Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Creating Meaningful Goals

About four years ago I decided that I needed a better way of approaching my New Year’s Resolutions. Almost every year I found myself scrambling in the final hours of December 31st to figure out what goals to put on my list.
One of my favorite things about the teachings of the gospel is their practical application in these kinds of situations. I'll start with two of the teachings I keep in mind when making resolutions:
  • -Our weaknesses can become our strengths.


  • -The Atonement helps to change us for the better.

I think it’s safe to say that part of the human condition is a regular battle with self doubt. Every time I create a new goal I have to try to overpower thoughts like this from my inner Negative Nelly: “I think we both know you’re going to tank.”  So, when trying to give Nelly the ax, it’s very helpful to have assurances from the Lord Himself that, not only can I kick my road rage problem, I can become a zen traffic guru, and the Atonement will take care of the parts of that that aren’t in my power to change. (I don’t really have a road rage problem, but you get the idea.)

A couple more teachings that help me with my goals:

  • -Our time is precious, so we should try to make the most of it.

  • -We learn and improve “line upon line”, meaning we take who we are and build on it little by little, not all at once.

In my zeal to make the most of a new year, I’m sometimes tempted to bite off more than I can chew. “By the end of the year, I’m going to become a master souffle artist, take up ballroom dance lessons, get up every morning by 6:00 a.m., exercise every day for at least an hour, stop a train with my bare hands, and end world hunger.”  If I create goals that are too many or too ambitious I’m going to throw in the towel, which is a sad waste of 365 days.

Here’s one of my favorite doctrines right from the scriptures:

“Men [and women] are, that they might have joy” 2 Nephi 2: 25.

That, coupled with this...

  • “Men [and women] should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will…
    “For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward”
    D&C 58: 27-28.

...tell me that I can and should be proactive about putting lots of happy and positive things in my life. So, instead of creating goals that sound like this: “Quit being lazy, showing up late to everything, and looking like a slob,” I write ones that sound more like, “Do meaningful volunteer work at least twice this year, make a cheesecake that makes your eyes roll back in your head, and surprise a neighbor with a free car wash.”

I’ve thrown out the word “meaningful” a couple of times, if you’ve noticed. “Meaningful” is where I think creating goals can take some effort, but it’s effort well spent!

Back to four years ago. To fix my problem, I decided to take a week or two to ask myself
what kinds of skills, knowledge, possessions, relationships, and memories might I like to take with me into my old age? It was a powerful exercise that helped me prioritize my efforts and direct my focus.

Here’s a combination of some (not all) of things I came up with back then and things I’ve come up with more recently:
  • -Journals
  • -An active mind
  • -An active, healthy body that can do most of the things I’d want it to do
  • -A basic knowledge of world history (so that I can better understand my place in it)
  • -Lots of relaxed days with my family like people used to have before we all became overachievers
  • -An ability to make killer artisan breads
  • -Many creative endeavors
  • -Lots of fun family traditions
  • -A heaping pile of great books
  • -Some formal education beyond my bachelor’s degree
  • -Steady service
  • -A husband who knows I wouldn’t trade him
  • -Kids who are sure I love being their mom
  • -Healthy retirement funds
  • -Peace of mind over the effort I’ve given to the Lord

(Got around to starting that artisan bread goal last year.)

It’s a big, broad list, and it’s supposed to be. It’s meant to be used as a reference point for making smaller goals each year, and I don’t even touch half of these things at a time. That doesn’t mean that I let all but the two focus areas of my life fly out the window, of course. It just means that a few areas will get special attention.

Here’s how I might make mini goals out of some of those big guys:
  • -When possible, limit my personal computer time to when the girls are napping or in bed.
  • -Finish reading Jane Eyre and two other classics.
  • -Experiment with three new sourdough bread recipes.
  • -Have two picnic/berry-picking family days this Summer and one campout.
  • -Get to church 5-10 minutes early to prepare spiritually for the meeting.
  • -Show more interest in Hubby’s love of B-list movies.
(One of those “creative endeavors”: turning a drink dispenser into a lamp.)

Another thing about the big list is that it’s very meaningful for me, which makes those little offspring goals much more meaningful, which makes me soooo much more likely to follow through with them to some respectable extent.

An example and then I’ll zip it.

Half the U.S. population makes a New Year’s resolution to lose 20 lbs, or something along those lines. It’s probably a worthy goal in a lot of cases. But unless it’s backed by a meaningful purpose, it sometimes doesn’t get done or get done the right way. This is how it plays out in my mind:

Purpose #1- To look hot.
Steps to achieve goal:
-Eat 900 calories a day
-Lose your mind
Eat an entire cake
-Try to regroup
-Hope for the best

Purpose #2- To have a capable, healthy body.
Steps to achieve goal:
-Travel 313 self-propelled miles (A goal from last year. Came pretty close!)
-Eat breakfast early enough for it to count as breakfast (A goal for this year. So far so good!)
-Put veggies in all kinds of stuff
-Get to sleep before midnight
-Enjoy the peace of a steady mind and healthier body

Wishing you a very happy and meaningful New Year. (Zip.)

I'm a Mormon.
Published by Guest Blogger Janna


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