks will come. Only Jesus was perfect. However, setbacks don’t have to define you. As you stay in prayer and close to the Lord, you will find him helping you stretch into a more mature and productive disciple.
9. Thank God who loves you, who “fearfully and wonderfully” created you (Psalm 139:14), and who desires the best for you. After all, his words to Jeremiah are true for you too: “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11).
At the end of his earthly life Jesus could say to the Father, “I have completed the work you sent me to do.” You and I also want to complete the work he gave us to do. Praying, setting the goals God would have, and keeping ourselves accountable are tools to help us each be “a new you in the new year.”
Dr. Bill Patterson serves as a minister and a writer in Henderson, Kentucky.